A Reader’s Book of Days: True Tales from the Lives and Works of Writers for Every Day of the Year by Tom Nissley

reader's book of daysOn this day in 1891, Zora Neale Hurston was born, and in 1972, John Berryman died. Also, in 1877…

Completed on this day when its author was not yet fifteen, Fast and Loose: A Novelette certainly promises illicit fun. As one reviewer noted, “The very title suggests something desperate. Who is fast? What is loose? … We prophesy 128 pages of racy trash & are glad to think we shall be wasting our time agreeably.” The reviewer, though, was none other than the author, Edith Jones, who not only wrote the book (for the enjoyment of a friend) but attached three wittily scathing reviews – “the whole thing a fiasco,” said another – mocking her own efforts. Eight years later, Miss Jones married and became Edith Wharton, but despite this precocious beginning it wasn’t until she was thirty-eight that she published her first novel, The Touchstone.

But don’t let’s start there. I implore you, begin reading Tom Nissley’s year in the life of books with his Introduction, which explains his love of dates and how he went about creating this book. (Among other things, it seems he became a little blind to everything else in the good books he was reading, in his hunt for dates.) It improved the book for me. I also liked that he prefaced his work with two quotations, from Dr. Johnson and Thomas Bernhard respectively, which praise & denigrate the practice of including chronology at all in one’s work (“most tasteless and… unintellectual procedure,” crabs Bernhard). I had also forgotten that my copy, a gift from my mother, was signed. Thanks, Mom.

The rest of the book is one-page-to-a-day of literary births, deaths, and anecdotes, covering both the real lives of literary figures as well as the chronologies of their fictional creations. Each month is preceded by recommended reading for that month, too.

As a quick reference it is fun and pleasant though not of course comprehensive (one page to a day! so not everything that ever happened on that day). I liked the month’s recommended reading and Nissley’s introduction best, because I liked his voice. I hope he’ll write more. And I hope you’ve enjoyed the days in book history series. Happy New Year!

Rating: 6 notes.

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