Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Biography Challege

I have perhaps already been overly ambitious in the number and scope of reading challenges for which I've signed up of late. But I can't say that I've ever regretted embarking on a challenge even when I haven't managed to work my way to the end of my proposed reading list or to blog diligently about each book from it that I did complete. For even when I don't adhere to the letter of the challenge, I nearly always stretch my reading horizons in the attempt.

The In Their Shoes Reading Challenge won't take me into new genre territory as I'm already a devoted reader of biographies, but it will provide excellent incentive to tackle the many tantalizing biographies that are currently adding considerable heft to my TBR pile. And since one of the characters in the novel that I'm writing is a biographer, I can call the whole endeavour research. I'll be thinking, as I read my way through my list, not just about the life of the subject of each biography, but about how the author went about shaping that life into a book.

The parameters of the challenge are straightforward. It runs throughout 2008. The goal is for each participant to select a number of books of his or her own choosing that fit within the rubric of biography, autobiography, or memoir, and to read and blog about those books before the end of the year.

Here's my list:

Anatole Broyard, Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir (1997);

Bill Bryson, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir (2006);

James Campbell, Exiled in Paris: Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Samuel Beckett, and Others on the Left Bank (2003);

Susan Cheever, American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work (2006);

Victoria Glendinning, Leonard Woolf (2006);

Charlotte Gray, Reluctant Genius: The Passions and Inventions of Alexander Graham Bell (2006);

Robert Lecker, Dr. Delicious: Memoirs of a Life in CanLit (2006);

Hermione Lee, Edith Wharton (2007);

A. David Moody, Ezra Pound: Poet, Volume I: The Young Genius 1885-1920 (2007);

Ruth Panofsky, The Force of Vocation: The Literary Career of Adele Wiseman (2006)

Charles J. Shields, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee (2006); and,

Claire Tomalin, Thomas Hardy (2007).

A couple of these I've already begun; indeed, I read to the halfway point of Tomalin's Thomas Hardy last spring. But I've let so much time elapse since I set them down that in each case I plan to start over so as not to deprive myself of that glorious sense of the sweep of a life that one only gets from being thoroughly immersed in a good biography from beginning to end. Twelve books in twelve months, some of them very substantial tomes. I may not manage it given all the other books I expect to read alongside them, but, as ever, I will relish the attempt.


jenclair said...

This is a great list! The Campbell and Cheever books particularly interest me, maybe because they are sort of an overview of particular eras and of some of the most interesting people, but what a contrast between the two eras and sets of characters. I was about to say I'd heard good things about Tomalin's book, and then realized I think I read about it here!

wormauld said...

This is a great list and so many books I've not heard of. I must try and get hold of American Bloomsbury. I try to read anything I caan about Alcott.Are you across the pond in the Us?Daphne

BooksPlease said...

I like biographies etc too. I started the Hardy biography in January, but still haven't finished it. So this sounds a good challenge to get me going again on that one - and several others as well.

Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

The Charlotte Gray book is on my list for this challenge too.

Seachanges said...

Would love to join but the complications of having to get a google password (which I will then promptly forget because I have too many passwords as it is...) is putting me off. I like your list and will copy some of them

stefanie said...

What a fantastic list! If only I had time I'd join the challenge too.

LK said...

Oh, terrific. I have a few of those on my list too. And now I just have to add the one about Greeenwich Village.

Seachanges said...

Sorry Kate: I have just memed you for 'Cats and Dogs'... See my latest posting.

litlove said...

I thought I'd commented but it must have got eaten in cyberspace. This sounds like a great challenge, and while I won't sign up for it, I'll definitely be reading some more biography next year.

Martyn said...

Wow!Fantastic books.....!