A rare, welcome look at the art and craft of biography.

PARISIAN LIVES

SAMUEL BECKETT, SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR, AND ME: A MEMOIR

A biographer recalls the challenges of writing her first books.

Bair (Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend, 2016, etc.), who won a National Book Award for her first biography, of Samuel Beckett, and critical acclaim for her biography of Simone de Beauvoir, has been asked, time and again, “what were they really like?” In a candid and engrossing memoir, Bair creates unvarnished portraits of those two headstrong, demanding, and brilliant individuals as well as of her growth as a researcher, writer, and feminist. The author had just completed her doctoral dissertation on Beckett when she asked for his cooperation in writing his biography. He replied immediately, agreeing to meet her in Paris. “I will neither help nor hinder you,” he told her. “My friends and family will assist you and my enemies will find you soon enough.” During many years of research, she discovered the truth of his remark, as she interviewed scores of his friends, relatives, hangers-on, and vociferous enemies, all of whom she renders in lively detail. Although Beckett did not overtly interfere, he kept tabs on her research, often making her feel “like a marionette whose strings he was pulling.” After her book was published, she found that she had made her own enemies among critics and scholars she calls Becketteers, who reviewed her book with “unrelenting hostility.” Suffering “a minor breakdown,” Bair thought the biography would be her last. When an admiring editor encouraged her to think of a new subject, however, de Beauvoir quickly came to mind. She was, Bair thought, “the only modern woman who had made a success of everything,” an achievement that astonished Bair, who was juggling the responsibilities of a wife, mother, writer, and professor. She often considered the aging de Beauvoir to be “lumpy, dumpy, frumpy, and grumpy”; although agreeing to cooperate, she was reluctant to discuss sensitive issues, notably regarding sexuality. Besides offering privileged views of her celebrated subjects, Bair reveals herself struggling with structure and style and negotiating a world of publishing and academia not welcoming to women.

A rare, welcome look at the art and craft of biography.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54245-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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  • Rolling Stone & Kirkus' Best Music Books of 2020

OPEN BOOK

The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor. One of Kirkus and Rolling Stone’s Best Music Books of 2020.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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