Biographer Rex

What Edmund Morris is Reading: Book Bag

The presidential biographer and author of an erudite new collection of essays, This Living Hand, shares some of the favorite books he’s read lately.

I am that most boring of list-compilers, a guy who avidly falls upon “new” books that other people donated to their local libraries in the era of Jimmy Carter.

James Gould Cozzens’s Guard of Honor, anyone? Guess not. Well, you’re missing the greatest of all American novels about World War II.

The Letters of Emily Dickinson, Harvard edition in three volumes? Kinda heavy for the subway, but impossible to open at any page without being pierced by lines like, “The Sailor cannot see the North—but knows the Needle can.”

All right, something at least published this century? How about Alice Munro’s Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, which despite an annoying title, has stories that make one afraid of falling asleep, lest dreams be as brutal as her all-seeing realism.

And then W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, the swan song of an artist whose death was as tragically premature as that of Schubert.

Oh, and Michel Houellebecq’s Lanzarote: Islamophobia, full-color rock photography, sex on a black beach with two German lesbians—what more could an armchair traveler desire?

Most recently, I found Christopher Buckley’s new comic novel They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? to be ... not very funny. But ... I mean that as a high compliment. Buckley being Buckley, it did of course crack me up on occasion (particularly when he cited that well-known Indian scandal sheet, The Delhi Beast), but the damn story is so good, you take the humor, like oxygen, for granted, while unstoppably reading on. His best novel since Wet Work, whose excellence was, alas, shortchanged by a pub date accidentally coinciding with news of the first Gulf War. Can’t wait for Christo’s next book, which I hope will be titled The Adventures of Randolph.