Beller justifies his invasion of Salinger’s privacy by insisting that he is not simply one of the ‘Biography Corps,’ who speculate on why Salinger was up in the woods with all the nuance and insight of a two-year-old having a temper tantrum.” His quest is loftier than that. He is in search of the source of the elusive, ‘alchemical mix’ that draws us to Salinger’s writing. But what exactly is the connection between the slippery fish of lived experience and the works that grow from it?
Recommended Reading: Anne Boyd Rioux on J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee and the private lives of writers.
In his end notes to his biography of David Foster Wallace, D.T. Max of The New Yorker, writes that “David may have been the last great letter writer in American literature” and that “with the advent of email [Wallace’s] correspondence grew terser, less ambitious.” Burn echoes the same view, observing that “the major difference probably stems from the more rigidly linear format of some of his emails. Some of the great letters look like spiderweb art: in these notes, Wallace has written over the top of the letter he’s replying to, with comments between the lines, spiralling into the margins, running up to headers and down to the footers.”
Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin, “You’ve Got Mail: On the New Age of Biography”
Sometimes I worry that jazz has been ruined for the 21st century by caricatures of zoot suits and hirsute beatniks snapping away over black coffee, or has been relegated to the pathetic limbo of aural wallpaper at cocktail parties. It’s a shame that jazz doesn’t get the same kind of attention and mainstream buzz it used to.
Novelists tend to be repulsed by and attracted to the literary biographer, who is both kindred spirit and antagonist, reviver and executioner, exalted Boswell, and the “lice of literature” (to quote Philip Roth from Exit Ghost). The literary biographer is a novelistic double whose diligent quest to flesh out a life mirrors the novelist’s “savage snooping calling itself literature” (again, Exit Ghost); he is also a monstrous interloper whose obsessive search for real-life parallels threaten the sanctity of the work of art, which in a world legislated by poets would be free from the insights — facile or penetrating, doggedly literal of irresponsibly speculative — of biographical criticism.
Matt Seidel, “Biographers Cannot Be Choosers: On The Biographical Drive”
E.L. Doctorow has been doing that hard work for more than half a century, producing novels and stories that have illuminated the American soul by bringing American history to life. It’s why he deserves his Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. It’s what makes him a national treasure.
One thing that makes Roth Unbound interesting is that Pierpont was able to interview [Philip] Roth in the first years of his retirement. You can feel Roth’s reflective, relaxed state of mind as he looks back on his career, cataloging his regrets and triumphs.
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