I haven't read many biographies and autobiographies of writers, but the ones I have are fascinating.
Does anyone else have a favourite biography or auto-biography? Does it have to be one of an author you've read lots of? Or even like? Should it be a critical biography of the work, or is the life more interesting?
Just wondering. To start things off, these are some of mine:
Slipstream by Elizabeth Jane Howard
Henry James by Leon Edel
The Private World of Georgette Heyer by Jane Aiken Hodge (Can't wait for the new bio)
Blake by Peter Ackroyd I must admit I got stuck in
Reading Chekov by Janet Malcolm
'Experience' by Martin Amis
I'd like to recommend John McGahern's autobio 'Memoir'. I loved it; I love the calm clarity of his prose. It gave me a sense of a damaged man who, over the years, came to terms with himself. although maybe in general it's good to have read one or more of a writer's novels in order to appreciate fully the lifestory behind them.
I'd like NOT to recommend Jonathan Bate's John Clare - it's an excellent biography, but too revealing of its subject. I ended up disliking Clare, previously one of my idols!
Ackroyd's Dickens is terrific.
|too revealing of its subject. |
I think this is very interesting - we don't always want
to see all the warts, I guess.
I've been badly - and sadly - put off Antonia Forest, who I adored, after reading her piece about her work in a reprint.
Does a biography of a TV programme count?
A book called "Tooth and Claw" about the making of Spitting Image is one of the funniest and inspiring books I've ever read. It is an amazing story with a host of incredible quarrelsome characters, huge obstacles, setbacks and final glory. Brilliant.
I second the Dickens one.
I don't know about this stuff in general, though. I neevr like watching tv adaptations of my favourite books cos it wrecks the book for me. And I prefer it when an air of mystique is kept around the writer. To me, it's the work that counts.
I once wrote an essay on whether questions of biography are inevitable when considering the work of Sylvia Plath, and my answer was, pretty much, 'They shouldn't be.'
I suppose Stephen King's On Writing is slightly autobiographical, but I've never really been a fan of memoirs for some reason. The Blake one interests me though.
I'd like to recommend the new biography of Beatrix Potter by Linda Lear - facinating, reveals a very different woman to the one we all imagine scribbling away books about bunnies.
Being a Woolfie I also got a lot of inspiration from Hermione Lee's 'Virginia Woolf' (1997) and Victorian Glendinning' new biography of Leonard Woolf.
Also Jane Dunn's biography of Antonia White.
I could go on....
Now the Antonia White biog must be fascinating. I loathe the assumption that everything you put in your fiction reveals something about you, as if your carefully crafted novel is all just a dream splurged onto paper and waiting for some Freudian analyst to come and pick it over. I don't think you should use fiction as the key to the life. But with avowedly autobiographical novels, it's fascinating to study what the author used or didn't, and what she used straight and what she changed.
Oooh, nessiec that reminds me. I have a Hermione Lee's 'Reading in Bed' on its way to me from Amazon. I'm so excited, I'm hoping that by the end of it, I'll be as clever as she is.
Fascinating article on Blake in The Independent today.
|I'd like NOT to recommend Jonathan Bate's John Clare - it's an excellent biography, but too revealing of its subject. I ended up disliking Clare, previously one of my idols!|
I'd second that.
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Found Hanif Kureishi's "My Ear At His Heart" - about his father's lifelong ambition (unfulfilled) to become a published author, and the strange way in which this inspired his son's writing. I found it a little too touchy-feely in parts, and at times it felt as if the book itself didn't know what it wanted to be; memoir, meditation, eulogy, essay, history...
I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Carolyn Blake's "Lee Miller". Fascinating woman, fascinating times. Really interesting, too, to see how a background in photogrpahy influence Miller's journalistic writing.