BOOK REVIEW: WHO WAS EDGAR ALLAN POE? By Jim Gigliotti
REVIEW BY Levi L. Leland
American writer and editor Rufus Griswold wrote a not-so-nice obituary in the New York Tribune. He had never forgotten about a negative review Edgar gave one of his books several years earlier. “Edgar Allan Poe is dead,” the obituary began. “He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it.” Among other things, Griswold insisted that Edgar had few or no friends, and that he was an angry person who was jealous of other people’s success. In a collection of Edgar’s works and in other publications, Griswold made up stories that damaged Edgar’s reputation even further. He said Edgar roamed the streets talking to himself. Readers of Edgar’s stories knew that he often wrote shocking descriptions of death or violence, and that he sometimes wrote from the point of view of a crazy person. Some of the characters in his stories were drug addicts. So when Griswold wrote such things, people believed them. Edgar and Griswold had first met in 1841 and were sometimes friends and sometimes rivals. And for twenty-five years after Edgar’s death, his reputation was influenced by what Griswold had written and said about him. (“Who was Edgar Allan Poe?” by Jim Gigliotti, pp 94-96).
So who was Edgar Allan Poe? The above excerpt does a pretty good job explaining why that question is difficult to answer. There are thousands of biographies in all types of media that attempt to delve into the life of Edgar Allan Poe. Some do a quite successful job, while others do not. In my opinion, “Who Was Edgar Allan Poe” by Jim Gigliotti, hit the mark! If you’re not familiar with the popular kids series, “Who Is?/What Was?/Where Is?” they are an easy-to-read 100 page book that cover many historical people/places all over the world.
I’m a major Edgar Allan Poe aficionado. I’ve read all the “critical” biographies, watched all the documentaries, read all the essays, and not one has impressed me as much as Gigliotti did in his little booklet. Don’t get me wrong, this short book only scraped the surface of Poe’s intricate life, and it may have sugar-coated some details of Poe’s lugubrious existence, but it did so in a way kids and Poe fans alike can really obtain the most important aspects of Poe’s life without having to break out the 900 page Poe biography. Yes, I’m 20 years old, so why did I bother to buy a book about Poe written for children? Because why the hell NOT!? I’ve been studying Poe for years now, and like I said, I’ve read all those long, sometimes boring, critical Poe biographies. I’m already well versed on Poe’s life, so I find it fun and entertaining to read everything I can that informs people about Poe, no matter what age it’s designed for! It summed up Poe’s life more precisely and clearly than some adult biographies have. I would highly recommend this for not only children, but for even adults starting out in the realm of Edgar Allan Poe!
But now to my favorite part, the illustrations! As an artist myself, any time I can find a Poe biography that has original illustrations, I have to buy it. This was no exception. The quirky little pen-and-ink drawings of Poe, the people in his life, the places in his life, and the events of his life just add to the overall satisfying experience of reading this book! It gives you a resplendent idea of what these scenes may have looked like that we hear about so often in Poe biography. Tim Foley did an outstanding job depicting Poe’s life throughout, and I commend his accuracy in each drawing.
So who was Edgar Allan Poe? If you read this simple biography written by Jim Gigliotti and illustrated by Tim Foley, you’ll have a pretty good idea and a pretty good start when you turn the last page!
- Levi L. Leland
Levi L. Leland’s Poe-inspired Etsy Store: https://www.facebook.com/theravenspalette
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