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Biographies of Writers December 22, 2009

Posted by Chris in Thoughtful Ramblings.
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Why do so many of us enjoy reading biographies, especially biographies of writers? Currently, I’m reading Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life by Carol Sklenicka, recognized in The New York Times Book Review as one of the “10 Best Books of 2009.” A few months ago I took home Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor by Brad Gooch, a book that made it to The New York Times Best Seller List. We’re loving them!

 When I open a writer’s biography, I turn first to the index and search out WRITING, then terms like: “composition process,” “development of work,” “ground breaking aspects of,” “literary influences,” “notebooks,” “subordination of everything to writing” (ooh this is going to be good), “on writing,” “writing as a vocation”—well, you get where I’m going: I think a lot of us readers are looking for the answer, the secret. If only we can understand how Carver, for instance, does what he does, then maybe we can, too. If he can turn his life experiences into stories, well, why not try? And if he can sum up the last years of his life in one word: “Gravy”—and mean it—doesn’t that make each of us want to choose our word? Maybe when we pick up a writer’s biography, we’re looking for that similarity, that connection to greatness: Carver drinks coffee; I drink coffee; I, too, can be a famous writer.

—Chris

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