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A Reader's Book of Days: True Tales from the Lives and Works of Writers for Every Day of the Year Hardcover – November 4, 2013
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Author Tom Nissley on A Reader's Book of Days: True Tales from the Lives and Works of Writers
I never knew what day it was when I was writing A Reader's Book of Days. I was caught up in other days, consuming books at times as if the dates they contained were their only fruit: biographies of writers and their diaries and letters of course, but also novels, short stories, poems, and essays. I skimmed indexes, tracked through endnotes and down trails of references, and typed "january," "february," and the rest into Amazon and Google search boxes. But if I was looking for dates, what I really wanted to find were stories, ones that went beyond the usual almanac staples of births, deaths, and publication dates. April 15, after all, isn't just the day that Robinson Crusoe was published, Henry James was born, and Edward Gorey died. It's also the day that Walt Whitman mourned the death of Lincoln, Charles Dickens called the Mississippi the "beastliest river in the world," George McGovern's political director told Hunter S. Thompson he was worried about his health, and Thomas Higginson received four poems from a woman named Emily Dickinson with a note that began, "Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?"
As I wrote, though, I realized that A Reader's Book of Days wasn't just a book of a thousand stories. It was a book of books. I had planned from the beginning to recommend reading for each month--Suite Française for June, Bleak House for November--but, especially as other people started to read it, I understood that the entire book was full of recommended reading: introducing readers to writers they might not have read, like Walter Tevis or Vera Brittain or Michael Winter, or reminding them of books they've always wanted to try, or return to, like Woolf's Orlando or Wright's Black Boy or Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley.
But for me the Reader's Book didn't really become a book itself until I came across the drawings of Joanna Neborsky. As soon as I saw her "Partial Inventory of Gustave Flaubert's Personal Effects," a poster illustrating the items Flaubert left behind at his death, including the skins of a bear and a lynx, five waistcoats, thirty-five champagne glasses, and the unpublished manuscript of Bouvard and Pécuchet, I knew that she had the good humor and obsessiveness this book demanded. A Reader's Book of Days includes a hundred of her drawings, and you can see three of them below, along with the stories they accompany.
Tales from A Reader's Book of Days with Illustrations by Joanna Neborsky
March 13, 1601 The traces left in the archives by the daily life of William Shakespeare are famously scant and, for the most part, dry and businesslike, hardly hinting at the full-bodied humanity of his plays and poems. But among the property and tax records there is one mention that, in its identity-shifting japery, seems taken directly from one of his comedies. In his gossipy diaries, London lawyer John Manningham told the story of an Elizabethan groupie who, taken by Richard Burbage's performance as Richard III, invited him home after the show. "Shakespeare, overhearing their conclusion, went before, was intertained, and at his game ere Burbidge came. Then message being brought that Richard the 3d. was at the door, Shakespeare"--answering "from the capon's blankets," as Stephen Dedalus retells the story in Ulysses--"caused returne to be made that William the Conquerour was before Rich the 3."
June 12, 1857 When no one came to shave him on his first morning as a guest at the country home of Charles Dickens, Hans Christian Andersen sent for his host's eldest son to perform the service. This may have put him on the wrong side of the Dickens children, who found his stay interminable. As Kate Dickens remembered, "He was a bony bore, and stayed on and on." Having suggested he would visit for a week or two, Andersen stayed for five, and though he entertained the children with his ingenious paper cutouts, he could tell they despised him. Their busy father was friendlier, but after Andersen finally went home to Denmark, Dickens posted a card in his guest room that read, "Hans Andersen slept in this room for five weeks--which seemed to the family AGES!"
September 26, 1929 "We very much like your title The Secret of the Old Clock," wrote L. F. Reed of Grosset & Dunlap to Edward Stratemeyer about his latest idea for a girl detective series. However, Reed didn't like most of the names Stratemeyer suggested for his teen heroine: "Stella Strong," "Nell Cody," and "Diana Dare." He preferred "Nancy Drew." Stratemeyer already had a thirty-year track record of creating series like the Rover Boys, Tom Swift, and, most recently, the Hardy Boys, so he confidently put the new sleuth in the hands of a young journalist named Mildred Wirt, and beginning with The Secret of the Old Clock, Wirt wrote nearly all of the first twenty-five Nancy Drew books published under the pen name of Carolyn Keene.
From Publishers Weekly
In his eclectic and wide-ranging, if uneven, collection of literary trivia for book lovers, delightfully illustrated by Neborsky, eight-time Jeopardy! champion and former bookseller Nissley offers an amalgam of anecdotes, quotes, reviews, diary entries, and letter excerpts. Each section begins with an introduction to a given month, as well as a list of recommended reading related to, or set during, that time of year. Each day then receives a page of its own, with lists of notable births and deaths, and short entries about events or publications that took place on that date. February 21 alone brings us details about Shakespeare, William James, Marcel Proust, and Alison Bechdel. Entries are by turns fascinating, obscure, and puzzling. A May 6 story about Emily Dickinson turning down a friend's offer to go walking in order to stay with her ill mother will break reader's hearts. Nissley occasionally blurs fact and fiction, with varying levels of success; some events from novels are listed as if real, and he assumes a certain level of familiarity with literature. Scholars should note there are no citations, though the collection will charm nonetheless. 100 illus. Agent: Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Nov.)
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Top Customer Reviews
Nissley harbors another ambition in this tome, stories from the fictional lives of characters along with their writers, a mix of fact and fiction, where actual events occur, as do fictional events in novels, an ambitious undertaking, but one that adds yet another layer to the collection. Nissey's careful attention to the details of writer's lives- and those of their characters- is a paean to the rich world of writing, "private moments behind public triumphs", the beginnings of our favorite novels, each month introduced with appropriate comments and a list of recommended readings, peppered with black and white illustrations and an expansive index. Luan Gaines/2013.
Tom Nissley is extraordinary in many ways, and one of his many gifts is on display in A Reader's Book of Days in a way that will delight readers. Tom can take the most enormous, confusing book/person/period of time and hone in on the most interesting part. All you the reader have to do is sit back and enjoy the fruits of his erudition and careful selection.
He has the reader in mind at all times, and his kindness both to the reader and to the writers he profiles is an important quality of the book. This book is written by a man who loves the written word, and serves it. He does not write to impress but to share the best of what is out there on the page.
There are few books out there that teach so much in such a short amount of time while giving so much pleasure. It is the perfect book to treat oneself to, and to give to others.
Thank you Tom for a gift that will keep giving for years and years.
I find it both stunning and sad that we, as a society, find it so easy to trash someone else's hard work and accomplishments. That your book did not appeal to one reviewer who called it "boring and trivial" only makes me appreciate it more.
I keep this on our kitchen table and read each "day" with my morning tea. I love thinking about the words you've written, the stories you've told, and the insights you have allowed me to develop.
Your book will lead me, like a treasure map, to discovering new books to read and new authors to consider.
July 15th ~ 1995: Amazon.com sold its first book.
August 16th ~ 1922: Nissley summarizes that Virginia Woolf should have been the ideal reader for James Joyce's "Ulysses". This was not the case. Woolf described the book as raw, indecent, nauseating. In finishing the book with impatient boredom, she was eager to get back to Proust and her own writing of "Mrs. Dalloway".
August 18th ~ 1943: Orville Prescott's Review of "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn": Miss this, and you'll deny yourself a rich reading experience.
March 06th ~ 1928: Ernest Hemmingway required stitches after pulling a skylight down on himself. ~ 1831: Cadet Edgar Allan Poe was expelled from West Point for "gross neglect of duty" and "disobedience of orders".
March 29th ~ 1944: The Diary of Anne Frank became autobiographical.
May 23rd ~ 1980: Two husbands of Anais Nin met for the first time, and were shocked to learn that they were both married to her at the same time. Nin shuttled back and forth between them for nearly 30 years. In Nin's obituary The New York Times listed Ian Hugo as her husband, and the Los Angeles Times listed Rupert Pole.
A fellow Seattle-lite since 1992, Tom Nissley received his Ph.D in English literature from the University of Washington. He edited Amazons "Omnivoracious" book blog, and in 2010 became TV's "Jeopardy" champion, and used his prize money to write full time, producing "A Reader's Book of Days". This amazing, fun, fact-filled book is sure to become a treasured reference classic in every book lover's library.
Reference: The Seattle Times... (article/book reviewer: by Mary Ann Gwinn)