rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
There's always something of a gamble in picking up a biography because you want to read a biography of the person it is about, and not because you have heard anything good about the author or book for itself. This book is blurbed by Anita Desai and Guy Davenport and lives up to that; I am glad, because I wanted to read a biography of Cummings after The Enormous Room made me curious about what happened next.

The author was, I gather, the first writer to have complete access to Cummings' papers, diaries, notes to himself, etc., and full permission to publish them. He therefore wisely lets Cummings speak for himself a lot of the time, and uses selections from the poetry when it is relevant. But, as a good biographer should, he also presents information and analysis-- not unbiasedly, because no one does that, but in a fashion that lets you see the biases and that he is aware of them.

And Sawyer-Lauçanno's major bias is also the one which is an additional mark of a good biographer: he loves his subject. He says so straight out. He loves Cummings' work, and it has had great impact on his life. Knowing and admitting this, he can get out of his own way enough to give us the man's flaws.

Which were significant. Edward Estlin Cummings was an incredibly complicated man who changed complexities on a fairly regular basis. He was learned, kind, funny, charming, charitable, loyal to a fault, devoted to his work, devoted to an appreciation of the world, in love with the city of Paris par amours, and absolutely unwilling to be fettered by convention. He was also terrible at relationships in some truly amazing directions, never forgot a perceived slight, could not understand financial anything on either personal or larger scales, almost certainly drank too much, and--


cut for a long and sordid story )


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March 2017

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