Saturday, February 28, 2009

Anticipating This Year's Biographies


If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know that I like to read biographies, particularly biographies that offer some insight into the creative process. It looks like it's going to be another good year for those. There are a number that have recently been published or are due out later this year that I'm eagerly anticipating. At the top of the list, arranged in order of publication date, are:

Robert Crawford's The Bard: Robert Burns, A Biography, released on this side of the Atlantic a month ago on Burns's 250th birthday: You wouldn't think there would be much new to say all these years later about a figure already so well known and much written-about. But the catalogue copy asserts, and the reviews so far confirm, that Crawford has dug up some new sources and has offered new insights into Robert Burns—the man, the writer, and the myth—in this one. And given the depth of Crawford's knowledge of and engagement with Scottish literature in general (Scotland's Books: The Penguin History of Scottish Literature) and Scottish poetry in particular (Penguin Book of Scottish Verse), I can't think of anyone better placed to do so.

Brad Gooch's Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, released just this week: Flannery O'Connor is one of the short story writers that I most admire and I'm keen to learn more about her. And, given that I loved every minute of Brad Gooch's biography of Frank O'Hara, I'm looking forward to his take on a new literary subject. Incidentally, I found the review of this book that appears in this weekend's New York Times highly unsatisfying. Reviewer Joy Williams trots out many details about O'Connor that she evidently learned from the book but, apart from remarking that O'Connor, being such a contrast to Frank O'Hara, is an odd subject for Gooch, she largely skirts the question of whether or not Gooch has written a good biography here. No matter; I'll read it and decide for myself.

Lillian Pizzichini's The Blue Hour: A Life of Jean Rhys, due out this Spring: Jean Rhys is another writer whose work I admire enormously and she's an enigmatic figure who I'd like to know more about. Much of her fiction has been described as autobiographical, but I have no idea to what extent that's true. I'm curious to see what new light Pizzichini can shed on Rhys and her work for me.

Terry Teachout's Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, due out in December: I'm a fan of Louis Armstrong's music and of Terry Teachout's writing so of course I want to read this biography. There's an added layer of anticipation though, generated by having, as a regular reader of Terry's blog (About Last Night), been privy to a number of posts along the way about his process of researching and writing it.

Which new biographies are you looking forward to reading this year? What have I missed? There must be others that I'm going to want to know about!


Danielle said...

I'm going to have to get my hands on that Jean Rhys bio. I've read a bit of her fiction and would love to read more! The Flannery O'Connor bio looks interesting as well, though I'm sorry to say I have yet to read anything she's written. Maybe this year.

Eva said...

I LOVE that cover of the Flannery O'Connor bio. I just read my first short story of hers ("A Good Man is Hard to Find") last week, but last year I read her entire collected letters.

Suko said...

Among others, I'm looking forward to reading The Yankee Years, which is a biography about baseball--the Yankees in particular--written by ex-manager Joe Torre.

jenclair said...

I'm a Flannery fan and that cover looks great. All these sound good, Kate!

Kailana said...

All of these sound good, but I think I will likely choose the Rhys one over the others. I have liked everything I have read by her so far. Louis Armstrong would be interesting, too, though.

Kate S. said...


I haven't read any of Flannery O'Connor's novels (I think there are two of them) but I can highly recommend her short stories (her collected stories is well worth the investment!) and her collection of essays, Mystery and Manners, is wonderful as well.

Eva and jenclair,

I agree--the cover of the O'Connor bio is gorgeous!


I confess I'm not a huge baseball fan, but I'm intrigued by group biographies like the one you describe.


I'm very much drawn to the Rhys biography as well. She evidently led a very interesting (though also difficult) life.

litlove said...

The Flannery O'Connor biography and the one about Jean Rhys are must-reads, I agree. I've just finished the Janet Malcolm book, Two Lives, about Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas and thought it was very good and very intriguing. I'll be posting on it later today, all being well.

Kate S. said...


I'm going to click over to read your post on Two Lives right away. I loved Malcolm's book on Plath/Hughes, and I'm interested to see what she makes of a very different partnership! Her book on Chekhov is high on my wish list as well.

Anonymous said...

I cannot wait to read Brad Gooch's book about Flannery O'Connor. The Jean Rhys bio looks interesting as well, although I've not read any of her books. I am planning to read Wide Sargasso Sea for the Orbis Terrarum challenge, so that will be a start!

Rebecca Reid said...

I love biographies and these sound particularly great -- I'm most interested in Burns and Flannery O'Connor. I recently read O'Connor's complete stories. A biography sounds great.

R. T. Davis said...

You might be interested in checking out my review of the O'Connor biography at BookLoon:
Please feel free also to visit my blog "Books and Notes" at
I would have provided clickable links if I only knew how. A naive blogger, I have much to learn, and advice is welcomed.
R. T. Davis

John Mutford said...

I want to read Vassanji's biography of Mordecai Richler.