Rosemary Mahoney is the author of A Likely Story: One Summer With Lillian Hellman (Anchor Books, $14). Her book The Singular Pilgrim: Travels on Sacred Ground will be published in February.
Writing Home by Alan Bennett (out of print). A funny, touching, and enviably well-written collection of Bennett’s journals and reminiscences about his life and career as a playwright and satirist. I was dazzled and enchanted, edified and filled with envy by this superb book.
Self-Consciousness by John Updike (Crest, $7). A vivid and, of course, beautifully eloquent reflection on Updike’s own life and place in the universe. Not quite a memoir in the traditional sense, the book (with its essays on Updike’s stuttering, psoriasis, ancestry, religion, and views on Vietnam) is more revealing and evocative than any memoir I’ve ever read.
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The Collected Stories of Mavis Gallant (out of print). Many of Gallant’s short stories are so moving and real and beautifully written that it’s difficult to believe they were created by one human being. I think she’s the best short-story writer writing in English.
The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm (Vintage Books, $12). This is a smart, unsettling, and very exciting book. Malcolm’s investigation of the complex lawsuit of Jeffrey MacDonald against Joe McGinnis (who wrote the book Fatal Vision about MacDonald’s crime and trial) is also an exploration of the ethics and pitfalls of the journalistic pursuit.
The Complete Poems 1927–1979 by Elizabeth Bishop (Noonday Press, $14). Well, I’d say Shakespeare’s Sonnets, but everyone knows that already. Elizabeth Bishop was one of America’s most gifted, witty, and original poets. Her clear-eyed, sometimes quirky view of the world is a pure joy to read.
Letter From Egypt: A Journey on the Nile, 1849–1850 by Florence Nightingale (out of print). Florence Nightingale wasn’t who you think she was. Far from being an insufferable saint, she was adventuresome, a brilliant master of satire, discriminating, had a wicked sense of humor, and was graced with a fearsome gift of literary description. In reading this book, I realized that she had managed—in the best possible way—to make me feel frivolous and dull and ignorant.
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