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TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER: 'Reader's Book' provides absorbing tidbits about famous writers

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

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“A Reader’s Book of Days”

Today is a good day to curl up with a book.

That may be all you’ll do on this day, or today may be monumental in ways you’ll never forget. The thing is, you won’t know until it’s over and you’re ready for another day loaded with possibilities and books.

Did you ever wonder how your favorite author filled his or her time? Did you ever imagine what life-changing events made someone’s story unfold? Browse through “A Reader’s Book of Days” by Tom Nissley, and you’ll peek at literary lives.

When he was in college, Tom Nissley was “the guy in the library with books piled all around.” He was obsessed with the classics and authors that almost nobody ever checks out.

The reason? He was looking for “stories,” he says. Bits of life, whether that of the authors themselves or the characters about whom they wrote. Nissley fixated on diaries and letters, minutiae and dates — particularly dates, because he wanted to “create” a book that would tell a tale in small bits.

He loved finding out, for instance, that March 7 was the day that Bret Easton Ellis was born (1964), Thomas Aquinas died (1274) and Ernest Hemingway received a Dear John letter (1919). Or that Ogden Nash was born, Blaise Pascal died, and Robert Louis Stevenson admitted that he hated civilization on Aug. 19, but in different years.

He was surprised to see that some modern authors used their own birthdays as “important dates in their novels.”

Beginning on Jan. 1 (birthdate of E.M. Forster), Nissley meanders through the years and the centuries. We learn what happened when Edgar Allan Poe married his 13-year-old cousin, Virginia (May 16). We come to understand why Aug. 11 might be every bit as scary as Halloween.

Authors will be impressed by what Walt Whitman did on July 4. We’re ringside at meetings between Edith Wharton and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and between Vladimir Nabokov and Dr. Seuss — both on July 5, 44 years apart. We learn what George Bernard Shaw had the guts to do on Feb. 29, and we end the year with a snub from Franz Kafka.

Want to make today a little better? Grab “A Reader’s Book of Days,” turn off the phone, clear your calendar, and settle in. If you’re a book lover, you won’t want to put this book down.

That’s because each of author Tom Nissley’s entries are varied and lively. Days are filled with notable births and deaths, as well as paragraph after paragraph of things that either happened to an author or that happened to an author’s story.

Months begin with a timely introduction, and each chapter includes a “recommended reading” list to get you in the mood — all of which makes this book fun and very, very habit-forming.

Look up your birthday (Nissley admits that he did!). Turn to a special date. Open this book at random and read, or see what happened tomorrow. For you, “A Reader’s Book of Days” practically begs you to browse now.

“A Reader’s Book of Days,” by Tom Nissley, copyright 2013 by W.W. Norton, is 448 pages and sells for $24.95.

Contact book reviewer Terri Schlichenmeyer at www.bookwormsez.com or at bookwormsez@gmail.com.