Help Wanted – Project: Author Biographies

I’ve decided on my “main” reading project for 2012. I intend to read 12 biographies of favorite/famous writers during the year. I think I should be able to keep up with a one per month pace, shouldn’t I?

Here’s where I could use some help, though: I have a couple “in the pipeline” – one of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and another of Kerouac (Memory Babe). I also saw on line one about the Bronte sisters that looked good. (the book looked good, not the sisters – I don’t know what they looked like 🙂 ). But I don’t know yet which books will fill the other slots.

So if any of my loyal (or even new) readers want to make a few suggestions, I’m wiling to be guided on at least a few of the twelve…



  1. Dee said,

    December 27, 2011 at 1:35 am

    I loved biographies of Colette (Secrets of the Flesh) and of Isak Dinesen by Judith Thurman.

    There’s a great 5 volume one of Dostoyevsky. (I got through 2 and 1/2)

    I passionately loved one read last year of the Norwegian Nobel Prize winner, Knut Hamsun – full of surprises including getting an interview with Hitler where he, Hamsun, burst into tears in his heated discussion with the Führer. No one had ever stood up to Hitler and lived to tell the tale ….

    A favorite was of Voltaire …. need title …. read – pretty new – last year ….. Revealing my bent towards European lit.
    Great idea for a project, Jay!


    • Jay said,

      December 27, 2011 at 8:31 am

      Thanks, Dee!
      I’ve been considering a “project” like this for several years. Last year I read two autobiographies (by Asimov & Trollope) and both were among my favorite reads of the year.I figured, though, that it would be harder to find twelve AUTObiographies, so I just made it biographies. (although I guess I could accept autobiography recommendations as well, couldn’t I?).

      Thank you for all the suggestions. The one that intrigues me the most and at I definitely will add to the list is the Hamsun biography. I’ve had his book, Victoria, on my TBR list for awhile (it came highly recommended by Ana at “Ana the Imp”, who has not steered m e wrong yet) so I will probably read that book first, then his biography at some point.

      Five volumes for Dostoevsky? That sounds about right. 🙂 I like Dostoevsky, but fear an epic biography like that might overrun and dominate my project. I’ve read Voltaire’s Candide, but that’s about it for him.

      I’ve only read a little Dinesen, and nothing by Colette, but I will consider those as well.

      Thanks for the input. Much appreciated.



  2. Melody said,

    December 27, 2011 at 3:06 am

    I like the sound of your project; it’s something I’ve had a growing interest in. I have A Tragic Honesty (about Richard Yates) on my list because of a blogger review this year (lakesidemusing.blogspot) and have long wanted to read My Mentor (about William Maxwell). Maybe I’ll think about getting to one of these this year. 🙂


    • Jay said,

      December 27, 2011 at 8:39 am

      Thanks for the suggestions, Melody!

      I don’t know anything about My Mentor or Maxwell. Will have to look them up.

      I confess I don’t know much about Yates either, but have heard of his “Revolutionary Road.” when I just googled him I found the following trivia tidbit on Wikipedia:

      ***A character similar to Yates, “Alton Benes” was portrayed in an episode of Seinfeld, Elaine’s taciturn and hard-driving father who totally intimidates George and Jerry. Larry David, the show’s executive producer, once dated Yates’s daughter, Monica****

      How about that?

      You and Dee have actually given me another idea which could be an amendment to my project – perhaps each biography should be paired (or follow) my reading of one of the author’s books or even stories. That would balloon my reading “burden” up a bit (less so if I read a short story) but many of them I’d want to read anyway. Hmmm….



  3. Dale said,

    December 28, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    J. D. Salinger by Kenneth Slawenski has intrigued me for a little while. Also, “Some Sort of Epic Grandeur” by Matthew J. Bruccolli about F. Scott Fitzgerald sounded interesting, too. I confess I haven’t read a lot of biographies of authors. I tend to read biographies of musicians, for some reason.


    • Jay said,

      December 29, 2011 at 8:33 am

      Thanks for the suggestions, Dale. I think perhaps the F. Scott Fitzgerald one will make my list. As I am the last living reader who hasn’t read Catcher in the Rye, i may have to wait before reading a Salinger biography. (although in 2010 I did read some of his short stories, I guess)


  4. anatheimp said,

    December 28, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    Jay, this February marks the two-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. I have Claire Tomalin’s new biography set up to read this year, though it’s unlikely to be better than Peter Ackroyd’s classic. I also have Ian Donaldson’s Ben Jonson: A Life in the pipeline, a study that has been very well received. There, two to be going on with. 🙂


    • Jay said,

      January 2, 2012 at 10:02 am

      Thanks as always for the recommendations, Ana. I was tentatively planning to do something for “Dickens Month” but hadn’t decided what yet. Ive read most of his major works with a few exceptions – one of which I’d like to read next month. Maybe David Copperfield? How have I avoided that one all my life? I might go with the Ackroyd “classic” biography for my reading project. Thanks!


      • Dale said,

        January 3, 2012 at 12:32 pm

        I highly recommend David Copperfield! I haven’t read Bleak House or Our Mutual Friend (and I think there are some others). Maybe I’ll get one of those accomplished in 2012.


  5. Alex said,

    December 30, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    If you are considering Juliet Barker’s book about the Brontes, I holeheartedly recommend it.

    Never read, but am really curious about the new book on Dickens. Will probably read it as well this year, to celebrate his birthday. How about Tomlin’s Austen biog?

    Maybe Fry’s new book, if you’re a fan? Can he be considered an author? He is so many things more!


    • Jay said,

      January 2, 2012 at 10:06 am

      Thanks Alex, I’ve had my eye on that Bronte one. The title I’ve seen is “The Brontes- Wild Genius on the Moors: The Story of Three Sisters” – is that the one you’ve read? It seems like Barker also had a biography just titled “The Brontes,” or is at the same book I’m seeing?

      I’ll look into the Tomlin book as well. I’ve read some Austen in my day…

      P.S. I started my Nathaniel Hawthorne biography yesterday. Nothing earth shattering in the first 90 minutes of reading, but that only got me about 15% of the way in.



      • Alex said,

        January 4, 2012 at 7:49 pm

        Humm… British and US title? The one I read had 1184 pages, including Annexes. By the cover, it looks exactly like the one I read. If so, the longer title is a bit misleading because the book is really about the whole family. Some of the more interesting parts are actually about Patrick and Arthur.


  6. Jillian ♣ said,

    January 2, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    This looks like a GREAT project! I haven’t read many yet, but I’m also planning to make them a priority eventually. (Though not this year. I’m all booked up!)

    I asked the community for advice on titles a few months ago, if the responses are at all useful to you. I’m particularly interested in Hermione Lee’s <iVirginia Woolf, as well as Emerson, Threau, the Brontes, Walt Whitman, etc…

    Cheers, Jay!


    • Jay said,

      January 2, 2012 at 7:40 pm

      Thanks Jillian! And thanks for the link to your post and its legion of commenters. I am busy plundering their suggestions now.
      Happy New Year!


  7. Jillian ♣ said,

    January 2, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    Sorry for the typos. 🙂 The comment box was covered with text for some reason, while I was typing. So I was working blind — ha ha.


  8. Dee said,

    May 8, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Can a reply to such an old post reach you?
    Biography of Djuna Barnes was really fascinating – because of her far out gramma and super weird parents …. Djuna: The Life and Work of Djuna Barnes by Phillip Herring.


    • Jay said,

      May 9, 2013 at 7:27 am

      Hi Dee,

      Yes. Yes you can! 🙂 I get notified via email of new comments on any post.

      Thanks for the tip regarding the Djuna Barnes biography. I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t heard of her before. Sounds great & I’ll put it on my list.



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