57 Recall this B-side #2: Elizabeth Ferry on “The Diary of ‘Helena Morley'” (JP)

Given this podcast’s love of neglected books, you won’t be shocked to know that John has a side-hustle–in which Elizabeth plays a significant part. He edits a Public Books column called B-Side Books, where writers like Namwali Serpell and Ursula Le Guin sing praises to a beloved but neglected book. Now, there is a book that collects 40 of these columns (Washington Post review; interview with John about the B-side concept on Five Books).  Find it as your local bookstore, or Columbia University Press, or Bookshop, (or even Amazon).

Elizabeth’s B-side was a paean to Elizabeth Bishop’s delightful translation of the Brazilian diary in which “Helena Morley” (a pseudonym for Alice Brant) looks back to her childhood in a dusty provincial mining town. In our RtB conversation, she explains that part of the joy in rediscovering the book came from feeling that she, like Bishop herself, was looking back at forgotten childhoods. And yet, her first encounter with the book came during her time in present-day mining towns, where she felt surrounded by potential future Helenas, thinking their thoughts and living their lives.

Mentioned in the Episode


Elizabeth Bishop, “The Fish“; “The Bight” (“awful but cheerful”; John inexplicably gets the title wrong); “Crusoe in England

Harriet Doerr, Stones for Ibarra

Listen and Read

Upcoming Episodes

Caleb Crain, celebrated novelist, waxes eloquent about a complete comic novel written by Daisy Ashford, age 9. Truly, 9. And for our final Recall This B-Side, Pardis Dabashi on a quirky Iranian extravagance that my remind you of Tristram Shandy.

Author: plotznik

I teach English (mainly the novel and Victorian literature) at Brandeis University, and live in Brookline.

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