Title: A Dab of Dickens & A Touch of Twain
Author: Elliot Engel
Genre: Biography, sorta
Subject: The lives of several of the big names in American and British Literature, including Shakespeare, Twain, Dickens, Poe, Fitzgerald, and so on. However, while one does get the big points of their lives, some of the littler points are also included--the things they probably didn't teach you in English class, like how Poe was inspired to write "The Raven", F. Scott Fitzgerald's decadent life, and how there is a segment in "The Canterbury Tales" that is probably the raunchiest bit of language to come out of Chaucer.
Reader's Notes: These essays are basically all of Engel's lectures, which he is rather well known for, put into a more tangible form. I had heard a couple of his lectures before reading this(namely, Shakespeare, Poe, and Twain), so I was kinda biased going into it, but they really are wonderful reads. They're not dry at all, and are rather fun and humorous. What I think makes them worth reading though are how, by adding things that are not generally known about the authors' lives, he gives them a more human, more tangible quality, which allows the reader to connect more. Another neat thing about the essays are how Engel occasionally shows how certain phrases that are now commonplace in the English language came to be and how they were connected to certain authors, such as the phrases 'box office', and 'minding one's p's and q's'. It's chock full of little gems, and is delightful to read. I definitely recommend it.