LONG PERSONAL SIDEBAR (skip to review if you want to miss the high school stories):
In high school, we were supposed to write papers about our favorite poets for senior English class. I had long been a fan of Edward Gorey. I memorized the Gashlycrumb Tinies one night when Dad took my brother and me to a science fiction club meeting. We stayed downstairs playing Super Nintendo while the grownups geeked out upstairs, and that evening’s host had a Gashlycrumb Tinies poster hanging in the basement – the rest is history. So fast forward a few years, and I am a snotty soon-to-be English major who thinks I’m smarter than my AP English teacher (she pronounced Albert Camus “Cam-uss”). So when I found out that there were no books about Edward Gorey, rather than pick another poet to write about, I decided to make it all up.
This was back in the pre-computer days, children, so our assignment was to go to the library, research our poets using actual books, write one fact per notecard, and then write the source on the back of that notecard. Then we were supposed to use the facts to write the paper, and use the sources to make a bibliography. I made up all my facts. I made up all my sources. I made up Gorey’s entire history. AND (drum roll, please)…I got an A.
(I normally would never have done such a thing – I was a very good student! But I had senioritis REAL bad.)
So many many moons later, when Dad got me an actual biography of Mr. Gorey, I was delighted to dive in and see how wrong my high school self was.
If you know any of Gorey’s works, you will not be surprised to find out just how odd the man himself was. He loved books and cats and ballet, which you can obviously see in his stuff. He was born in Chicago in 1925, he actually wore the full length fur coats so many of his characters wore, he loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and he was gay! So many facts I didn’t know.
Though the subject himself is delightful, this book is a bit dry. Mark Dery obviously did his proper research, combing through decades of Gorey’s personal correspondence and interviews with old friends. He lived an interesting life and died at 75 of cardiac arrest, after having previously turned down his doctor’s earlier recommendation of a pacemaker. His family called him Ted. The ups and downs of Gorey’s publishing career are covered, as well as as much of his personal life as Dery could put together. But it’s all very scholarly, and not super engaging, despite the interesting subject. Gorey was delighted when he moved “far from the Manhattan he abominated.” Gonna need to start using that word a bunch more. He had “a prodigious intake of highbrow literature” and “a wide-ranging cultural diet.” On his application to Harvard, he attached an extra sheet for the question about books read during the past 12 months (I think he would have enjoyed CBR).
The un-approachability of the writing leads me to recommend this book only to die-hard Gorey fans (or those who just dig scholarly writing, I suppose), but I am very glad to have read it. I think this was my favorite Gorey quote mentioned in the book:
I’ve always had a rather strong sense of unreality. I feel other people exist in a way that I don’t.”
It sounds like he would have been tough to hang out with, but I’m glad we have so much of his work to enjoy.
(One other high school note – in an earlier English class, I had recited the Gashlycrumb Tinies when we had to do a poem in front of the class, and scared all my classmates. Ah, memories!)