Saturday, June 29, 2013

Poison Penmanship

I finally finished a book. Unbelievable. And one I have been reading since..maybe March. I have no idea since I no longer have Goodreads to tell me when I started it. This book is just one more example of the genius going on at New York Review of Books. I have yet to read a stinker from their entire collection, and count two of their "rediscovered" titles as favorites (Stoner and The Summer Book). At any rate here's a little review:

Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking by Jessica Mitford

Jessica Mitford is delightful. Self-deprecating, charming, and witty, with a definite grasp of the ridiculous. This is a collection of some of her more popular magazine pieces, most of them restored to the original form she intended. Mitford's writing style reminds me a lot of Shirley Jackson in her memoir Life Among the Savages (which is also amazing, and highly recommended).

Part of what makes this collection so great are the personal comments at the end of each piece. There you'll find anecdotes on the writing process, things she wished she'd done differently, parts of the story that didn't make it in the final piece, and most enjoyable of all, behind the scenes looks at some of the more dubious characters she encounters. For the best laughs and enjoyment, try: Don't Call it Syphilis, Maine Chance Diary, My Short and Happy Life as a Distinguished Professor, and Let Us Now Appraise Famous Writers. For more somber and social justice-canted works, head for Trial by Headline and A Talk With George Jackson.

Incidentally, Mitford claims that her sister coined the term "frenemies" in what must have been the 1920s or 30s, a claim that could require some muckraking of its own