I'm a GoodReads user testing new waters after the serious website changes. I mostly read fiction, usually Anglophone classics/ modern classics; I like nonfiction (mostly social and cultural history), good fantasy and graphic novels. For guilty pleasure, I read advice and how-to books. I made at least two reading resolutions recently; 1. read less, live more; 2. read books which give me more pleasure. I have poor filters, and books I find stylistically pleasing tend to be depressing, so I need to do something about that; if you think you know a book that is very well written, but won't make me weep, please drop me a line.

Constellation of Genius: 1922: Modernism and All That Jazz

Constellation of Genius: 1922: Modernism and All That Jazz - Kevin Jackson Argh. This book was not at all what I expected it to be.

Having enjoyed Bill Bryson’s One Summer, I did not necessarily expect a book written in a “this day in history” format, presenting what happened day after day in Paris, London, Moscow, and anywhere D.H. Lawrence travelled. Instead of organised material, we get, quite literally, a collection of trivia. Did I really need to know that Eliot reportedly used "violet face powder to make himself look more cadaverous"? How about D.H Lawrence's stomach bug? "One of Proust's last memorable nights on the town, which turned very ugly"? At best, these are attractive anecdotes for lightening up one’s classes or lectures– such as the one of Zelda’s rebellious review of The Beautiful and the Damned, in which she playfully – and rightly – accused her husband of plagiarizing her diaries and letters.

The book format has inherent formal problems, such as lengthy footnotes (including a three-page-long one on Louis Armstrong), inclusion of barely relevant information on youthful exploits of Gershwin, Hitchcock, and Dali (who, thrillingly, became a university student in 1922!), and rather tedious summaries of “major players’” lives after 1922. All this, along with the fact that the style of the book, while not simplistic, frequently feels too relaxed, simply screams “lazy writing”.

Why is this a keeper, then? I think I am precisely the target audience for this book, which reads like an extended gossip column on dead people I really care about. While obviously not a quotable academic source (meaning I would be ashamed of using it), the book is useful in preparing classes, and it fulfils the promise of its title in at least one respect: it successfully conveys the idea of a ‘constellation’ – it was fascinating to see how nearly all major writers of the period knew many of the others, exchanged letters, impressions, opinions.

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