On My Bookshelf

Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth WinderPainPartiesCOVER

From Amazon.com: Pain, Parties, Work by Elizabeth Winder is a compelling look at a young Sylvia Plath and the life-changing month that would lay the groundwork for her seminal novel, The Bell Jar. In May of 1953, a twenty-one-year-old Plath arrived in New York City, the guest editor of Mademoiselle’s annual College Issue. She lived at the Barbizon Hotel, attended the ballet, went to a Yankee game, and danced at the West Side Tennis Club. She was supposed to be having the time of her life. But what would follow was, in Plath’s words, twenty-six days of pain, parties, and work, that ultimately changed the course of her life. Thoughtful and illuminating, featuring line drawings and black-and-white photographs, Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 offers well-researched insights as it introduces us to Sylvia Plath—before she became one of the greatest and most influential poets of the twentieth century.

I knew I needed to read this book the first time I saw it mentioned online. I am a huge Sylvia Plath fan and The Bell Jar is my favorite book of all time. Yes, I realize that sounds a little cliché, but it is very true. So far, I have never read a book I enjoyed as much at The Bell Jar and it is one I constantly go back to. As you can imagine, I was excited to see a new book out about Plath that didn’t focus on her unfortunate demise. My library didn’t have the book, so I quickly requested it. I don’t know about your library, but mine will order nearly everything you request. Then when it comes in, it is immediately put on hold for you. Libraries are awesome.

From Winder’s introduction: “Sylvia Plath committed suicide with cooking gas. She was thiry, and she will always be thiry. . . . But this is a different story, and a different Sylvia. Not that frozen February tundra of 1963, but ten years yearlier, during a venomously tropical summer of record-breaking heat. Before the wet towels and baby buntings. Before the children and the books. Before Longon and Devon and the dour brown braid. Before the mugs of milk, the bread and the butter, the duct tape. Before the carbon monoxide and the oven, with its strange domestic witchery. Before she became an icon, before she was Lady Lazarus, she was Sylvia – a New England college girl with an internship in Manhatten.”

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It was a quick read – only taking me about three hours – and featured quotes and remembrances from other young guest editors on the trip.  I think there could be an interesting book just based on the experience as a whole, not focused around Plath. Maybe that already exists somewhere?

I loved to read about Plath from a different angle than the standard “tortured artist.” Even though anyone familiar with Plath’s life knew what would be coming in the final chapters when she returned home from New York and could see the bits of foreshadowing of her undoing, it didn’t stop the reader from seeing Plath as a vibrant young woman trying to enjoy her time in the big city.

Best book ever – no. Wonderful companion to The Bell Jar – yes. I’d recommend reading one with the other.

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