Living Vicariously (through others’ biographies)

Well, Hell may not have frozen over, but central New York certainly has. Winter has apparently returned for a couple of weeks, which is a bummer on one hand, but on the other, it’s an excuse to drink some hot chocolate or tea (I’m trying to cut back on coffee–stop laughing at me, I am!) and curl up with some good books. Which I have quite a few of (as my husband daily reminds me while looking forlornly at the disaster-zones that used to be our table, our living room floor, our office, and the floor beside my bed). Although, I’m hoping that the piles will soon be removed as friends of ours are giving us a beautiful glass-fronted bookcase! Very exciting! Now I just have to decide which books will be deemed “worthy” enough to sit in the special case….

I’ve also been daydreaming about the work I plan on doing this summer. Since I’d rather focus on future work instead of the stuff patiently waiting for me on my desk right now, I’ve come up with an ambitious plan.

  1. Try and turn at least one paper into a publication (I’ve joined a writing group, so this should help).
  2. Review the Norton Anthologies of English and American literature in preparation for the upcoming application season in the fall (talk about the mother of all fat books!).
  3. Study for subject GREs. Dammit, I thought I was done with this stupid test, but it looks like I’m heading back for another round of torture.
  4. Read 7 volumes of Proust.
  5. Read the books that have been gathering dust for my NYT notable book challenge
  6. Read five books from my Non-Fiction Five challenge list
  7. Read more biographies, particularly of women writers

I have become increasingly interested in women like Caroline Healey Dall (a feminist and abolitionist who wrote one of the longest running diaries in which she chronicled the changes in America through much of the nineteenth century). A full-fledged book on Dall’s life has yet to be written, but from the various essays (mainly written by Helen Deese) I have discovered that she was a fascinating woman. I love to read biographies if they are well-written, and today I picked up two new specimens: Hermione Lee’s Edith Wharton (one of my favorite authors) and Walter Isaacson’s Einstein. Both are lovely to look at and hold: fat, rough-cut pages–they look promising. I also have The Peabody Sisters which has been sitting untouched for a while (Elizabeth Peabody was once a mentor of Caroline Dall although their friendship later fell apart). There is also Hermione Lee’s Virginia Woolf and Claire Tomalin’s Jane Austen (I’m currently reading her Thomas Hardy right now). I also think I should look for a good book on Proust, as I’ll be reading him throughout the summer.

Any other suggestions for good biographies? I’m always looking for more!

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Clio Bluestocking on April 11, 2007 at 6:45 pm

    Maria Dietrich (I may have spelled that wrong) wrote a fabulous biography of Ottilie Assing called “Love Across the Color Lines,” about Assing and Frederick Douglass. The story is actually kind of sad, but fascinating. Assing started off as this very adventurous journalist who took off on her own for America, wrote about the Five Points, sought out Douglass, translated his autobiography into German and promoted abolition in both America Germany. It doesn’t end well for her, unfortunately, since Douglass, for all of his passion and virtues, wasn’t too kind to the many of the women in his life. The book itself has some masterful research, and the story of the ways in which the sources were preserved is itself chilling.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Loose Baggy Monster on April 11, 2007 at 8:47 pm

    Clio–I will definitely have to look into that, particularly as I just reread Douglass’ autobiography last month. I have never actually heard of Assing before, so this should be a treat! Thanks!

    Reply

  3. Posted by Kailana on April 18, 2007 at 8:19 am

    I looked at the Edith Wharton biography, but I decided that I am going to read more of her books before I pick it up. Biographies can be lots of fun because people lead such interesting lives. My big undertaking is to hopefully read Lucy Maud Montgomery’s journals. I think there are five of them. I think they should be interesting!

    Reply

  4. Posted by Loose Baggy Monster on April 18, 2007 at 9:11 am

    Kailana–I know what you mean about wanting to read their works before hitting the bio! I have had Hermione Lee’s bio of Virginia Woolf sitting on my shelves for years, but I’m ashamed to say that I have not read as much of her as I would like. But I will definitely have to check out the Montgomery journals!

    Reply

  5. Posted by Chris on April 19, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    Wow! That’s a pretty hefty list of things to get accomplished 😉 Good luck with everything!

    Reply

  6. Posted by chittavrtti on April 25, 2007 at 10:25 pm

    Good luck with the Proust. if it is anything like Balzac it is good to come up for air every once in a while**CV

    Reply

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