The Sunday Salon: Emily and Billy


For some unknown reason, this week has found me fascinated with all things Emily Dickinson. 

I cannot explain it, and I have no idea where this sudden interest came from.  All I know is that I’m in the middle of Jerome Charyn’s incredible novel, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, and now I can’t get enough of all things Emily. 
A great novel will do that to you, right?  Don’t you just love when that happens? (And isn’t that cover great? It really captures what the book is about.)

I’m embarrassed to say that, before this week, I really didn’t know much about Emily Dickinson other than a few of her best known poems.  But in his novel, Jerome Charyn makes her so intriguing, capturing her voice and her feisty spirit in such a way that you can’t help but want to keep reading and learning more.  As the book jacket states:

“Channeling the devilish rhythms and ghosts of a seemingly buried literary past, Charyn has removed the mysterious veils that have long enshrouded Dickinson, revealing her passions, inner turmoil, and powerful sexuality.”

Doesn’t that sound good?  It absolutely is.  The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson is definitely a book to savor in terms of its delicious language and slightly devilish (OK, some more than slightly) characters.  It’s more about those elements than an actual plot, but the writing and the characters are so strong that this is more than fine.  Emily’s passions for her various love interests – a blond handyman who rescues a deer in the snow, an articulate minister from Philadelphia, a cardsharp that she nicknames Domingo after a brand of rum they shared in secret – are more than enough to keep one riveted to Charyn’s (or is it Emily’s?) every word.

Reading The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson made me want to read some of Emily’s poems,  so one night this week I took a break from the novel to read Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete on my new Kindle. (This marks my first book read on the Kindle!)  

Needless to say, I’m hoping to finish The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson today. (And there’s another Emily-related library book on the docket after this.  I recently checked out Lives Like Loaded Guns; Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds by Lyndall Gordon.)


Poetry was also part of my reading this week with Picnic, Lightning, Billy Collins’s sixth collection of verse (1998). I love Billy Collins and I enjoyed Picnic, Lightning, but I’m probably not going to review it because … well, I can’t think of anything new to say about this collection or Billy Collins’s work that I haven’t already expressed about Questions About Angels, Nine Horsesand BallisticsWhile I liked the poems in Picnic, Lightning, I admit that they didn’t resonate with me quite as much as the ones in Questions About Angels, which remains my favorite Billy Collins book.

But who knows, that could change.  With my new Dickinson fascination, I’m sure I’ll be reading Billy Collins’s seventh collection, Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes, sooner rather than later. 

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo’s Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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8 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Emily and Billy

  1. Mindy Withrow

    Thanks for the comment on my blog — glad to “meet” you! So glad you’re enjoying Secret Life as much as I did. Do you know about the Facebook group for fans of the book? I’ve met several really interesting new friends there. And I’m a Billy Collins fan, too, and, like Iliana, have a special affection for Taking Off Emily’s Dickinson’s Clothes. Looking forward to browsing your blog.

  2. The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson

    We are so delighted with this unusual “half-review” that we posted it on the facebook community we have for Emily Dickinson as revealed in “The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson.” There are more than three thousand of us, including the author – and by the way “Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes” is one of our favorites – we call it an “Emily’s Pick” – and we post the online version every few months. Come visit – all the comments show you would feel very welcome: http://www.facebook.com/SecretLifeOfEmilyDickinson

  3. Iliana

    I haven’t read all of Billy Collins’ books but Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes is my favorite collection. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

    I’m going to have to add the Charyn book to my list. It does sound good!

  4. Marion

    Thank you for your lovely comment on my blog, and it looks like you are returning the favour. I’m intrigued by your read. And I also know little about Emily D. And as you might have guessed: I like secrets 🙂 Its going on my wishlist.

  5. Peppermint Ph.D.

    Sounds intriguing…I’ve heard much whispering over the years about double and at times tawdry meanings galore in Dickinson’s poetry. Adding this one to my neverending TBR 🙂

  6. Sycorax Pine

    Is one of these the book that was published a few years ago based on the (surprisingly amorous) correspondence of Dickinson? I’m afraid I’m very hazy on the details of this memory.

    Meanwhile, I have just put a Billy Collins book in my Amazon cart on the strength of your recommendation – can’t wait!

  7. Trisha

    I love that first cover, and the book sounds fun. I know very little about Dickinson, but I do so love devilish characters. 🙂

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