The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn – Book Review

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn
Published by W. W. Norton & Company

Daughter of the Earl of Amherst, Emily Dickinson does not always have an easy time at Mt. Holyoke. She is secretly in love with Tom, the groundskeeper to whom no teacher or pupil is allowed to speak, but the differences between her and the other girls are staggering: she never receives Valentines, and she has no good friends to speak of, she primarily only associates with the daughter of a stable hand. Upon her return home, she is the darling of her father, a father who wanted nothing more than to keep her by his side.

He is Bluebeard with red side-whiskers, serving up daughters instead of wives. I will never leave this castle. He will decline whatever suitor I bring to West Street. Father might let Lavinia escape, but not me. It’s not my Indian bread per se. He could find another baker. But Father seems to count on the little storms I crate. Perhaps he imagines my face in his mirror – the hobgolin with red hair whom he cannot live without. Such an imp can shatter his isolation. I am his Dolly, sentenced to serve him puddings for the rest of his natural life and most of mine.

Jerome Charyn’s writing is absolutely lovely. Everything was so evocative,  so Dickinson-esque. The entire novel had a wonderful, wild, poetic feel. Charyn’s Emily, too, was a fascinating creature. She was alone partly because of her father’s prejudices, partly because of her own. And yet even when she had become a complete recluse, she still hungered for romance, for the touch of a man. She was no love-struck girl or withering flower, though. Emily could be bossy, manipulative, she had a full range of human emotions and desires.

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson may have actually inspired me to read some of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. Since I’ve never before had that desire, I think we can safely say that this book is a big hit.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound | Amazon*

Source: Author’s publicist.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Sunday Spotlight On: Shel Silverstein

Weekends are going to be all about spotlights here during Chicago Author Month! Saturday was my inaugural publisher spotlight. Sundays will be something a little different. Sundays will spotlight either a book I’m dying to read but couldn’t fit a review of in, or a very special author. Today I’m going with the ‘very special author’ format.

When I first decided to devote a month to Chicago-area authors, I asked the lovely Jill from Fizzy Thoughts to do what she does so well, and write a song for me, this one to the tune of Sinatra’s “My Kind of Town.” What I didn’t expect, when I commissioned the song, was that Jill would introduce me Chicago authors I didn’t know about with it. One was Sara Paretsky, who I now can’t believe I hadn’t heard of before – look for a review of her latest book coming later this month – and the other was Shel Silverstein.

Now, of course Silverstein wasn’t actually a new-to-me author. I grew up on and adored “The Light in the Attic” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” I also enjoyed “The Giving Tree,” “The Missing Piece,” and “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O,” although they were not as near and dear to my heart as his poetry – I still remember my family’s excitement when “Falling Up” was published in 1996. What I did not know was that he was born and grew up in Chicago, even attending the Art Institute for a year and being published for the first time in the student newspaper at Roosevelt University.

I spent countless hours in grade school with Shel Silverstein’s books of highly entertaining, occasionally slightly disgusting poetry. They were an integral part of my childhood, really. So, you can imagine that I was slightly disturbed to read that he was at one point a cartoonist for Playboy magazine. Really, though, it was Silverstein’s editor at Harper & Row who even convinced him to write children’s poetry in the first place, his initial love was cartooning.

Thank goodness for editors, I suppose, because I am eternally thankful that I had the gift of Shel Silverstein’s poetry as a child.

The Anthologist – National Poetry Month for the Poetically Uninclined

The Anthologist by Nicholas Baker

April is National Poetry Month!

Paul Chowder is trying unsuccessfully to write the introduction to his new anthology of rhyming poetry. The situation is not helped by the fact that his girlfriend has left him out of frustration with his inability to buckle down and get to work writing his introduction. So, that’s the basic plot of “The Anthologist,” but not what it really is.  “The Anthologist” is basically a stream-of-consciousness (but with punctuation) love letter to poetry from someone without people skills.

Now, let me just say, I’m not totally in love with poetry, except for that written for grade schoolers. Give me Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss, and Jack Prelutzky any day. 250 pages of talk about modern poetry, with discussion of rhyming versus free verse poems and iambic pentameter versus the four beat line? Wow, that sounds boring.

Except, it wasn’t.

Paul Chowder was a seriously bizarre character. I must have stopped and said, “huh?” 10 times in the first four pages.  Not to mention the fact that he couldn’t seem to tell his story without going off on strange tangents. He was, however, very interesting and well-written and I ended up enjoying the book overall.

If you want to do something for National Poetry Month, but don’t really want to read a bunch of poetry to do it, I recommend “The Anthologist” for you to feel you’re appreciating poetry without actually doing it.

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound

This review was done with a book borrowed from the library.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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