Monday, October 29, 2007


The Book: Scott Peeples, EDGAR ALLAN POE REVISITED. Twayne's United States Authors Series. Twayne Publishers, 1998. First edition, inscribed: "Ellen, Thanks for helping me get this into shape -- Scott." Fine condition.
First read: 1997
Owned since: 1998

Two firsts for the blog today: the first book written by a friend (as opposed to someone I just met at a booksigning), and the first book I had anything to do with (I proofread the galleys, which were very clean).

Scott, a dear friend of mine since college, teaches English composition and literature at the College of Charleston and is one of the world's leading experts on Edgar Allan Poe. He serves as president of the Poe Studies Association, and earlier this year published The Afterlife of Edgar Allan Poe, a look at Poe's standing in American literature over the 158 years since his mysterious death.

Edgar Allan Poe Revisited is the perfect survey of Poe's life and work for anyone who wants to take a closer look at them. We remember his horror stories and a handful of poems, but Poe was also the creator of the modern detective story ("The Murders in the Rue Morgue"), and a pioneer in the creation of magazines. Scott discusses how Poe emerged as an original voice -- one of the very first original American voices -- out of the influences of European romanticism and Jacksonian democracy.

The centerpiece of the book, to my mind, is a chapter-long discussion of Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Scott, typically low-key, writes, "Pym stands as one of the most elusive major texts of American literature." Some of its passages are brilliant, vivid, horrifying; the story as a whole is incomprehensible. Scott not only explains the novel as well as anyone could, but also explains why Poe wrote it and why he wrote it the way he did.

It was almost enough to make me try to read the book again, but I might wait a few more years, or see about procuring my own bottle of absinthe first.

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