Poison Penmanship, Paperback Book
4 out of 5 (1 rating)


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 288 pages
  • Publisher: The New York Review of Books, Inc
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Reportage & collected journalism
  • ISBN: 9781590173558



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Jessica Mitford (1917-1996) was born in England, but made her mark as a modern-day muckraker in America. Poison Penmanship is a delightful anthology of some of her essays. She was relentless in pursuit of wrong-doers, a self-educated woman who never really attended school, and the author of The American Way of Death (1963). That is the book she is best known for, but her shorter-form works are equally intriguing. That book revolutionized the funeral industry and made her a pariah with morticians. In Poison Penmanship (reprinted 2010), Ms. Mitford relates her encounters with the Famous Writers’ school, the American south, a spa/fat farm, her stint teaching at San Jose State University (and much, much more). Each essay is followed by her commentary. I enjoyed every one of the essays, with the exception of the last, on Egyptology, which I began in earnest but finished by skimming. In her comments, she admits it is an article she didn’t have her heart in, and includes it as “one that got away.” Maybe that what I caught wind of. Although I had heard the name Jessica Mitford, I didn’t know anything about her. That will soon be remedied when I receive a copy of a well-reviewed 2010 biography, Irrepressible by Leslie Brody. It seems she comes from a family of oddballs and eccentrics, including her sisters -- who may define both categories.