Booth, James. Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love. Bloombury. Nov. 2014. 544p. ISBN 9781620407813. $35. BIOGRAPHY
Philip Larkin has long been regarded as one of Britain’s most distinguished 20th-century poets—and by many as too tartly superior in his attitude toward women and minorities for comfort. Booth, literary adviser and coeditor of the Philip Larkin Society and Larkin’s colleague at the University of Hull for 17 years, revisits Larkin’s early years and response to the intense competition of academia with the aim of offering a broader, more nuanced view of Larkin’s life.
Chandler, Raymond. The World of Raymond Chandler: In His Own Words. Knopf. Nov. 2014. 288p.ed. by Barry Day. ISBN 9780385352369. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780385352376. BIOGRAPHY
Day, whose compilation work has illuminated the lives of authors like Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward, binds together extracts from Chandler’s novels, short stories, and letters with his own commentary to show how an American-born product of Dulwich College, London, got himself to Los Angeles and wrote some of the best hard-boiled mysteries in the business. Lots of photos, plus promotion at Bouchercon.
Lee, Hermione. Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life. Knopf. Nov. 2014. 512p. ISBN 9780385352345. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780385352352. BIOGRAPHY
President of Wolfson College and the biographer of Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton, among others, Lee takes on a distinguished British writer whose career didn’t begin until she was near 60. Fitzgerald went on to win the Booker Prize (for Offshore) and the National Book Critics Circle Award (for The Blue Flower), books that deliver a startling exactitude of insight and language. Rave reviews from Britain for Lee’s biography (“brilliant and passionate,” the Guardian).
MacNiven, Ian S. “Literchoor Is My Beat”: A Life of James Laughlin, Publisher of New Directions. Farrar. Nov. 2014. 592p. ISBN 9780374299392. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780374712433. BIOGRAPHY
Most readers know that James Laughlin founded New Directions, publishing his first anthology before graduating from Harvard and bringing us Ezra Pound’s The Cantos, William Carlos Williams’s Paterson, and authors from Jorge Luis Borges to Herman Hesse. Fewer know that he was a top-notch skier who purchased and managed a ski resort in Utah. MacNiven, the noted biographer of Lawrence Durrell, shows us a real fighter who doubted his own worth as a writer but was brilliant at identifying real talent in others.
Nicolson, Adam. Why Homer Matters. Holt. Nov. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781627791793. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781627791809. HISTORY
The 5th Baron Carnock, grandson of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson, Nicolson argues that Homer’s verse continues to resonate because it shows us how deeply connected we remain to our ancestors and to worlds seemingly lost. He does so partly by revisiting the many landscapes Homer visited in verse, from once-fragrant Sicily, where oil refineries grind away, to the Balkans, where oral poetry persists, to empty Chernobyl. Evidently, it was not for nothing that Nicolson won the 2009 Ondaatje Prize (for Sissinghurst), awarded for any work successfully evoking the spirit of a place.
Rudenstine, Neil L. Ideas of Order: A Close Reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Farrar. Nov. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9780374280154. $26. LITERARY CRITICISM
Former Harvard president Rudenstine offers a close reading of Shakespeare’s immortal sonnets, arguing that the 154 pieces arc through a single dramatic story encompassing the poet’s life-changing passion for a young man, willingly returned, and the disruption that results when the famous dark lady comes on the scene.
Strohm, Paul. Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury. Viking. Nov. 2014. 304p, ISBN 9780670026432. $28.95. BIOGRAPHY
As tumultuous times descended on 14th-century London, cog-in-the-wheel bureaucrat Geoffrey Chaucer found himself without job or home, separated from his wife, and alone in Kent with no one to hear the occasional poetry he penned. Then he decided to write for the ages. From the former J.R.R. Tolkien Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University.