1. Archive

Writers, all around the town

LITERARY NEW YORK, by Susan Edmiston and Linda D. Cirino, Gibbs Smith, $15.95.

Herman Melville was born at 6 Pearl St. in 1819, and Walt Whitman lived in a boarding house at 12 Centre St. and worked for a newspaper called the Aurora. He walked home for lunch every day. Edgar Allen Poe and his wife lived at 130 Greenwich St. and in 1844 he was considered a successful critic and editor.

This collage of literary lives, photos, maps, anecdotes and quotes that illuminate New York's literary scene was first published in 1975. Unfortunately, the book seems to trail off in the 1950s. The poet Robert Philip's last-minute list-as-introduction doesn't quite make it up-to-date, and certain obsessive types will want more essential information. For example, everyone knows that Dylan Thomas drank himself to death at the White Horse Tavern, at Hudson and 11th Street, but not everyone knows he achieved this task by drinking 18 straight whiskies.

THE BRIDESHEAD GENERATION: Evelyn Waugh and His Friends, by Humphrey Carpenter, Houghton Mifflin, $12.95.

Here's a witty, wicked gossipfest about the British writer Waugh and his early 1920s Oxford crowd. His zany cronies include Harold Acton, Cyril Connolly, Graham Greene, Nancy Mitford and John Betjeman, with cameo appearances by W.

H. Auden, George Orwell, P.

G. Wodehouse and Oscar Wilde.

In a nutshell, the featured nut hated his effeminate Christian name, detested his theatrical and domineering father, envied his older brother Alec (also a writer), tried being an artist and homosexual, married poorly then married better, had six children and soon became a theatrical, domineering (and maybe insane) cad just like dear old dad. Along the way, he published more than 30 books, including Vile Bodies, A Handful of Dust and Brideshead Revisited.

Carpenter, who has written biographies of Tolkien, Auden and Ezra Pound, is also a musician and founder of a band called Vile Bodies, which recreates music of the Waugh era. I don't know much about music, but this book sings.

Susan Shapiro's paperback column appears semi-monthly.