Here’s The Hot New 17th Century Biography For Fall
No, come back, it’s good.
I know we shouldn’t be in any rush to push summer out the door, but it is time to start thinking about what you’re going to read come fall, when everything around you says it’s the season for a Serious Book. I mean, if you read books and you listen to the seasons. Anyway, let me recommend Ruth Scurr’s ingenious “autobiography” of John Aubrey, who you might know from his gossipy collection of mini-biographies, Brief Lives. You might not know him at all, and that’s fine too. Here’s the deal:
John Aubrey, My Own Life… reimagines what biography can be. This intimate diary of Aubrey’s days is composed of his own words, collected, collated, and enlarged upon by Ruth Scurr in an act of meticulous scholarship and daring imagination. Scurr’s biography honors and echoes Aubrey’s own innovations in the art of biography. Rather than subject his life to a conventional narrative, Scurr has collected the evidence — the remnants of a life from manuscripts, letters, and books — and arranged it chronologically, modernizing words and spellings, and adding explanations when necessary, with sources provided in the extensive endnotes.
What this doesn’t tell you is just what a pleasure this book is to read. The work Scurr does to make the book more modern ensures an astoundingly compelling narrative, one that passes by much more swiftly than its 500-odd pages would lead you to believe (or, to be frank, fear). What’s remarkable about this book is how contemporary so much of the 17th century appears through Aubrey’s telling, and how his writing, even (or especially) at its most self-deceptive, makes him seem so much like someone you know (or are). It’s a tremendous accomplishment and something that doesn’t even make you feel like you’re doing Serious Reading, but you still get the points anyway. It’s out next week, so go ahead and order it now so once you start getting upset about summer being over you have something to distract you. You’re very welcome.