The Writer-On-Writer Memoir Print E-mail

writer toiling(AWP Writer's Chronicle February 1, 2024)

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Since the 1990s, most memoirists have made the subjects of their books and essays relational—the interdependency between the author and a parent, a child, a place, a career, a disorder, a failure. Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes was a grand tour of his miserable Irish childhood and family. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, was a search for culinary, spiritual, and sexual contentment on three continents. Every writer is tightly joined to these ineluctable pairings; she need not travel far to dig into what she knows for what she doesn’t know. The relationship, confrontive and companionable, is key to the author’s self-discovery

In recent years, however, a gatecrasher has entered the fray: the memoirist who is bent on finding herself via another roughly and similarly drawn author’s life and work. This exchange begins with the intimacy reading begets and, typically, lands on a favorite novelist whom she values for reasons only the confessional form can answer.

A quarter-century ago, one trendsetter of the form was Geoff Dyer and his Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D. H. Lawrence (1997). A troubling crush on his fellow Englishman stymied him during the nineties, and Dyer’s first several attempts failed. He persevered and was able to plunge his obsession, so he reports, into the swampier bogs of his anxiety. The book was vexing because even by writing the book he didn’t understand its mercurial identity. Then, he wondered, why not make his frustrating thrall with Lawrence and the toll it took on his composing life—at times harrowing, at times pitiable—the subject. In the book that resulted, Dyer turned the spotlight, and the book’s theme, slightly away from Lawrence and onto himself.

Dyer’s stumbled-on stance from which to write a memoir about his trek into his authorial failure was to admit and dispel Lawrence’s hold on him. What a grand trek it came to be, voyage and book: Not only did Dyer seek Lawrence’s contradictions in the places his work took him (Australia, Mexico, Taos, Italy), he also sank into Lawrence’s consciousness as he traveled (indeed as both men wandered) but especially in Lawrence’s essays, criticism, and letters. Obsessed with his mentor’s inability to fit, everywhere an outsider, Dyer wrote out of his own alienation with memoir, and the prose moved.

This is another way to say that literary obsessions are just another Brazilian nut writers are trying to crack—our critical evolution with books and authors, the pendulum on which we swing from enchantment to frustration to competition. And there’s another personal discovery: Charting a favorite author’s persona, personality, ego, as it wanders or bee-lines from book to book, is a seven-storey mountain climb from apprenticeship to maturity, which may enact a similar climb the memoirist’s life and art must ascend.

To what degree are we the imagined, likeminded peers of the authors we love? And if we are, how might we mine the seriousness this peerage, separated by decades or a century, deserves, leaving aside the genuflection? How do we ground ourselves in a text that sails us into distant psychological and geographic realms? In addition, aren’t the characters in Stewart O’Nan’s fiction or Maya Angelou’s memoirs already in us, in some blooded vein, as readers? And doesn’t their influence ensoul a kind of formative sensibility to our artistic passions? Such sensibilities need not be tribal, need not heed the injunction to “stay in your lane.” Am I not able to employ my own emotional or analytical gift to write myself via another’s race, gender, sexuality? Can’t I occupy Kate Bowler’s sudden cancer diagnosis as I imagine her fall might spell a similar hell for me?

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Life-writers, still lit from the afterglow of the memoir explosion, circa late twentieth century, are presently sculpting a new form—the bibliomemoir, the memoir/biography, or the writer-on-writer memoir. Distinction and blurring shape these labels, but the third’s one-on-one correspondence comes closest, I think, to the path I’m taking here. That is, my writerly choice of an author whose one book or oeuvre beckons me, as Dyer was, to go all-in. The all-in must be bellringingly significant in my life, for its resounding has beguiled me as a literary paramour and tormented me as a fateful enigma.

The writer-on-writer memoir is ostensibly about the other author, often in the title: My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead refers to George Eliot’s masterpiece and mastery of Mead. The in—in My Life—links Mead to Dorothea Brooke, the young heroine who marries wrongly, then rightly, hundreds of pages later realizing her ambition to become self-fulfilled. My Life arises from Mead’s testimony about her own Dorothea-like crisis: “I wanted to recover the sense of intellectual and emotional immersion in books that I had known as a younger reader, before my attention was fractured by the exigencies of being a journalist.” Not as dramatic, but still. In addition, Mead contrasts her marriage and stepmother role to the same in Eliot’s life. Such shared conditions may build handrails of affinity, a cross-time authorial partnership, that is, if you tighten the screws enough. Mead does so, and so does Jenn Shapland in My Autobiography of Carson McCullers (2020).

Initially, Shapland sketches a throughline for McCullers’s major life events: her closeted homosexuality, her maniacal avoidance of coming out, her precocious literary success in her early twenties, a failed marriage (and remarriage) to a gay man, and unconsummated love affairs she had later. Shapland tells us she shares McCullers’s inner journey because of Shapland’s own sexual identity; her coming out has been less socially awkward and privately shaming, in part, because in changed times Shapland need not exercise the elder author’s timidity. This episodic book furrows in fragments and digressions a two-women-made-for-each-other plot—one life lived to inspire and warn another—same desires, same fears, different eras, different fates. Sharing an inner current with a writer we love, we find “we are the shards of others,” Shapland notes; we assemble from them an initiatory narrative whose already-trod path lets us signpost our own.

To prove she’s handled the shards, Shapland cites her recent stint as an archivist at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin. There, she digs into McCullers’s papers and belongings—manuscripts, copyright-guarded love letters, tapes and transcripts of psychiatric sessions, even items of her clothing, “a kind of hinge or portal to the author’s body.”

Next, reading McCullers’s biographers, Shapland believes they failed to account for, or highlight, the author’s mercurial lesbianism. Instead, in antiquated styles of stilted hagiography, they tiptoed around the tragic, suggestively gay characters in her theatrical fiction of the 1940s and 1950s: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter appeared when McCullers was twenty-three, Reflections in a Golden Eye at twenty-four. The emotional unease these characters embody has Shapland examining her own anxiety as a millennial queer author. She presents a sexually attuned portrait (at times aesthetically sharp as well) of the beloved author who penned, most famously, The Member of the Wedding, a novella and a Broadway play, as well as the dismal Clock Without Hands, according to Flannery O’Connor.

Like Geoff Dyer’s spadework with Lawrence, Shapland often succeeds because she’s aware of the inherent rub between autobiography and biography, inserting too much of the former in the latter. She cites Elizabeth McCracken, who also fell under McCullers’s spell. Writing of the license such disinterment of another’s secrets brings up, both women deduce that “feeling understood by someone does not equate with understanding them.” The younger writer says to the older one: I know what you’re going through because I’ve decided to examine your pain in my life. The danger is this we-are-one identification limps along predictably in an age of overblown identity politics. But maybe that’s a necessity in our COVID and post-COVID culture, to enlist a literary hero as a leash-dog for one’s despair.

Sometimes an anecdote about McCullers’s stunted amorousness makes Shapland think of her and her female partner’s lustful bond. Her attractions to McCullers during her teens and twenties revisit the throes of love and anguish the older author rarely discussed about which Shapland herself is eager to kiss and tell. Other times, Shapland forces herself onto the stage, burnishing her accountability, that she’s prepping herself, she hopes, as a new formidable gay scholar in McCullers Studies. It’s as if McCullers, the “intended,” is being outed again, her stifled and sullen romantic suffering, which haunted McCullers until her death at fifty and which Shapland’s prying reanimates—as if the older author’s spirit is getting a makeover. An American author repurposed as a lesbian one. On this note, with the putative chumminess the later writer projects onto the earlier one, there’s a cabalistic sense, one McCullers cannot bless.

Sexual obsessions, a.k.a. gossip, occupy any celebrity-infused memoir: Did Carson and the erotically androgynous Annemarie Schwarzenbach, the great fantasy of McCullers’s life, actually “do it”? Despite the suggestive letters and tape recordings, it’s unclear, spoiling the wishes of a few critical prurients who seek to nail it down. Not all mysteries need a Poirot. For Shapland, such hide-and-seek yields some poignant inner drama:

I put the pages down with an audible, exasperated sigh and suddenly came back into the small Columbus [Georgia] reading room. For the first time in hours I looked up from my round table covered in stacks of folders at the other researchers—pairs of sisters or cousins all trying to find out their genealogical histories—and I began to question my research impulses. I’d found the love letters four years ago. I recognized what I read. What more proof did I think I needed? What was I trying to prove? Historians demand proof from queer love stories that they never require of straight relationships. Unless someone was in the room when the two women had sex (and just what “sex” means between women is, for many historians, up for debate), there’s just no reason to include in the historical record that they were lesbians. At least that’s what it seems like to me.

Even in her manic perturbation, McCullers chose not to swing the closet door open; she was instead interested in literary disguises, the chameleonic ambivalent characters of her fiction. Shapland chooses to pull down these masks. And yet no gun goes off since strictures in McCullers’s estate forbid anyone quoting directly from her more “telling” letters and journals. Which is to say such necessary hiding practiced by gay and lesbian authors are found largely in their reported behaviors. McCullers, whose face in portraits I find to be the saddest of all American literary figures, was so wounded by her insecurities that despite yearning for several women, she could neither act nor acknowledge her fear of trying. That fact insured a life wasted on convenience, marrying the same man twice (they were probably asexual) and censoring her later literary efforts.

There’s also a kind of a memoiristic #MeToo at work here. Shapland parallels her first affair with McCullers’s putative one, which, apparently, surprised each during their first residences at Yaddo—with the result that their sexual feelings, suspicioned and stifled by family, boyfriends, and marriage-hungry men, only dilated their androgyny. (It seems everyone Shapland names, historically or present-day, is gay or a little bit.) There are prerequisites for making a Compostela to an iconic author; one is to emphasize the model’s stickiness. Because the two women share one major commonality, the older artist must, in a sense, represent the younger one’s struggle, here Shapland’s categorical checked box. Still, there’s a resolution of sorts: McCullers’s closeted life, a well and a rock, shows Shapland the self-destructiveness she need not suffer and has been saved from.

The writer-on-writer memoir, playing self with and against another, is postmodern in its quest, debunking the metanarrative of the obsessively objective biography. The objectifiers are known to smother their quarry. They immerse themselves in the target’s every thought and deed, as Carl Sandburg did, for better and worse, while constructing his epic, uncritical homage to Lincoln (in six volumes) over seventeen years. Any biography is a peeping-Tom form whose outcome may crater between realist compendium and partisan mythology. Memoiristic commingling of an author’s work with one’s own, however, may flatter to a degree but should not aggrandize the other. Leave that for the obituaries.

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I want to deepen this idea, namely, that a new form allows the memoirist to probe his affinity for writing itself, especially when young and one’s fervid wrestling, often with novelists or narrative nonfictionists, sets the bar. This element is central to My Katherine Mansfield Project (2015) by Kirsty Gunn, a New Zealand expat who lives and teaches in Scotland and has written novels and story collections. Her memoir (autobiography contrasted by short tales) follows Gunn’s return to her birth country, at 60, to reengage her girlhood enthusiasms and her lost South Sea identity. Such a fate was first carboned by Mansfield, the great short-lived short-story writer, a New Zealander who also never revisited her homeland, dying at thirty-four in France. 

Much of Gunn’s fiction corners characters who long for the nether regions of the British empire they left willingly. Where else would malcontents go but “back to England,” the isle of an educated elite and the Mother Tongue. Gunn secures a nine-month fellowship to her birthplace in Wellington for two reasons: 1) to feel through Mansfield stories and her residency their mutually sensate girlhoods and 2) to create a set of new tales, inspired by her idol, their plots capturing the vagaries of home. What is it that haunts her so, about the land of Kiwis mixed with Mansfield’s temperament? Is Gunn’s arousal of place and author that which she must purge or redefine and, ultimately, let go of? Why?

First is the rough crossing; the flight from London to Auckland is punishing. Her arrival in Wellington feels as though she’d condemned herself “to a state of perpetual departure, never to fully arrive again.” Though her two daughters will soon fly in, she’s quickly soaked in regret; what’s more, the sensuality of nature, entangling many of Mansfield’s stories, is as palpable as before. Exiles, she discovers, are estranged from not only the streets and backyards of childhood, but also “our true home,” a nostalgic delusion. Hurt or happy in early life, we idealize our survival, casting its time and tide as “too beloved.” How enlarged that feeling grows as Gunn rereads Mansfield, her tales epiphanic with a girl’s dazed loss of innocence. No story illustrates this loss better than that toppling of shelter’s end, “The Garden Party.”

One night, Gunn awakens and writes a short story, presenting it with sparse commentary. Quickly, these tossed-off tales accumulate, surprising her. They often feel precious, having more meaning for the author than for the reader, because of context—the return of the native who starts to sound like her flawed heroine. Or, better said, the stories she writes rely on the nonfictional context of her being there, her dramatic forays rubbing shoulders with her essayistic meditations on Mansfield’s finesse. Gunn justifies the formal turn when she says she has come “to inhabit the place where my own fiction comes from and where so many of the stories that I make begin.” In addition, she’s been employing Mansfield’s tack, which the latter used one hundred years ago. Which calls forth the newest memoir trend—autofiction—which is Gunn’s bearing: a genre-bending personal essay peppered with literary evaluation and fictional offshoots, both of which brood.

The book progresses and Gunn stabilizes. She flushes the emigrant’s woe by using her fictional sensibility to create characters who house her feelings of home and estrangement, who enact her misgivings from various out-of-time angles, and who envision her future dilemma by living it out in the world of the young. In two of four stories, she works off classic Mansfieldian images—a haunted childhood home and a boat-captain father who navigates a treacherous landing; in the two other stories, she creates doppelganger writers that beguile Gunn and her two daughters in Wellington. Autofiction, as I say, but now, Gunn confesses, she’s changed her tune. Coming back was a wise move; the exile’s reconquest authenticates the tales. (What is memoir without revealing one’s authenticity?) Recalling Shapland, this push into the intentional, and the speculative, is another tool with which to chisel the writer-on-writer memoir.

Midbook, Gunn lands on an idea that Edward Said, the exiled Palestinian, tackled in Out of Place (1999). After his “banishment” in 1951, Israel seized a “network of towns and villages,” including a mountain village where Said grew up. His exile was marked by constant wandering, a binational education, and the eventual realization that he’d lost “a home in words,” the language of childhood. Gunn identifies and builds like Said on losing her “home in words.” She quotes from the story “Miss Brill,” how smartly the title character “was melding together a New Zealand and an England, a Wellington and a London.” Straddling a post-Empire sense of home has renewed the psychic territory of the short story. Such mixing, Gunn says, “bridges both Southern and Northern Hemispheres, and so lets the world in.” That’s a positive spin, far different from Said’s bellicosity. In our time, this bridge-building allows our thousands of divisive priorities, unalloyed as yet, which are seeking a safe transnational space, a fusion of difference I relish in Teju Cole’s fiction and essays.

In the end, Gunn’s aim is to produce new tales by immersing herself in a place known in her bones already. “The Notebook,” a short story, links the discovery of an apparitional notebook on her desk in which odd, Mansfield-ish phrases drop from the sky and call out Gunn’s insecurity as a writer. Did she forget she had written them in the night? She calms down once she sees that these jots connect her more forcefully to Mansfield, her mission, after all. The result, though, is a bit dizzying as the surreality binds the authors so tightly that neither can breathe.

Still, Gunn’s construction is like a cross-genre collage, one rarely attempted by writers. It’s an experiment in memory and longing where, to make it work, the author must delineate the memoir and the fiction parts clearly. Must memoir alone incubate our readerly passions? Must we fictionalize the story when a literary talent like Mansfield’s overtakes us? To dare the reader’s credulity by “becoming Mansfield” as a “project” feels starkly original. Gunn’s book revels in its hard-to-manage rhetorical nature as its theme. It bricks a path in which only the bouncing ball of fiction and nonfiction satisfies the author’s estrangement and, she hopes, her reanimation of the goddess within.

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What to make of Pico Iyer’s paean to Graham Greene, The Man Within My Head (2012)? The book, like much of Iyer’s nonfiction, dramatizes his peripatetic life, flying every other month, it seems, between far distant locations, which double as backdrops for his meditations. All that far-flung travel and Greene remains his guide: “I’d found him leading as much as shadowing me across the globe, if only because he listened to the world so closely he knew what it would do next, as any of us might do with an old friend or love.” By the late 2000s, after decades of meandering, some on assignment for Time magazine, Iyer rakes through his passing coincidences with Greene’s geographic reach and the religious dilemmas the novelist’s characters face.

I use coincidences intentionally, for both men have written about their removal elsewhere in most of their books. Iyer, the author and self-styled globalist with a spiritual bent, arrives and departs in country and, willy-nilly, in his past: Oxford where he studied in a private school when young, Santa Barbara where his Indian-born parents worked as peace activists, and Japan where married he stops, often briefly, to write. During his eighty-six years, Greene, an empire-shadowing itinerant, bumped o’er the world by ship, bus, train, and donkey—from an English village childhood to outposts in Europe’s colonies, among them Cuba, Mexico, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Haiti, cloak-and-dagger at times on M.I.6 assignments or as a resident of Capri and Antibes. Having spent much time in Vietnam in the 1950s, Greene lost all desire to travel in America after the U.S. invasion.

The authors are separated by fifty-three years (Greene b. 1904, Iyer b. 1957); Iyer crosses Greene’s paths and those of his outsider characters by arrangement or serendipity. A few examples. He finds in a Himalayan hotel a little library that contains just the right Greene novel, easing his boredom. He remembers as a schoolboy in Oxford that he walked by Greene’s wife’s home; his idol was seldom there. He overhears conversations that recall the razor-sharp dialogue of Greene’s fiction. He thinks of The End of the Affair and the adulteress who negotiates her faith with God in exchange for saving a lover while he, Iyer, wonders why he’s chasing Greene’s ghost and not more at home with his own wife. It’s weirdly arbitrary that Iyer believes his mentor is tailing him. Iyer’s self-depiction is a kind of manufactured intrigue, hoping Greene’s sensibility about the poor and the outcast will also bless or bedevil him.

As his readers know, Greene’s theme is religious doubt—perhaps the faithful’s greatest commonality—unleashed with emotional precision in the novels The Power and the Glory and The End of the Affair. By contrast, Iyer’s theme skirts novelistic drama for lots of internal gazing. He writes, “I came to think, [Greene] became the way I could unlock something in the imagination; he was the way I could get into places in myself that were otherwise well-defended.”

The question is, does he “get in”? Rarely, I fear. He says he’s searching for their authorial “link” but his encounters with any “foreign” person, place, and culture are, in this volume, incidental to and overshadowed by his literary idol. Their pairing makes only superficial sense. Iyer is vaguely Hindu, descriptively overindulgent, and eminently well-read. Greene calls himself a “Catholic agnostic” who converts in his early twenties for love, marriage, and children—all things to test his faith at which he will, predictably, fail. Greene further befuddles himself, as do his characters, with the atheist’s rejection of belief and lauding of its paradoxes, showing the cruelty religious paragons practice everywhere, Greene, by God, their witness. For me, he seems to be in love with his limping along, enervated “Catholic” persuasion, not unlike the mature Thomas Merton.

Iyer claims that he’s read the Greene oeuvre several times over; he’s been steadfastly self-schooled in Greene’s peculiarities, which he realizes he couldn’t appreciate until his fifties. Indeed, the book often succumbs to a grand conceit: virtually any of Iyer’s experiences can be Greened, which accounts for the elder’s hold. The problem is, as I say, the comparison: Greene’s Shakespearean flint, unlike Iyer’s, presents a tilting universe of human tragedy, trafficked as fate-filled tests through grueling, deadended circumstances. Maybe that’s what Iyer reveres in him, what he’d like to have happen to him as man and writer. But he lacks Greene’s magnetism for the darkly mystical, and the elder’s spell feels shallow.

While I admire Iyer’s reading of Greene (an Oxford education was not wasted) and learn much about the novelist, he is distant from his mentor psychologically and the psychology with which Greene afflicts his characters, trapped in public personas and wasteful choices. I feel little affinity between the two men no matter how often Iyer says he does. I wonder, does Iyer deliver a worthwhile internal identification he has with his subject that deepens him or his host? Is this a performance of a scholarly journalist basking in another’s well-earned fictional reputation (many believe Greene should have won the Nobel Prize) or is it a memoir lumberingly misapplied via his mentor’s charm alone?

Late in the book there emerges another “man within” who is Iyer’s distant, brilliant, largely unavailable Neo-Platonist father—like Pico a chip off the old Oxford block—who, just as bookish and avoidant of messy intimacies as his son, may be Iyer’s secret pursuant. Suddenly, with his father enjoined, a new meander overtakes the tale. The self-assured “man on assignment” begins to think that maybe he should get off the beaten path. He muses on advice from his father and from Greene, his “adopted” father, now thickened by two entanglements, Pico and Graham and Pico and Dad.

As much as a turn to his father feels right, it goes nowhere. Senior is far more aloof from his son than Greene is. This is true, partly, because Iyer is saddled with a reporter’s talent for elegant dissection that emphasize commentary over character. Greene is “an image of attention,” he writes, “a kind of theology, a preparation for a way of acting.” It was “Greene himself who had taught me how the author we meet can never, by definition, be quite the one we love.” The myth is not the man. OK. But does that notion move Iyer to see beyond the adage that literary affairs must be unrequited? In the better writer-on-writer works, we find not the veiled author lying within the subject but a guide to unveiling the true other, the hiddenness of ourselves.

A final telling scene involves a car wreck in the Bolivian mountains, which almost kills Iyer’s traveling partner, Louis. There’s a good deal of near-death propulsion, rushing from clinic to hospital, facilities worse than substandard, until the ordeal is left unexamined so Iyer can exit and plop down elsewhere, “driving up hairpin turns in the Indian foothills of the Himalayas three months later.” Because it’s his job, to get back to the assignment.

Greene and Iyer run at different speeds toward the beacon of darkness. With Greene, Iyer tells us, the “darkness can be more important to acknowledge than light, precisely because we are so happy to discount its existence.” Greene intensifies the dark’s value: See his portrait of the wholly besotted “whiskey priest” in The Power and the Glory. With Iyer, who may be unaware, the darkness is in him, a kind of longing for the confidence Greene exhibits in dramatizing his agnosticism. A perpetual migrant, Iyer is assigned to outposts where he hopes the aura of Greene’s novelistic talent might jumpstart his own authentic life. Alas, Greene is there but he’s fisted it tightly, behind his back.

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How far, how close, must the writer’s distance from or intimacy with the literary quarry be to convince us that the extended affair is worthy of memoir? Shapland, Gunn, and Iyer may not have begun with that question but unearthed the “book time” it took to traverse the long, lonesome valley. Each of these memoirists learns, I think, that with publication they will have raised the work to the level of art but only if the aesthetic means animates the author’s prose as well as it it does his or her subject’s. The admirer’s forge must recast the admired one, an unfair but necessary end to this one-sided exchange.

By whatever label—bibliomemoir, memoir/biography, writer-on-writer memoir—the form is a mature development in nonfiction, which expresses a kind of self-substantiation via reading, angling its way into and out of that adolescent joy of the first encounter with our versions of Steinbeck or Oates. If each writer’s work boundaries a small estate (say, the four-volume Library of America Jack Kerouac: Novels, Poems, and Other Writings), then this new autobiographical turn allows authors to amplify what drives their fascination: not the facts of the life but its feel, anchored in its me-first drama. Granted, super-subjective, but, as I’ve said, such is the theme of our era, the primacy of self-regard, an invasiveness that not any old ghostly author warrants or wants.


Addendum: More books for readers drawn to this ghostly concoction between memoirist and the beloved literary other: U and I Nicholson Baker (on John Updike) (1991), The Year of Reading Proust Phyllis Rose (1997), Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader Anne Fadiman (2000); Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books Maureen Corrigan (2007); To the River: A Journey Beneath the Surface Olivia Lang (on Virginia Woolf’s death) (2011); Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag Sigrid Nunez; H Is for Hawk Helen MacDonald (on T.H. White) (2014), My Salinger Year Joanna Rakoff (2014), and Free Woman: Life, Liberation, and Doris Lessing Lara Feigel (2018). (Who have I left out?) Always Crashing in the Same Car: On Art, Crisis, and Los Angeles, California Matthew Specktor (2021), drives readers, a bit recklessly, through the up-and-down lives of nine writers, actors, directors, musicians, and screenwriters in and around and (buried) by Hollywood during the past 40 years.

And a few outliers: Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life (2017), The Victorian and the Romantic: a Memoir, a Love Story, and a Friendship Across Time Nell Stevens (on Elizabeth Gaskell) (2018), All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf Katharine Smyth (2019), Dear Knausgard Kim Adrian (2020), Look! We Have Come Through! Living with D.H. Lawrence Lara Feigel (2022), as well as the series “Bookmarked” from Ig Publishing that matches contemporary authors with literary titles, well under 200 pages.

As well are books about one’s obsession with collecting books or taking a place-based tour through a writer’s homeland and culture: Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey Janet Malcolm (2001); Outside of a Dog: A Bibliomemoir Rick Gekoski (2009), The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them Elif Batuman (2010), and The Futilitarians: Our Year of Thinking, Drinking, Grieving, and Reading Anne Gisleson (2017).