Dispatches | July 08, 2007

Okay, here’s the truth of my current reading habits.

More often than not, I prefer to read about writers rather than what they’ve actually written. Ann Charters’s Kerouac: A Biography instead of On the Road? You bet. Diane Middlebrook’s Anne Sexton, A Biography rather than Sexton’s poetry? Positively. Mina Loy, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Byron, Shelley (both Percy and Mary), Zelda Fitzgerald (yes, she was also a writer), Edmund Wilson, Jane Austen, the Brontes, and Yeats: the list goes on (though in most cases I’ve read the writers’ original works too.) I simply have an insatiable appetite for literary gossip, particularly the tribulations of love and publication.


I love literary biographies. I love biographies period. It is an addiction akin to being a peeping Tom; I want to see writers in their unguarded, messiest moments.

Last week, after reading the New Yorker’s review of Tina Brown’s The Diana Chronicles, I rushed out and bought the book, paying full price.

“Why do you want to read that?” my husband asked from across the dinner table.

Since we both spend practically all day reading at the magazine, he likes for us to talk during dinner, but I couldn’t wait to dive into the drama of Diana’s life.

I looked at him questioningly. “What do you mean why? Why not?”

“She was famous for absolutely nothing.”

“Exactly,” I said.

I tried to explain that being famous because of who you are and not what you do is an underappreciated talent. I like to read about these people whose greatest artistic creations are themselves: Edie Sedgwick, Jackie O., Bianca Jagger, Paris Hilton and an assortment of model-groupie-celebrity-wife types.

Yet there are limits to my fandom. While we were in London, I was tempted to visit Althorp, Diana’s ancestral home but I knew my husband would never go along. We did find Sylvia Plath’s former apartments in Primrose Hill, though—both the one on Fitzroy that had also been the childhood home of Yeats and the one she had shared with Ted Hughes on Chalcot Square. It seems that paying homage to a poet rather than a princess is more acceptable.

The larger point is that all of our lives-given a good narrator-are equally fascinating. Every person’s life, whether that of a princess, poet, or postman, is full of its own glories and disappointments and should be shared with the world.

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