The Nose – Nikolai Gogol

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It was the two of clubs this week for Deal Me In 2014. Since deuces are wild, I got to pick an “ad hoc” story and decided to stay within my theme for clubs – stories by Russian authors. One story I’d heard a buzz about during my other Russian reading was Nikolai Gogol’s “The Nose,” and I had really enjoyed his “The Cloak” and “St. John’s Eve” earlier on in DMI2014, so I chose that one to close out my suit for the year. It turned out to be probably my least favorite Russian story of 2014. So much for wild cards.

“FARCE really does occur in this world, and, sometimes, farce altogether without an element of probability.”

I’d argue that Gogol’s story goes beyond farce. My dictionary defines it (farce) as “a light dramatic composition marked by broadly satirical comedy and improbable plot.” The plot of The Nose (a man awakens to find his nose “missing” later encountering it wandering around town in the guise of a public official)  is beyond improbable, which is maybe why Gogol inserts the sentence above at the start of part three of the story. If you think about that sentence, though, it’s self-contradictory. Something without an element of probability occurs? What?

Anyway, perhaps this story just didn’t suit my taste. Give me “The Cloak” or the darker “St. John’s Eve” any day and keep your “Nose” out of my business. 🙂

Read this story online at https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/gogol/nikolai/g61n/

below: a statue of Gogol presides over a prominent street in modern day St. Petersburg.

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Deal Me In – Week 47 Wrap Up

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Greetings to all. Here are some new Deal Me In posts to tide you over through the Thanksgiving Holiday Week:

Randall read one of the short story masters this week, O. Henry. His post on “A Double-Dyed Deceiver” may be found here: http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/11/a-double-dyed-deceiver-by-o-henry.html

James is now on to his second deck of Deal Me In, but I’ll continue to include links to any new Deal Me In posts of his here. This week it was Ken Liu’s story “The Gods Will not be Chained” and William Roughead’s essay, “The Ardlamont Mysteryhttp://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/11/19/ken-lui-vs-william-roughead-a-deal-me-in-short-story-challenge/

Dale paid another visit to Father Brown, reading G.K. Cheaterton’s story “The Ghost of Gideon Wisehttp://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/g-k-chesterton-the-ghost-of-gideon-wise/

Returning Reader posted about a couple stories, Tunisian writer Rachida el-Charni’s “Street of the House of Wondershttp://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/short-story-39-street-of-the-house-of-wonders-rachida-el-charni/ and Kate Chopin’s “Desiree’s Babyhttp://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/short-story-40-desirees-baby-kate-chopin/

I read French writer Prosper Merimee’s story “Mateo Falconehttps://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/mateo-falcone-by-prosper-merimee/

Katherine continues to browse the exhibits in Steven Millhauser’s Barnum Museum, this time taking a look at “The Invention of Robert Herendeenhttp://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/deal-me-in-week-47-the-invention-of-robert-herendeen/

Five weeks to go in Deal Me In 2014! I think I can see the finish line from here! I hope everyone has a pleasant Thanksgiving. Safe travels to all who are on the road for the holiday.

“Mateo Falcone” – by Prosper Merimee

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I drew the eight of diamonds for week 47 of the 2014 Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge, yielding this Prosper Merimee story, which was recommended to me by Hila Katz at The Sill of the World blog.

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The story is set in the rugged countryside of Corsica where a man, the title character Mateo Falcone, has made a name and reputation for himself in a land populated by rough-and-tough characters, some of questionable repute. We learn that Mateo and his wife first had three daughters, vexing Mateo to no end, before finally having a son and, presumably, someone to carry on the family name and honor. The son is named, ironically, Fortunato. (The only other literary Fortunato I’m acquainted with met his end in the wine cellar of Edgar Allen Poe’s Montressor…)

One day Falcone goes out to hunt, accompanied by his wife who will scavenge chestnuts for him as they go, leaving ten-year old Fortunato at home. Now, the rugged nature of the surrounding countryside makes it a favorite hideout for bandits and one of this ilk, fleeing the authorities and wounded by a gunshot, approaches the house of Mateo with ’the law’ in hot pursuit. He pleads with the young Fortunato to aid in his escape or at least hide him. Fortunato agrees, for a silver coin, and conceals the fugitive in a haystack just before those chasing him arrive. At first, Fortunato meets the questions of the authorities with impudence and reminds them more than once that “Mateo Falcone is my father!” and thus feels exempted from any “requirement” to cooperate with anyone. The leader of the authorities, sergeant Tiodoro Gamba, is a distant cousin of the Falcones and applies a full court press to persuade the ten-year old to provide him with information regarding the fugitive’s whereabouts…

The shocking and brutal denouement of the story shows that the concept of family honor and sacredness of hospitality are absolutes to the stern Falcone. I was reminded by this story of how ancient and imbedded the concept of the hospitality is in the human race. I had a Classics Professor in college who often talked about “Zeus Xenios” (one of the king of the Gods many roles was that of “patron of hospitality”) and how much woe was heaped upon those who let guests under their roof (or protection) come to harm. He would have liked this story. Below (from Wikipedia) a coin image of Zeus – think of Zeus Xenios the next time you have a guest ask if he can stay with you. (Probably a WWZXD wrist band would be going too far, though)

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Prosper Merimee (above) was a 19th century writer and dramatist. He is most famous for the novella Carmen, which was the forerunner of the opera of the same name. This story was also made into an opera in Russia but failed to gain an audience. Have you read any of his work before? What short story/stories did you read this week?

This story is in the public domain and may be read online at http://www.bartleby.com/195/7.html

Below: I wonder if Beyonce read Prosper Merimee’s original novella Carmen, before filming her “Hip Hopera” version of the story…

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Non Fiction November – Week 3: Diversity and Non Fiction

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This year, for the first time, I’ve been participating in the annual Non Fiction November (challenge?) where bloggers are encouraged to read more non fiction and post answers to weekly queries posed by our hosts. There are four hosts this year, and this week’s is Becca at I’m Lost in Books. Please consider giving her blog a visit.

This week’s topic is “Diversity and Nonfiction” and we are asked to post about “What does “diversity” in books mean to you? Does it refer to books’ location or subject matter? Or is it the author’s nationality or background? What countries/cultures do you tend to enjoy or read about most in your nonfiction? What countries/cultures would you like nonfiction recommendations for? What kind of books besides different cultures do you think of as books of diversity?”

Generally speaking, I read fiction for entertainment and to learn about people (or maybe “the human condition”), and I read non fiction to learn about the world. But look around the world and what do you see? People. And people are diverse. How about that? Anyway, to me, I think of reading diversely more in terms of the traditional sense of the word, not in the contemporary, people-focused definition. So to me reading diversely means reading about a lot of topics. I usually fail to achieve this. 🙂 I like history, but maybe not so much American history but history of other parts of the world I am less familiar with. I like biographies and autobiographies and read a good “diverse” one earlier this year in Li Cunxin’s “Mao’s Last Dancer” – about a ballet dancer trained as part of Mao Zedong’s “Cultural Revolution” who later defects to the U.S.

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Reading Lolita in Tehran” was another diverse non fiction read for me this year. If you don’t already know, it’s about a kind of “underground” book club in Iran, where the readers (led by a former university professor) discuss the forbidden classics of western lit. This one brings up a good point too, in that it probably wasn’t a book I would’ve read on my own, but instead read since it was a selection for one of the book clubs I participate in. I have found that books I’m “forced” to read for a book club – particularly a club where members take turns picking books – have been a great source of reading diversity. It only makes sense, right? In fact, a book club I founded many years ago had as one of its stated “terms and conditions” that participants must be willing and hopefully eager to read books outside of their normal comfort zone. We lasted almost six years, which in my experience is not bad for a book club. 🙂

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Other recent non fiction reads that I consider diverse: “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall – more or less about the sport of ultimate marathons and extreme long distance running. I don’t run. I walk a lot, but I’ve never been a runner, so this book was outside of my comfort zone. I still liked it. “Dragging Wyatt Earp: A Personal History of Dodge City” by Robert Rebein was another great one. I’m a Midwesterner, so was unfamiliar with much of what was discussed about a more “western” town (the author even takes a turn working as a cowhand, a topic I knew nothing about and thus a part of the book that I found very interesting). One more was “The Queen of Kaywe” about a young female chess prodigy in the slums of Kampala, Uganda. A part of the world I know very little about and a human condition extreme, I mean EXTREME poverty that thankfully I have never personally experienced.

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Looking back at these titles, I note that almost all, even if they are in a different setting geographically, have at least one topic or component that I am already familiar with (e.g. chess, a love of western lit, etc.) which permits me at least some foothold of familiarity in an unfamiliar setting. Do you find that to be true of your diverse non fiction reading too?

Finally, what countries or cultures I like to read more about? I have a lot of interest in China – as our potential (probable?) future economic overlords – and New Zealand, where I’ve always wanted to visit or maybe retire to… Can you offer any recommendations to help me out here? 🙂

Deal Me In – Week 46 Wrap Up

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A little behind schedule getting this posted as i was “out late” last night at the Colts game (which was a disaster for the home team, ugh). Anyhoo, here we are:

Only a few cards left now… Below are links to new posts this week.

It’s time for James to shuffle up as he drew his last two cards, getting Haruki Murakami’s “The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes” and Henry James’s “The Figure in the Carpethttp://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/11/10/henry-james-vs-haruki-murakami-a-deal-me-in-short-story-challenge/. James becomes the first of us to complete his 52 stories this year. Can’t remember everything he read? His original roster can be found at: http://readywhenyouarecb.blogspot.in/2014/01/deal-me-in.html

Dale read the oft-anthologized James Baldwin story, “Sonny’s Blues” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/11/12/james-baldwin-sonnys-blues/

Randall read Bruce McAllister’s “The Boy in Zaquitos” http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-boy-in-zaquitos-by-bruce-mcallister.html from the Best American Short Stories anthology of 2007.

I read Katherine Vaz’s “Fado” https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/fado-by-katherine-vaz/ and continue to enjoy one of my favorite new to me authors of 2014.

Return Reader delivers four new posts:
On George Saunders’s “Sea Oak” http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/15/short-story-35-sea-oak-george-saunders/

On Olufemi Terry’s “Stickfighting Days” http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/15/short-story-36-stickfighting-days-olufemi-terry/

On Saki’s “The Mouse” http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/short-story-37-the-mouse-saki/

On Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt” http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/short-story-38-the-veldt-ray-bradbury/

Katherine wrote about Matthew Costello’s “The Final Vanish” http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/deal-me-in-week-46-the-last-vanish/ and shares a video of another famous vanishing…

“Fado” – by Katherine Vaz

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It’s week forty-six and I drew the seven of hearts. This is my second story from this author for this year’s Deal Me In short story reading challenge. I wrote about her “Undressing the The Vanity Dolls” earlier this year, and it remains a strong contender for my favorite DMI story of 2014. I read, ad hoc, another story of hers this year titled, “The Birth of Water Stories,” and was blown away by that one too. The story “Fado” was not as moving as those other two (that, admittedly, set the bar quite high) but I continue to enjoy getting acquainted with this author.

Plus I learned a new word from this story’s title. 🙂 Do you know what a “Fado” is? I do (now). It’s “a plaintive, Portuguese folk song.” It’s a perfect title for this “cover story” of the collection, and seems appropriate for the collection as a whole too. I also learned what a “wish ribbon” was. One of the characters in this story puts great stock in their efficacy. Primarily, I believe, a Brazilian tradition, the wish ribbon enters this story when Xica is at the post office to pick up a ribbon “do Nosso Senhor de Bonfim” sent from that country by her cousin. How are they supposed to work? “Wrap the wish ribbon around the wrist, and make 3 knots, making a wish for each of the 3 knots tied. Once the Brazilian Wish Bracelet falls off the wrist on its own, it is believed that the 3 wishes will come true.”

In this story, “Xica” is the neighbor and ’surrogate grandmother’ of the young female narrator. Xica has endured many hardships and the worst of them is that her bright and promising son Manuel has been rendered mute and apparently brain damaged by an auto accident. Compounding the problem is that Manuel’s young and beautiful wife, Marina, has lost interest in him because of the accident, where Xica feels she should be supporting him “in sickness and health” as the vows go.

Xica is one of the more interesting characters I’ve met during this year’s Deal Me In reading. I was particularly amused by the fact that she kept an “ofensa ledger” wherein she catalogs the sins of those around her and proposes appropriate punishments. She knows that keeping such a register is God’s job but feels that “once again, He was asleep.” Much of her grit, and unfortunately, her superstition and vengefulness as well are passed on to her surrogate granddaughter, Rosa.

The last few pages of the story feature an accelerated recap of Rosa’s growing into a woman after Xica has passed on. I believe it is in these chapters that we see how Rosa has applied what she learned from Xica’s somewhat unique approach to life. We see her through her fist sexual encounter “Sex happens the way a pearl is formed. It begins with a grain or parasitic worm that itches in the soft lining until the entire animal buckles around it. With enough slathering it will relax into a gem.” Not bad, huh?

Rosa even later makes peace with Marina and tends to her when she becomes sick, leaving us with our other “take away” from the story: Rosa tells us, “Here is the seal from which all grace comes: We must create Pietas in order to live. Flesh that is torn, flesh that is dead or dying, even as it is rotting through your fingers – hold it next to your heart. Find ripe and tender flesh too, and hold it in your arms, because your life depends on it. Hold it for as long as you can, and ask for its blessing.

Below: Michelangelo’s “Pieta”

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Okay, so after reviewing the story in accompaniment of writing this post, I’ve decided that I like this story almost as much as the other anyway. 🙂 There is some powerful stuff in these thirteen pages.

Have you read Kahteirne Vaz before? I can unreservedly recommend her.

Only six stories left to read for DMI 2014!

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Life Imitates Art? – Shirley Jackson’s “The Summer People”

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So, I work in a multi-story building, on the top floor. Though my company owns the building, we have tenants on the third floor. On a ride down the elevator, two strangers to me board on the third. They are mid-conversation as they get on, and the man says to the woman, “So, have you been getting out to the lake much?” She replies, “Not anymore, they turned the electricity and the water off.” I immediately thought of Shirley Jackson (above) and her short story, “The Summer People,” which I read last month for the R.I.P. challenge. I kind of chuckled to myself and thought, “Trust me lady, you’re much safer here…”

Are you familiar with this story? I thought it was great! A well-to-do and aging New York couple have been enjoying their annual summer sojourn at a vacation home “on the lake” away from the big city. They muse about how, almost invariably, upon their return to the city “the Tuesday before Labor Day” they are blessed with unseasonably mild weather and find themselves wishing they had stayed longer at the lake. As this story dawns, the couple think “Why not stay a month longer and enjoy the summer weather as long as possible?”

They quickly learn from the locals that staying after Labor Day “just isn’t done,” and the mentioning of their plans to various townspeople is met with a kind of subdued incredulity. “Nobody ever stayed at the lake past Labor Day before,” the grocer tells them. A trip to the hardware store includes the owner’s observation that there have “never been summer people before, at the lake after Labor Day.” The couple from the city find these reactions odd but write it off to the “poor breeding” of the rustics.

We find out only by degrees what makes staying such a bad decision…

What this story got me thinking about is how often our perception of the nature of a place may differ from its true nature. Our perceptions may be influenced by season (as they were in this story) or perhaps by time of day, or the people you are with when you are there. I’ve experienced all three of these situations and noted how different things can be depending on these factors.

I once spent about a week at a friend’s family’s summer cottage on a lake (in my case Torch Lake in Northern Michigan – near Traverse City). It was a beautiful getaway and felt almost like a paradise while I was there. We had the good sense however, to be safely back in Indy before the end of August.

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Above: Torch Lake (picture found on Trip Advisor)

I own this story as part of The Weird: A Compendium of Dark and Strange Stories, which has proven to be a great source for my short story reading for a couple years now.

It was also adapted into a CBS Radio Mystery Theater episode: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=yxnbp0u8YVU

Below: wearing white shoes? – yet another thing you don’t want to do after Labor Day? 🙂

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Wat do you think of Shirley Jackson? Have you read any of her short stories? I’ve also read “The Lottery,” and another great one, “Paranoia,” which I blogged about here.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Birthday is today.

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Born November, 11, 1922, Kurt Vonnegut would have been 92 today. I’ve probably posted more often about him than any other writer on this blog. Partly because he’s from my home town, partly because I participate in a book club that meets at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, but mostly because he’s just … awesome. Looking back, and in no particular order, here are a few of my favorites…

The Manned Missiles (short story) from 2012

Player Piano (novel) from 2011

Deer in the Works (short story) from 2010

Jailbird (novel) from 2010

Hocus Pocus (novel) from 2012

Basic Training (novella) from 2013

Kurt Vonnegut Letters (letters) from 2012

Bagombo Snuff Box (short story collection) from 2012

Timequake (novel) from 2012

Cat’s Cradle (novel) from 2011

The Lie (short story) from 2010

EPICAC (short story) from 2010

Which of Kurt Vonnegut’s works are your favorites?

Top Ten Tuesday – Characters You Wish Would get Their Own Book

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the talented bloggers at “The Broke and the Bookish” It’s a fun topic this week. Lets see what I can come up with…

10 & 9 “Literary Fathers Division”:
Tywin Lannister of A Song of Ice and Fire series
Perhaps too influenced by Charles Dance’s absolutely flawless portrayal in the HBO series, I still would like to read a book of his exploits. Actually there are any number of characters from that series that are whole book-worthy. 🙂 (Ygritte, The Hound, Brienne, etc., etc.)

(Below: Actor Charles Dance – the best on-screen scowls since Clint Eastwood)

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Mr. Bennett from Pride and Prejudice
I’ve always wanted to know his history and how a seemingly sensible man like him could succumb to the charms of that vacuously
annoying Mrs. Bennett. Probably someone has already written a book about this.

8 thru 6 – “Hunger Games Division”:
Haymitch Abernathy
I want to read the story of HIS victory in the Hunger Games and his “fall” afterward – I guess his life follows the traditional “Behind The Music” story arc..,
Caesar Flickerman
Would love a satirical novel of his rise to the top of the entertainment industry in The Capital. Learning more about Effie Trinket old be a bonus too.
(below: Caesar Flickeman in the film version. I just googled “smarm” and found this image)

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President Snow:
A “political biography” titled “Portrait of Evil” or something like that could document his career as a despot…

5. Ellen from Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth
Heck, that book is so long she almost has a full book about her already. Never mind. 🙂

4. The Witches from Shakespeare’s MacBeth
The weird sisters deserve to have their story told. Some work has been done on this front already. I recently picked up a short story anthology where the tales were based on Shakespeare plays or characters. One featured the witches in a darkly comic spoof of scavenger hunts.

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3. Eowyn from The Lord for the Rings trilogy.
I want to read of her childhood, growing up into a kick-ass heroine, and I want to read that she finds happiness with Whatshisname. And I want to picture actress Miranda Otto in my mind’s eye as I’m reading. 🙂

2. Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter series
I think this would be a difficult book for someone to write, though. As much as I love her – and I absolutely love her – part of the success of a character such as she likely depends on her being sort of peripheral.

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1. Clarisse McClellan from Fahrenheit 451
What happened to this girl? She disappears in the novel after she kindles the spark of doubt in Montag. Or, I’ve often wondered, does she maybe not exist at all outside of Montag’s mind? Did he hallucinate her to help bring his doubts about the dystopia to the surface? If she’s real, I want to know what happened to her. Did “they” take her away? Does she later escape?

Well, that’s me. Who did – or would – you put on your list of non main characters who deserve a book of their own? Click here to see what lists other Top Ten Tuesday participants have come up with.

Non Fiction November! – Week 2

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Week 2: November 10 to 14 is hosted by Leslie at Regular Rumination

For week two of Non Fiction November, we are tasked with the following: “Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I’m afraid I’m going to cheat this week and kind of do two of the three options. I’m a Non Fiction November Rebel! 🙂

Marching under the “Be the Expert” banner, I’d like to recommend a great popular history writer and three of his books. Have you ever heard of Daniel Boorstin? His isn’t a household name, but he served many years as Librarian of Congress, and also wrote several books on history, including maybe my favorite non-fiction book ever, The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination.

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One of the beauties of this book is that it’s really a huge collection of 8-15 page segments on great men and women in the history of the arts and thus can be out down and revisited without “having to start over” again or anything like that. I read it the first time over the course of several month’s worth of lunch hour reading at downtown Indy’s City Market building. This would’ve been in the late ’90s probably, and I can still vividly remember how somedays it was hard to re-enter the “corporate world” after just a brief sojourn with the heroes of the imagination. I learned SO MUCH reading this book. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

He also wrote the similarly structured books “The Discoverers” and “The Americans” – the latter which I had read as assigned reading in college, the former I read after being won over by The Creators. Another favorite by this author is the oddly titled “Cleopatra’s Nose,” a collection of “essays on the unexpected.” All great, great reading.

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Now for Part II – if you’ve made it this far 🙂 – I’d like to avail myself of the Ask the Expert option too.

I’m one who loves to know “the story behind the story” in regards to some of the great works of literature. This has led me to become a fan of author biographies (or even author autobiographies). I’ve read a handful of both – autobiographies of Asimov, Wells, Trollope, Franklin, e.g., and biographies of Kerouac, Hawthorne, Poe, Dickens et. al. I have a thick biography of Jack London on my bedside table that for some reason I still haven’t read. But I want MORE. 🙂 What are some great author biographies or autobiographies that you have read and would recommend? I’m happy to be guided…

Well that’s me, but what about you? Are you Being, Becoming, or Asking this week?

Below: Daniel Boorstin in 1992 (from Wikipedia)

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