1. Reading Anne Sexton

    The poet Anne Sexton makes a dashing, mysterious cameo in “Her Husband,” Diane Middlebrook’s riveting biography of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes’s marriage. Ever since I finished that book, I’ve been meaning to read Middlebrook’s biography of Sexton herself. Now I finally am—tiptoeing each night across Sexton’s “dark halls”: her “rebirth at twenty-nine” as a writer, her tumultuous marriage, scores of admirers (and lovers), and the mental illness that ultimately led her to commit suicide, at forty-five.

    The biography was made famous for its transcription, word for word, of Sexton’s sessions with her psychiatrist, Dr. Martin Orne (who provided Middlebrook with the tapes and wrote the foreword for the book). The publication of these sessions may seem borderline unethical, but Middlebrook treads carefully, seemingly agreeing with Orne’s assertion that “Anne herself would have wanted to share that process.”

    Coupled with a masterly breakdown of Sexton’s literary technique and a series of revealing interviews with her family and closest friends, this book grants readers access into the psyche of one of the most gifted—and troubled—poets of the twentieth century. … [Read more