Wait, we need a Brooklyn-based writer to guide us through the swamps, thickets and kudzu of Southern literary haunts? Not to worry—Margaret Eby may live in the borough, but she grew up in Alabama and is on familiar turf in South Toward Home, a highly readable literary tour of the region that gave us Faulkner, O’Connor and Lee (Harper, not Robert E.).
C.S. Lewis wrote that “eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably,” and Cara Nicoletti has made both her life pursuits as she explains in Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books.
In Dead White Guys, Matt Burriesci distills the timeless, sometimes challenging wisdom of The Great Books of the Western World into 26 lessons for his young daughter.
J.C. Hallman had only a passing awareness of writer Nicholson Baker when he quite impulsively became obsessed with the man and his work. He not only had erroneously thought that Baker was British, but considered him a “nonessential” writer. That indifference changed into fixation nearly overnight. Hallman plunged into all of Baker’s fiction and nonfiction, a project that morphed into the deeper contemplation of literature and life that he chronicles with candor, humor and insight in B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal.
After establishing that he’s not any of the Andy or Andrew Millers you might have heard of, this English Andy Miller introduces his ambitious vow to read 50 great books within a year—and, better still, to chronicle the struggles and discoveries involved along the way. This he does with candor and good humor
This cloak-and-dagger account reveals the intriguing details of how the novel Doctor Zhivago came to be published during the height of the Cold War. Written by Russian poet Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago was kept under wraps by its author, who feared retribution from the Soviet government for the book’s critical portrayal of the 1917 Russian Revolution and its tepid treatment of socialism.
As 19th-century San Francisco evolved from a rowdy Gold Rush boomtown into the financial center of the American West, its rambunctious poets and writers—especially the self-styled Bohemians—sought to bring a skeptical, caustic, humorous Western voice to American writing that had been long dominated by the relatively staid literary eminences of Boston and New York.
When The Great Gatsby was published in 1925, it got a decidedly tepid reception. Reviews were mixed, sales were deeply disappointing. F. Scott Fitzgerald just couldn’t get it together to write anything serious, some critics said. The book seemed too ephemeral to many readers—ripped from the headlines, like an episode of “Law and Order” today.
Wild, irregular and free, Henry Thoreau cut a distinctive figure in 19th-century Concord, Massachusetts, whether carving “dithyrambic dances” on ice skates with Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne or impressing Ralph Waldo Emerson with his “comic simplicity.” More at home in the woods than in society, Thoreau began the first volume of his celebrated journals with a simple word that also functioned as his motto: solitude.
By its very nature, most literary reportage is ephemeral. A review or author interview tied to the publication of a new book serves its intended purpose—helping to bring the book to the public’s attention and spur some sales—but few of these pieces have lasting value. So, gathering a collection of writer profiles that first ran in newspapers a decade or more ago may seem, on...