I just finished Amanda Vickery’s book on women in the 18th and early 19th centuries, The Gentleman’s Daughter, and I enjoyed it very much; I learned a lot from it, it was very well written, and it had cool pictures — lots to like there!  I hope to post on it again soon.

But having finished one nonfiction book, my eye was just caught by two others, one of which has to do with the same time period as Vickery’s book.  It’s Posthumous Keats by Stanley Plumly, and I heard about it in a New Yorker review by Adam Kirsch.  I love Keats, and so any book about him would catch my eye, but this one focuses on ideas about death and immortality and is subtitled “A Personal Biography,” both of which sound particularly appealing.  Here is what Kirsch says about it:

Instead of simply recounting the life and analyzing the poems, Plumly pursues his intuitions through a series of linked essays, all of them concerned with aspects of the poet’s death and afterlife … Through this interweaving of themes and episodes—a “walk around in Keats’s life and art, not simply through them”—Plumly emphasizes, as a more conventional biography never could, the fatal, fated quality of Keats’s career. He shows how Keats, in a way that feels unique even among the doomed Romantics, became posthumous while he was still alive.

Everything about this appeals to me, from the pursuit of intuitions to the series of linked essays to the quotation about walking around in Keats’s life and art.  I do love biographies that take unusual approaches (although truthfully I haven’t read that many, which doesn’t make sense, but … it’s true).  This sentence from Kirsch was interesting:

To understand why Keats meditated so constantly on death, it is not necessary to look to his biography; one need only listen to his writing.

Plumly’s book is biographical, and yet from what I can tell from the review, it doesn’t look for easy answers in the biography, but makes more complicated arguments about the relationship of art and life.

Perhaps I should read a more conventional biography of Keats too, but this kind of book appeals to me more.

The other book that caught my eye also came from the New Yorker.  One of their short reviews mentioned Collections of Nothing by William Davies King, an autobiographical book about collecting things nobody wants, like food packages and labels and illustrations from old dictionaries.  Collecting as a hobby doesn’t really interest me, but something about a person who collections illustrations from old dictionaries does.  And I like the idea of an autobiography told from a particular slant.  Here’s what the review says:

What makes this book, bred of a midlife crisis, extraordinary is the way King weaves his autobiography into the account of his collection, deftly demonstrating that the two stories are essentially one.

Now that I think about it, midlife crises don’t interest me either, but still, I want to read this book!  The author strikes me Nicholson Baker-esque, and you all know how I feel about Nicholson Baker.  Plus the author spent hours in the Yale library “reading the most obscure books he could find.”  Doesn’t he sound interesting?

This is my favorite kind of nonfiction — the kind that takes a familiar genre such as biography or autobiography and tweaks it a little to create something new.


Filed under Books, Nonfiction

8 responses to “Nonfiction

  1. Oh, those sound like such interesting books! The Keats one especially. Looking forward to your post on The Gentleman’s Daughter.


  2. verbivore

    Speaking of Nicholson Baker, I finally have one of his books en route via Bookmooch. The Fermata will soon be in my book-greedy little hands!


  3. I think in the hands of a really good writer a subject (biography-wise) can actually be very appealing. I didn’t think I would be interested in the Anna Spafford book I just read, but the author brought so much more into it, I found it really engrossing. I think I should start getting the New Yorker again–you find so many good things in it (and it seems so many short stories I’m reading now were first published there). And I can’t wait to hear more about the Vickery book!


  4. I have found your blog via the Indextrious Reader and have really enjoyed it. I am going to link to you if that’s ok!


  5. You always seem to find the most interesting non-fiction books! I like that “reading the most obscure books he could find”… I used to spend time in the library just wandering around the different aisles and always found offbeat kind of books. Now, I tend to stick to the sections that interest me most but I wonder what I might be missing you know 🙂


  6. zhiv

    You know I’m up for “Collections of Nothing”–that’s sounds fantastic, great find. And I’m afraid that I have a keen interest in mid-life crises, but it’s reassuring to hear that you don’t…


  7. Stefanie — doesn’t the Keats book look good? He’s such an interesting person …

    Verbivore — oh, how fun! I haven’t read that one, and I’ll be interested to hear what you think.

    Danielle — I do enjoy reading The New Yorker, although I have to say I almost never read the short stories! Interesting that so many of the ones you are reading were published there. I wonder if the ones published today will end up being famous.

    Juxtabook — yes, absolutely fine! Thanks for stopping by!

    Iliana — I’m not so sure I’d be good at looking around for obscure books, as I tend to stick with the tried and true — probably not a good thing!

    Zhiv — yes, it IS your kind of book, isn’t it? 🙂 Mid-life crises are one area where I am very selfish — if it happens to me, I’ll be fascinated by it, but when it happens to other people … not so much.


  8. The Gentleman’s Daughter sounds interesting! Right now I’m reading a book about governesses in 18th and 19th century England. Very good, so far–it’s about the governess’s place in society, and how her life was always so solitary.


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