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!