Monday, December 22, 2008

Reading About Writers -- Jay

It’s been a while since the Reading Bug bit me…and I blame the public library! Until recently, I worked full-time at a library. Surrounded by more books than I could ever read, I regularly took home more books than I could ever read. I’d skim through a few pages of whichever book piqued my interest at that moment, then put it down and maybe pick up another, hardly ever finishing two chapters of any book before it was due back.

Over time, I forgot how wonderful it is to get absolutely lost in a single book!

Now that I’m more selective about which books I begin, I realized the other day that I’m about to finish my third book this month. (I know, some of you read three books in three days. Good for you!) And then I realized, all three of these books are non-fiction titles dealing with authors and why…or how…they write what they write.

Author Unknown: tales of a literary detective by Don Foster makes it clear that “since no two people use language in precisely the same way, our identities are encoded in our own language, in a kind of literary DNA.” Mr. Foster first proved that theory with his work on a newly discovered poem by William Shakespeare…if that is who wrote it! Using the same literary forensics, he made headlines when he unmasked the anonymous writer of Primary Colors. But my favorite chapter deals with the true identity of the man who originally wrote the words ’Twas the night before Christmas… Did Clement C. Moore come up with that poem, as we’ve been told, or was it a man named Major Henry Livingston, Jr.? You absolutely must grab this book for that chapter alone. (Ever heard of Santa’s reindeer, Dunder and Blixem? Probably not. But you should’ve!)

The Man Who Invented Christmas: how Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol rescued his career and revived our holiday spirits by Les Standiford is a great book to pick up for the holidays. Not only does it tell some interesting history about a classic story and the man who wrote it (and there is no doubt that Mr. Dickens wrote it!), it’s a fascinating look at the evolution of how we experience the Christmas season.

Grant and Twain: the story of a friendship that changed America by Mark Perry was not one I expected to enjoy, but I’m over halfway through it and I’m trying to slow down my reading (yes, even slower than it already is!) so I can enjoy it for a few days more. It’s a book about history, literature, and the friendship of Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain. Twain influenced Grant to write his memoirs before he lost his fight with cancer. Those memoirs are now considered classics of American non-fiction. At the same time, Twain was trying to figure out what should happen in the last half of his book about a boy named Huck.

So what do I plan to read next? Well, for Christmas I asked someone to get me The Annotated Christmas Carol so I can dig even deeper into that book. And I just bought the personal memoirs of U.S. Grant, which is over a thousand pages long…so I think I’m set for a while.

- Jay


Sarah Laurenson said...

Love the sound of these. My to-read stack is teetering though. Thanks for the review. I'm especially curious about the literary DNA.

Anonymous said...

A literary detective? Sounds intriguing.