Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family Feuds, By Lyndall Gordon

Paperbacks Of The Year: Soured relations and a poet's poisoned legacy

This is the kind of biography that bears repeat readings. Lyndall Gordon doesn't just tell the tale of Emily Dickinson's reclusive life, spiking many of the assumptions we have about her daily existence and influence over others, she also focuses on the shameful family wrangling that took place after the poet's death.

Poets need their champions, but Dickinson's legacy was torn between two – the formidable Mabel Loomis Todd, who was responsible for the first publication of Dickinson's poems and who had an affair with Dickinson's brother, Austin, and Susan Gilbert, Austin's wife. Gordon manages the hatreds and betrayals within the family with just the right mixture of passion (when Mabel is likened to Lady Macbeth) and restraint.