Back-Cover Bio of the Month

I love good books, especially with attractive covers. If, while trapped in some blighted area without indie bookstores, I go to Barnes & Noble, and they have a bunch of in-house editions of public-domain out-of-copyright classics, marked down to $2 per, I leave with a bunch of new books.

These Barnes & Noble Editions are often editorially chintzy affairs, unannotated and with slapdash intros that give away the whole plot in the first paragraph, but the texts speak for themselves, and a copy of Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence with an Octave Morillot cover will get my two bucks.

I consider Maugham not only a great writer, but a great writer who stands in for other less famous writers who shared in some part Maugham's style, priorities and sensibilities. Thus, though he is flawed, he is unmissable, and even something like iconic. There is a lot I could say about his oeuvre, and how he brought Proustian depth of feeling into an English vernacular, but why bother? According to this Barnes & Noble edition's bewilderingly crass back-cover capsule bio:

A closeted homosexual moving in bohemian circles in London and Paris, Maugham took his revenge on his past suffering and present insecurities through fiction.

Ladies & gentlemen, the ostensible literary psychology of the complex and nuanced prose craftsman W. Somerset Maugham, helpfully summarized by an anonymous back-cover blurber. Lord have mercy!

I don't care if a novel's by Gypsy Rose Lee, Alan Hollinghurst, James Baldwin, or Karrine "SuperHead" Steffans (all writers whose work I enjoy btw), an author's sex life has no place in a back-cover biographical blurb. It's idiotic and ignorant to reduce anyone's life and works to her sex life, but it's particularly galling-- and condescending and inappropriate-- when the author in question happens to be queer. Haven't we come a bit farther than that?

So, until I find an edition of a Kingsley Amis book whose back cover says "A militant misogynist and serial heterosexual adulterer, Amis took revenge for his own male insecurities through fiction," the above grossly dismissive summation of Maugham will have to serve as your Back-Cover Bio of the Month.

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One Response to Back-Cover Bio of the Month

  1. "Ben took revenge for his own male insecurities through comics," is now the latest addition to my bio.