I’m a longtime fan of British author and journalist Brenda Maddox, who has won many prizes for her biographies of Nora Joyce, Yeats, D.H. Lawrence, and others. Readers will be captivated by GEORGE ELIOT IN LOVE (Palgrave Macmillan, $25), her new portrait of Marian Evans (the pen name of George Eliot). Described by Henry James as “horse-faced” and “magnificently ugly,” Eliot found unexpected deep happiness and companionship in 24 years of co-habitation with the legally married George Lewes, a member of London’s literary avant-garde. Lewes’s emotional support was so great that Eliot never wrote before she met him or after he died. Her royalties were staggering, the equivalent of $400,000 for her second novel, The Mill on the Floss, but by the laws of the day, the money belonged to Lewes, not Evans.
In an enchanting new memoir, Pat Conroy attributes his life-long literary preoccupations to his mother’s having read to him all 1,000 pages of Gone with the Wind when he was five and to a high-school English teacher’s infectious passion for great literature. These defining experiences launched him on the path so personally and appealingly described in MY READING LIFE (Nan A. Talese, $25). Despite the fact that I have never been a great fan of Conroy’s fiction, I was so completely absorbed by his accounts of the teachers, writers, and books that he has absorbed into his life’s blood that I read this book straight through to the end, pausing occasionally to reread sections like his tribute to War and Peace, a novel that so awed him he’s read it three times.
Just when I was feeling overwhelmed by the modern world’s frenetic pace, I relieved my frustrations with technology by reading A VOICE FROM OLD NEW YORK (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25), Louis Auchincloss’s nostalgic, almost other-worldly, recollections of an elegant life in a simpler time. Born into a family in which all eight grandparents were natives of Manhattan, his parents were members of a group defined by their inclusion in the Social Register, commonly known as “society.” As such, Auchincloss grew up on the east side of Manhattan, summered at Bar Harbor, graduated from Groton and Yale, and went on to a career in law, but he could never escape the itch of fiction and drama. He eventually wrote numerous critically acclaimed novels and stories and, after he retired from the law at the age of 69, taught Shakespeare at NYU.