Magazine article American Libraries

Quick Bibs: Pictures on My Walls

Magazine article American Libraries

Quick Bibs: Pictures on My Walls

Article excerpt

Biographies have been on my mind lately. I blame Robert Oppenheimer. My favorite book of 2005, hands down, was Bird and Sherwin's definitive biography of the brilliant yet tortured director of the Manhattan Project. A close second was John Worthen's new one-volume life of D. H. Lawrence.

There are those who argue that a good biography transcends its subject, but I'm not sure I agree. The biographies I remember most fondly are invariably about people I admire or in whom I'm passionately interested. (There are exceptions: the third volume of Robert Caro's LBJ biography, Master of the Senate, remains one of my favorite books, and I'm proud to say I'm passionately uninterested in all politicians.)

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It's that time of year when I usually share my favorite books of the preceding 12 months, but this time I'm going to go in a slightly different direction. I've narrowed the scope--biographies only--and widened the time span to the past several years. It really wasn't all that hard to come up with this list. All I had to do was look around me at the pictures on the walls of my attic office and decide which of my heroes' life stories to choose.

There's Oppie on the far wall, looking severe behind his desk, and there's Lawrence, staring disapprovingly at the physicist from the opposite wall. But who else? Anthony Powell looks out at me from over my desk, and while I enjoyed the biography of him that appeared a couple of years ago, it was, well, a bit dry.

How about Ben Webster, my favorite tenor sax player, who leans over a pool table, cue in hand, to the right of my desk? I haven't read any biographies of Ben, but I'm told there will be one out this year.

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I should have looked behind me because the back wall delivers Bing Crosby, my favorite entertainer. (I can hear you sniggering, but it doesn't faze me; I've been defending my worship of Der Bingle since the sixties.)

And for the final member of my biography foursome, I look just to the left of Bing and see that familiar Robert Mitchum sneer. Naturally, I want the quintessential noir hero on my list.

It dawns on me now that I could be in trouble. If I'm right about most readers preferring biographies of their favorite people, then there's very little chance that anyone but me will pay attention to this column. …

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