Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters

Mallory Ortberg. Holt, $23 (240p) ISBN 978-1-62779-183-0
Humorist Ortberg offers a side-splitting take on famous literary characters from Gilgamesh to Hermione Granger by peeking into their imagined text messages, replete with emoticons, misspellings, and irregular punctuation. Some exchanges update well-known plot points—Goneril intercepts texts from Regan on Edmund’s phone and Gertrude offers to bring a tuna sandwich to Hamlet’s room. Others exaggerate character traits, like Scarlett O’Hara egging on Ashley to guess what corset she’s wearing, or Cathy and Heathcliff one-upping each other about the respective desperation of their love for each another. Ortberg keeps the joke fresh with jabs at various canonical authors, portraying Coleridge interrupted while composing Kubla Khan by “some asshole from Porlock” and Thoreau busily inviting friends and ordering supplies to his “self-sufficient” retreat to the woods. Ortberg gets the most mileage whenever she plays a quirky artist off a nonplussed straight man, whether it’s T.S. Eliot’s friend explaining “I can’t leave work to buy you a peach” or William Carlos Williams’s long-suffering wife reading his note that says, “i have eaten the little red wheelbarrow/ that was in the icebox.” Ortberg charmingly captures, in short, palatable bytes, what is most memorable about famous books and their indelible characters. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/15/2014
Release date: 11/04/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
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