Instant Lives

Loosely based on historical anecdotes, these devilishly delightful vignettes and illustrations feature some of the more recognizable individuals throughout the ages, like Emily Dickinson, Mozart, Oscar Wilde, and Jane Austen. This book was created by a National Book Award Winner for Poetry and iconic American artist, both are sure to make the reader laugh out loud today as much as they did almost fifty years ago, when the work was first published. For instance, envision Louisa May Alcott standing on the steps of Caldecott High in Concord, decked out in a letterman’s sweater and shoreman knit beanie, confronting a local nineteenth-century critic of her writing, Mrs. Fortress-Rondeau, from the Concord library “vice squad,” who is conversely clad in an outdated version of Victorian fashion of the day, with Alcott shouting (at the top of her lungs) that Fortress-Rondeau is a “little frump.” A crack-up moment if ever there was one in literary folklore and just a sample of the contents of this absurdly funny classic book.

Howard Moss was the poetry editor of The New Yorker for almost forty years, a role that he used to promote the work of then-little-known poets like Anne Sexton, Richard Wilbur, and Sylvia Plath. Hugely influential on American poetry as we know it today, Moss was also a poet himself, as well as a literary critic and professor at Vassar.

Edward Gorey (1925-2000) began his career as a child prodigy, drawing at the age of two, reading by the age of three. At 17, he enrolled in courses at the Art Institute of Chicago before entering the U.S. Army. Later, he went on to study French literature at Harvard, where he lived with poet Frank O’Hara. He spent many years designing covers for Doubleday, and is best known for his spindly black-and-white Victorian illustrations, which may remind today’s readers of the animations of Tim Burton. He is the author and illustrator of many books, including The Unstrung Harp (1953), The Doubtful Guest (1957), The Gashlycrumb Tinies (1963), and the Amphigorey collections (Amphigorey, Amphigorey Too, Amphigorey Again, Amphigorey Also). His house on Cape Cod is now a museum open to the public.