Reports of My Death: Beyond-the-Grave Confessions of North American Writers
eBook (PDF), 688 Pages
Tired of biographies that can intimidate the Manhattan phone book? Ready to sink your incisors into something nice and juicy; something that gives you the lowdown on the likes of Hemingway, Cather, Twain, Dickinson, Melville, Faulkner, and Poe, not to mention some fifty other stars scattered across the North American continent? Reports of My Death unravels the lives of sixty-six "autobiographies" of great and not-so great North American writers over the last two hundred years.
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Mar 22, 2011I devoured "Reports of My Death: Beyond-the-Grave Confessions of North American Writers." Or rather, I gobbled it up the way one gobbles up a medley of tasty hors d'oeuvres. Over the years, I've read too many ponderous biographies about American writers. Sure, I love to read about Melville or Wolfe or Hemingway (or even more, about the wilder Kerouac or Jim Thompson) but too often tweedy biographers suck the lifeblood out of their subjects. (Consider James Mellow's coma-inducing life of Hemingway.) Now Girard R. Christmas leaps onto the scene with "Reports of My Death," a book that contains dozens of tightly written, addictively readable "first-person accounts" that give fresh insight into the lives of some of our greatest (and most rascally) writers. Christmas writes with the wit and passion of a master novelist, and yet he writes fact. Or does he? In the introduction, he asks us to embrace the hypothetical premise that he has been involved in a car... More > crash, and that his ensuing brain trauma has coalesced decades of random data into a series of oral histories, which he babbles forth, in the voices of dead North American writers, and which his wife dutifully records. Hmmm, a bit of a stretch. But the essays are terrific. My favorites are Twain, Kate Chopin, Vardis Fisher, Jack London, Stephen Crane and Frank Norris. But you really can't go wrong with any of them. Christmas has grouped the writers culturally, following the "Nine Nations of North America" theory, with which I was unfamiliar. He is predisposed to seek out and find sexual connections, and then to write, swellingly, about them. For example, of Cora Taylor, Stephen Crane's lover, he writes: "Cora even defies my favorite trick, color, with her assault upon my senses: the soft fullness of the arms, the slim tapering of the waist, the slow heave of the breasts, the knowing look of the eyes, the rich tenderness of the voice, the deep scent of a woman happy in her hedonism." Don't be fooled; this isn't Barbara Cartland. Christmas has given us well researched, incredibly readable essays about the vaunted (Twain, Hemingway, Steinbeck) and the not so vaunted (Edgar Mittelholzer, Hubert Aquin, Oliver LaFarge). Plus all the scribbling ruffians in between. Years ago, I had a lit professor who kept a volume of Shakespeare's sonnets on his bedside table. He'd read one sonnet each night before bed "for nourishment." To all lovers of literary biography, particularly of the North American geography of place and mind, I recommend "Reports of My Death." Highly.< Less
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- Girard R. Christmas (Standard Copyright License)
- Girard R. Christmas
- November 4, 2011
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