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Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 (P.S.) Paperback – April 1, 2014

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Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 (P.S.) + The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
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Product Details

  • Series: P.S.
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 1, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062085557
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062085559
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #168,863 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“An illuminating biography . . . which floods clarifying light on a chapter of the poet’s early life that Plath painted in jaundiced tones in The Bell Jar.” (New York Times, Sunday Styles Feature)

“The world of ’50s NYC, in all its glamour, is irresistible reading.” (Meg Wolitzer, author of The Interestings)

“Will recalibrate your mind and heart. . . . We knew about Plath’s ambition - and angst - but her penchant for flaming-red lipstick and princess heels was a bit of a surprise” (More magazine)

“A pixilated gem of a book. . . . In prose as delightful and lively as the champagne Sylvia liked to sip at the St. Regis ball, Winder has made Pain, Parties, Work a prose poem of the senses, and a true account of The Bell Jar.” (Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger, New York Times bestselling authors of Furious Love)

“A lovingly detailed inventory, as Technicolor-vivid as a Douglas Sirk film, of the fashions and foods that filled Plath’s summer. Winder convincingly shows that Plath should be recognized as much for her enjoyment of life and her enduring works as for her tragic death.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Winder poignantly captures a snapshot of a time that directly inspired one of Plath’s most famous works. She also captures Plath as bright, vivacious . . . For fans, particularly devotees of The Bell Jar.” (Library Journal)

“Winder resuscitates a young woman who, while sick, is electrically alive to her first real adventure. . . . Captivating . . . [Winder] makes a compelling argument that in New York…Plath moved closer to finding the voice that would define her writing.” (Slate)

“Winder describes the aesthetics of the era beautifully. . . . Reading this book sparks feelings of impossible nostalgia for someone who didn’t live through the fifties; in this way, it is an experience akin to watching Mad Men.” (Bookslut)

“The book offers a new perspective on Plath’s life courtesy of Winder’s exhaustive research.” (Women's Wear Daily)

“Winder has painstakingly sketched a fully fleshed out portrait of Plath’s life during that hot, seminal summer, offering a glimpse into the raison d’etre behind Plath’s revered 1963 roman a clef, The Bell Jar. . . . Winder goes into the dizzying, delightful detail.” (USA Today)

“[An] accessible, eye-opening new biography.” (O Magazine)

From the Back Cover

On May 31, 1953, twenty-year-old Sylvia Plath arrived in New York City for a one-month stint as a guest editor for Mademoiselle magazine. Over the next twenty-six days, she lived at the Barbizon Hotel, attended Balanchine ballets, watched a game at Yankee Stadium, and danced at the West Side Tennis Club. She typed rejection letters to writers from The New Yorker and ate an entire bowl of caviar at an advertising luncheon. She stalked Dylan Thomas and fought off a diamond-wielding suitor from the United Nations. She took hot baths, had her hair done, and discovered her signature drink (vodka, no ice). Young, beautiful, and on the cusp of an impressive career, she was supposed to be having the time of her life.

Drawing on in-depth interviews with fellow guest editors, whose memories infuse these pages, Elizabeth Winder reveals how these twenty-six days indelibly altered how Plath saw herself, her mother, her friendships, and her romantic relationships, and how this period shaped her emerging identity as a woman and as a writer. Thoughtful and illuminating, Pain, Parties, Work offers new insight as it introduces us to Sylvia Plath, the girl, before she became one of the greatest and most influential poets of the twentieth century.

More About the Author

Elizabeth Winder's work has appeared in the Chicago Review, Antioch Review, American Letters, and other publications. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary, and earned an MFA in creative writing from George Mason University.

I LOVE to meet my readers and would be happy to do Skype interviews for book group meetings! Tweet me @Elizawinder

Customer Reviews

Reads like a very good travelogue to an exotic place.
This book was beautifully written with amazing attention to detail- almost like a piece of poetry.
I highly recommend "Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953."
Katie Rogers

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this eminently readable book, Syliva Plath is quoted as saying this to her startled friend Laurie after a day at the zoo. Her friend thought she might have been referring to the people watching they had done, but I think Sylvia meant herself. This book centers around the dream job of junior editor at Mademoiselle given to Sylvia and nineteen other girls. Curiously, a covert hand writing expert had warned her staff that she was likely to suffer a breakdown, something she found out by accident. Her editor saw her to be all facade. "You might be there another day and find an entirely different personality."

Interspersed within the discourse are a multitude of quotes and observations made by the people who interacted with this brilliant young woman. Her own journal is quoted where possible. And her works at Mademoiselle are cited. This technique should make for boxy and irritating flow to the prose, but in fact achieves just the opposite. And I believe this interspersing of stories emphasizes the inner contradictions suffered by Sylvia. If nothing else, she experienced the conflict of needing solitude to write while working in a deeply social setting.

The "normalcy" of the bright and shining writer has long confounded readers. She adored fashion, ate to satiation, and enjoyed luxury. When not pulled back into herself, she could be entertaining and wryly funny. To me this work actually seems to complete a piece of the puzzle of the illness of the golden girl. Now, years later, psychiatry is well acquainted with the tragedy of the young person glinting with potential returning home from college and or work in complete breakdown.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Richard Sims on April 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I've little/no interest in the standard "tortured artist" tropes about Plath, and that's why this book appealed.

Instead of focusing on the negative - Plath's later depression, unhappiness and eventual suicide - the book celebrates the life and times of a young woman discovering young adulthood in New York City.

Winder's attention to detail is utterly captivating, and central to the books appeal. Want to know what the carpet looked like in the Barbizon Hotel? Check. Want to know what lipstick Plath wore? Check. Want to know what she thought of her peers? Check.

Instead of supposition and speculation, we've first hand testimonial and recollection from Plath's friends.

Highly recommended.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By FatChickDancing VINE VOICE on April 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Part of author Elizabeth Winder's title,(Pain, Parties, Work,) may derive from a line early in the first chapter of Sylvia Plath's novel, The Bell Jar, page 3, "Only I wasn't steering anything, not even myself. I just bumped from my hotel to work and to parties and from parties to my hotel and back to work like a numb trolleybus."

The Bell Jar is a classic novel. A fictionalized autobiography about a woman's descent into mental illness in the middle of the twentieth century. The power of this deeply personal story is as iconic as that of Marilyn Monroe, a contemporary, who was faced with some similar pressures in the pre-feminist world of the 1950's and early 1960's. Winder even recounts a dream Sylvia had about Marilyn.

In testimony to it's popularity, The Bell Jar still fetches a fairly high price on this website, as well as elsewhere, and is still required reading in some literature courses. Sylvia Plath's poetry is what appeals to me the most, so when I saw the title of Winder's book, I knew I wanted to read and review it.

As a nonfiction book, it has an extensive bibliography and provides comments from the other guest editors who were invited to that summer internship at Mademoiselle, as well as minute details of the fashions, the food, the wild nightlife. I hadn't read The Bell Jar before Winder's book, so I felt overwhelmed by the amount of detail and facts, wondering what purpose it all served.

So I read the novel, and suddenly all those details and facts corroborated the thinly veiled truth of Sylvia's story. I believe each book strengthens the other, that's why I rate Winder's four stars. By itself, it isn't nearly as important as it becomes as a companion reader to The Bell Jar.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By lectrice on May 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's finely constructed, rich in nostalgia, and totally fun. It doesn't attempt to be the definitive word on the Plath psyche, but rather offers a completely unique and refreshing perspective on the young poet, one to which any woman can identify. Plath's suicide, like most, will remain an enigma. So to focus on the lighter side of the collegian and future literary icon was a dare, one the author pulls off famously.

Winder is obviously a Plath devotee, and as a poet herself, no doubt knows her life and work by heart. So it's to her credit that she concentrates on one vital month in Plath's short life, of which very little is written--not even by the 20-year-old Sylvia herself in her journals. Winder cleverly uses what resources exist to delicately piece together a captivating account of those 26 days Sylvia spent in a sweltering 1950s New York. The result is a solid piece of nonfiction, as effortless to read as the lightest novel.

Pain, Parties, Work left me wanting to read more on Plath and more by Elizabeth Winder. It will compel you to reread and appreciate even more The Bell Jar, which sixty years on remains timeless.

A delightful read--recommended for women of all ages.
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