We Need Diverse Ya Sale
 
 

Special Offers see all

Enter to WIN a $100 Credit

Subscribe to PowellsBooks.news
for a chance to win.
Privacy Policy

Visit our stores


    Recently Viewed clear list


    Original Essays | June 3, 2015

    Jami Attenberg: IMG Long Live the Queen of the Bowery



    Previous to Saint Mazie, I've only ever written about characters I've made up from scratch before. Then I read an essay by Joseph Mitchell in his... Continue »

    spacer
Qualifying orders ship free.
$6.50
Used Hardcover
Ships in 1 to 3 days
Add to Wishlist
Qty Store Section
2 Burnside Reference- Writing Nonfiction

Shoot the Widow: Adventures of a Biographer in Search of Her Subject

by

Shoot the Widow: Adventures of a Biographer in Search of Her Subject Cover

ISBN13: 9780307264831
ISBN10: 0307264831
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
All Product Details

Only 2 left in stock at $6.50!

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

The first rule of biography, wrote Justin Kaplan: "Shoot the widow."

In her new book, Meryle Secrest, acclaimed biographer ("Knowing, sympathetic and entertainingly droll" — The New York Times), writes about her comic triumphs and misadventures as a biographer in search of her nine celebrated subjects, about how the hunt for a "life" is like working one's way through a maze, full of fall starts, dead ends, and occasional clear passages leading to the next part of the puzzle.

She writes about her first book, a life of Romaine Brooks, and how she was led to Nice and given invaluable letters by her subject's heir that were slid across the table, one at a time; how she was led to the villa of Brooks' lover, Gabriele d'Annunzio (poet, playwright, and aviator), a fantastic mausoleum left untouched since the moment of his death seventy years before; to a small English village, where she uncovered a lost Romaine Brooks painting; and finally, to 20, rue Jacob, Paris, where Romaine’s lover, Natalie Barney, had fifty years before entertained Cocteau, Gide, Proust, Colette, and others.

Secrest describes how her next book — a life of Berenson &3151; prompted Francis Steegmuller, fellow biographer, to comment that he wouldn't touch the subject with a ten-foot pole.

For her life of British art historian Kenneth Clark, Secrest was given permission to write the book by her subject, who surreptitiously financed it in the hopes of controlling its contents; we see how Clark's plan was foiled by a jealous mistress and a stash of love letters that helped Secrest navigate Clark's obstacle course.

Among the other biographical (mis)adventures, Secrest reveals: how she tracked Salvador Dalí to a hospital room, found him recovering from serious burns sustained in a mysterious fire, and learned that he was knee-deep in a scandal involving fake drawings and prints and surrounded by dangerous characters out of Murder, Inc....and how she went in search of a subject's grave (Frank Lloyd Wright's) only to find that his body had been dug up to satisfy the whim of his last wife.

A fascinating account of a life spent in sometimes arduous, sometimes comical, always exciting pursuit of the truth about other lives.

Review:

"'To explain the homicidal title first: it's an axiom coined by Justin Kaplan, the distinguished biographer of Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, and it refers to one of the main hazards we practitioners of the genre face. I instantly recognized its provenance: Kaplan, the first professional biographer I ever knew, used to warn me about the obstacles that spouses of dead subjects can strew in a prospective biographer's path: permissions withheld, archives closed, requests for interviews denied. On the one hand, you need their co-operation to get the job done; on the other, they tend to get in the way. Maybe Secrest's title should have been: 'Obtain the Widow's Papers, Then Shoot the Widow.' A career biographer, Secrest has nine biographies under her belt, among them Leonard Bernstein, Kenneth Clark and Salvador Dal. It's an eclectic mix — not an altogether reassuring sign. The greatest biographers — Michael Holroyd, Richard Ellmann, Leon Edel, Edmund Morris, Richard Holmes, to list a few at random — have imposed on themselves a mandate to enter as deeply as they can into another's mind and character: in Holmes's word, to 'haunt' their subjects. The job can take a lifetime.Secrest doesn't haunt as much as insinuate. Her method is pragmatic. 'Deciding on a subject is mostly a cold-blooded business of weighing the subject against potential markets, timeliness, the availability of material and the likelihood of getting the story, the kinds of factors publishers have to worry about.' Sometimes she's authorized; sometimes she's not. Sometimes the matter of authorization is left ambiguous. She shares with us, perhaps unwisely, John Guare's telling anagram for her name: Merely Secrets To her credit, Secrest is a lively storyteller — better than she knows. She puts herself down as 'a nosy parker,' a 'boring' stylist who finds the whole process 'baffling.' But she's too hard on herself. Arriving at Lord Clark's ancient country manor, she finds the venerable art historian 'sitting in the living room, his mouth half open, looking flustered and vague. He had had a coup de vieux, he said.' It's a touching moment — portrait of a great man on his way out. Maybe Secrest should write an autobiography. The glimpses she offers of her own life — her English childhood in Bath; the revelation, blurted out in passing, that she was an 'unwanted child' — are tantalizing. She tearfully confesses to one of her subjects, Stephen Sondheim, the 'years of self-examination' she's undergone. Tell us more. 61 b&w photos. (June 7) James Atlas, the publisher of Atlas Books, is the biographer of Delmore Schwartz and Saul Bellow.' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"A bundle of letters turns up in an attic; a widower waits behind a cobwebbed window; a note falls out of a dusty book. This is how we like to think biographies get written. Art so often feels like an act of concealment, and biography one of exposure, that it's easy to imagine the writer as a detective on her subject's trail.

Hence the promisingly hard-boiled title of Meryle Secrest's... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)

Review:

"Secrest's memoir discloses the backstory of her path to biographer in a fascinating manner." St. Petersburg Times

Review:

"[Secrest's] tone is humorous and self-deprecating, and the vivid portraits of those she encounters during the course of her many adventures in biography are vivid and revealing." Library Journal

About the Author

Meryle Secrest was born and educated in Bath, England, and now lives in Washington, D.C. She is the author of nine biographies and is the recipient of the 2006 National Humanities Medal.

What Our Readers Are Saying

Add a comment for a chance to win!
Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

rollyson2002, September 6, 2012 (view all comments by rollyson2002)
In a lifetime of writing biographies of famous men, Meryle Secrest has been tempted on more than one occasion to do away with their surviving wives. Widows are the inconvenient keepers of the flame, who watch over the biographer's shoulder and forbid forays into intimate matters that might compromise the reputations of their husbands. For Ms. Secrest, "widows" are not simply the spouses of dead subjects: They are anyone who might block her access to private papers and privileged information.

Having written lives of Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Salvador Dalí, Frank Lloyd Wright, and other celebrated figures, Ms. Secrest is more than qualified to bring us behind the scenes to witness the hazards and frustrations of the business. Her new book, "Shoot the Widow" (Knopf, 256 pages, $25.95), chronicles her mood swings, false starts, and ��" above all ��" delusions that her subjects can be easily snared.

Sometimes it begins well. For her biography of Sir Kenneth Clark, the august art historian, Ms. Secrest initially had her subject's cooperation. "Say what you like," Clark's son told Ms. Secrest. But family members rarely mean it when they endorse openness. They admire your work, what you have done with some othersubject, but then they discover that you have got it all wrong when it comes to themselves!

Sir Kenneth tried to control everything ��" even paying some of Ms. Secrest's interviewees on the sly. Such maneuvers lead subjects to believe they've got their biographer in pocket. But, as Ms. Secrest illustrates, they must part ways when the biographer asserts her independence.

How do biographers get into such fixes? Ms. Secrest explains: Biographers want access. They are agreeable. They seem like good friends. But to write a credible life they have to get the goods. Subjects as sophisticated as Sir Kenneth might be assumed to have wised up: The biographer, in the end, cannot be controlled. "To hell with you all," Ms. Secrest finally had to tell his family. Only then could she write her book.

But how could a writer as professional as Ms. Secrest repeat her errors? Ah, that's where the self-delusion comes in. This time it will be different, the biographer thinks. I have such a good subject and great access! Well, there is no access without acrimony ��" a truth understood only in retrospect.

Ms. Secrest writes beautifully and perceptively. Her description of a dying Dalí (she got to see him only once for an unauthorized biography) is harrowing. Stripped of his joie de vivre, Dalí was barely able to talk because of the thick tube in his nose. When Ms. Secrest tries to interview him, she finds the layers of his personae had shriveled to a shrunken figure. And yet she describes the scene so vividly and with such a delicate attention to pathos that she conveys a great deal about Dalí in his final days.

Ms. Secrest has alternated between dead and living figures, choosing her subjects according to her interests and what she thinks the market will bear. She is honest about her miscalculations, and even admits to a certain flatness that enters her prose where she has not been able to capture her subject.

I would argue with only one of her opinions. In her biography of Mr. Sondheim, she decided not to pursue the composer's sexual experience. She equates interest in sex with the trend toward salacious biographies critics have recently deplored. But surely the sexual nature of a subject (alive or dead) is, to modern minds, a part of the whole person.

But would Mr. Sondheim have been so cooperative if Ms. Secrest had done a "Kitty Kelley" (her codename for salacious biography)? Putting aside what I see as an injustice to Ms. Kelley's unauthorized biographies, it seems to me that in this case Ms. Secrest paid too dearly in this case for her access. Perhaps she was spooked early on when playwright John Guare pointed out to Mr. Sondheim that Meryle Secrest's name is an anagram for "merely secrets."

I suspect Mr. Sondheim subtly restricted Ms. Secrest by suggesting she was only interested in secrets. She then had to prove how high-minded she was. This is a common enough trap for biographers, but it's better to risk full disclosure and the inevitable name calling (James Joyce called them biografiends) than capitulate to the kind of propriety that dooms biographical truth.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No

Product Details

ISBN:
9780307264831
Subtitle:
Adventures of a Biographer in Search of Her Subject
Author:
Secrest, Meryle
Publisher:
Knopf
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Biographers
Subject:
Women biographers
Copyright:
Publication Date:
20070605
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
61 PHOTOGRAPHS IN TEXT
Pages:
256
Dimensions:
9.52x5.98x1.04 in. 1.11 lbs.

Other books you might like

  1. The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The... Used Trade Paper $4.50
  2. Thomas the Tank Engine Story Collection
    New Hardcover $35.00
  3. The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq Used Hardcover $4.95
  4. Revolutionary Wealth: How It Will Be... Used Trade Paper $6.95
  5. Bread and Jam for Frances
    Used Trade Paper $5.50
  6. The Raw 50: 10 Amazing Breakfasts,...
    Used Trade Paper $5.50

Related Subjects

Reference » Writing » Nonfiction

Shoot the Widow: Adventures of a Biographer in Search of Her Subject Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$6.50 In Stock
Product details 256 pages Knopf Publishing Group - English 9780307264831 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "'To explain the homicidal title first: it's an axiom coined by Justin Kaplan, the distinguished biographer of Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, and it refers to one of the main hazards we practitioners of the genre face. I instantly recognized its provenance: Kaplan, the first professional biographer I ever knew, used to warn me about the obstacles that spouses of dead subjects can strew in a prospective biographer's path: permissions withheld, archives closed, requests for interviews denied. On the one hand, you need their co-operation to get the job done; on the other, they tend to get in the way. Maybe Secrest's title should have been: 'Obtain the Widow's Papers, Then Shoot the Widow.' A career biographer, Secrest has nine biographies under her belt, among them Leonard Bernstein, Kenneth Clark and Salvador Dal. It's an eclectic mix — not an altogether reassuring sign. The greatest biographers — Michael Holroyd, Richard Ellmann, Leon Edel, Edmund Morris, Richard Holmes, to list a few at random — have imposed on themselves a mandate to enter as deeply as they can into another's mind and character: in Holmes's word, to 'haunt' their subjects. The job can take a lifetime.Secrest doesn't haunt as much as insinuate. Her method is pragmatic. 'Deciding on a subject is mostly a cold-blooded business of weighing the subject against potential markets, timeliness, the availability of material and the likelihood of getting the story, the kinds of factors publishers have to worry about.' Sometimes she's authorized; sometimes she's not. Sometimes the matter of authorization is left ambiguous. She shares with us, perhaps unwisely, John Guare's telling anagram for her name: Merely Secrets To her credit, Secrest is a lively storyteller — better than she knows. She puts herself down as 'a nosy parker,' a 'boring' stylist who finds the whole process 'baffling.' But she's too hard on herself. Arriving at Lord Clark's ancient country manor, she finds the venerable art historian 'sitting in the living room, his mouth half open, looking flustered and vague. He had had a coup de vieux, he said.' It's a touching moment — portrait of a great man on his way out. Maybe Secrest should write an autobiography. The glimpses she offers of her own life — her English childhood in Bath; the revelation, blurted out in passing, that she was an 'unwanted child' — are tantalizing. She tearfully confesses to one of her subjects, Stephen Sondheim, the 'years of self-examination' she's undergone. Tell us more. 61 b&w photos. (June 7) James Atlas, the publisher of Atlas Books, is the biographer of Delmore Schwartz and Saul Bellow.' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "Secrest's memoir discloses the backstory of her path to biographer in a fascinating manner."
"Review" by , "[Secrest's] tone is humorous and self-deprecating, and the vivid portraits of those she encounters during the course of her many adventures in biography are vivid and revealing."
spacer
spacer
  • back to top

FOLLOW US ON...

     
Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.