Category Archives: scholarly

Julian Barnes, “Something to Declare”

I tend to think of Julian Barnes as an all-English writer but I realize, that’s probably just because he used to rather famously play tennis with Martin Amis. (So very English!) But it turns out that Barnes is Francophone and … Continue reading

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Nathaniel Philbrick, “Why Read Moby-Dick?”

“There are no tricks — there is only enthusiasm.” That, according to my admittedly flawed memory, is legendary femme fatale Pamela Harriman’s explanation of how she managed to ensnare so many powerful men in her lifetime. My husband takes this … Continue reading

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Asti Hustvedt, “Medical Muses”

One of the most fascinating areas of research for Leaving Van Gogh was the treatment of  mental illness in 19th-century France. Since the novel is set in 1890, it’s natural that I came across the titanic figure of that era, Dr. … Continue reading

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Stacy Schiff, “Cleopatra”

I don’t read a lot of biographies, but if more of them were like Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra, that would change. On the other hand, it’s hard to know how there could be more biographies like this, because what Schiff does … Continue reading

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Elif Batuman: “The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them”

Whooosh! That sound I hear is the flames taking hold as Elif Batuman burns her bridges, leaving academia behind — or so I thought. After writing The Possessed, with its hilarious accounts of graduate student cliques and academic conferences, how … Continue reading

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Brenda Wineapple, “Sister Brother: Gertrude & Leo Stein”

I knew very little about Gertrude Stein before reading this — the famous Picasso portrait, Biography of Alice B. Toklas, “Rose is a rose is a rose,” and 27, rue de Fleurus in Paris about summed it up. I did … Continue reading

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Jane Mulvagh, “Madresfield: The Real Brideshead”

This one’s a little frustrating. Madresfield is a little-known English country house that served as the inspiration for Brideshead Revisited.  But part of what made it interesting to Mulvagh was its early history and the fact that the house has … Continue reading

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