Books: Reading Non-Fiction

Two of my dearest, smartest friends read no fiction at all. Ever.

Lately I’m drifting into their camp.

I’ve already railed about the grotesque resolution in Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” but it’s worth repeating: I see people carrying that book and think — ugh, just wait. That book that should be wrapped in warning tape.

More recently I struggled through the well-reviewed “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” by Maria Semple. (Curses on certain New York Times reviewers.) Parts are laugh-out-loud funny, but the whole of it seems forced, and tinny. Satire, yes, lunacy, no.

What a relief, then, to pick up some solid nonfiction.

First, a gift from my friend Carl, “Nom de Plume,” by Carmela Ciuraru, sixteen essays about famous authors’ pen names, and why they felt compelled to use them. Ciuraru’s style is so engaging: deeply informative and evocative, never dry. For a lifelong reader and an English major, I was surprised to learn so much about the Bronte sisters’ need for — and triumphs as –  male authors. This author set me firmly in the high /low, bisexual, cross-dressing world of  Georges Sand. I knew a lot about “Alice in Wonderland’s” Lewis Carroll, but it’s worth spending time with him in Ciuraru’s hands.

Another work of nonfiction I’m enjoying is Richard Seaver’s “The Tender Hour of Twilight, Paris in the ‘50s, New York in the ’60’s: A Memoir of Publishing’s Golden Age.” You had me at hello with this one: Paris, New York, publishing.

Seaver lived his life (1926 -2009) in literature, publishing French authors for English readers. Later, in New York, he bucked U.S. censors to publish D. H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” and other banned books.

This is a slow, rich, naughty read. I am besotted by his Paris. Seaver can spend pages describing a garret, or a meal; he never bores.

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