"The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself." 
- Albert Camus

 

Literary Biographies and Criticism
 
by Andrew Lycett

Though Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's name is recognized the world over, for decades the man himself has been overshadowed by his better understood creation, Sherlock Holmes, who has become one of literature's most enduring characters. Based on thousands of previously unavailable documents, Andrew Lycett, author of the critically acclaimed biography Dylan Thomas, offers the first definitive biography of the baffling Conan Doyle, finally making sense of a long-standing mystery: how the scientifically minded creator of the world's most rational detective himself succumbed to an avid belief in spiritualism, including communication with the dead.

Conan Doyle was a man of many contradictions. Always romantic, energetic, idealistic and upstanding, he could also be selfish and fool-hardy. Lycett assembles the many threads of Conan Doyle's life, including the lasting impact of his domineering mother and his wayward, alcoholic father; his affair with a younger woman while his wife lay dying; and his nearly fanatical pursuit of scientific data to prove and explain various supernatural phenomena. Lycett reveals the evolution of Conan Doyle's nature and ideas against the backdrop of his intense personal life, wider society and the intellectual ferment of his age. In response to the dramatic scientific and social transformations at the turn of the century, he rejected traditional religious faith in favor of psychics and séances -- and in this way he embodied all of his late-Victorian, early-Edwardian era's ambivalence about the advance of science and the decline of religion.

The first biographer to gain access to Conan Doyle's newly released personal archive -- which includes correspondence, diaries, original manuscripts and more -- Lycett combines assiduous research with penetrating insight to offer the most comprehensive, lucid and sympathetic portrait yet of Conan Doyle's personal journey from student to doctor, from world-famous author to ardent spiritualist.
 
 
by Charles J. Shields

To Kill a Mockingbird -- the twentieth century's most widely read American novel -- has sold thirty million copies and still sells a million yearly. Yet despite her book's perennial popularity, its creator, Harper Lee, has become a somewhat mysterious figure. Now, after years of research, Charles J. Shields brings to life the warmhearted, high-spirited, and occasionally hardheaded woman who gave us two of American literature's most unforgettable characters --Atticus Finch and his daughter, Scout.
 
At the center of Shields's evocative, lively book is the story of Lee's struggle to create her famous novel, but her colorful life contains many highlights -- her girlhood as a tomboy in overalls in tiny Monroeville, Alabama; the murder trial that made her beloved father's reputation and inspired her great work; her journey to Kansas as Truman Capote's ally and research assistant to help report the story of In Cold Blood.Mockingbird -- unique, highly entertaining, filled with humor and heart -- is a wide-ranging, idiosyncratic portrait of a writer, her dream, and the place and people whom she made immortal.

 
by Colin Duriez
 
Are you traveling to Narnia? No matter if this is your first visit to C. S. Lewis's wonderful fantasy world or if you've been there many times, you'll want to bring along this handy companion to the landscape and inhabitants of Narnia, including an A-to-Z guide to characters, places, objects and events. From Narnia expert Colin Duriez you'll learn more about the mind behind Narnia, how Narnia relates to other imaginative worlds and children's literature, about the history within the stories of Narnia, and how Narnia fits into Lewis's other work. Duriez also takes up some the sticky questions that you may be left wondering about, such as the destiny of Susan. His book will help you dig deeper into the series and its implications for understanding the Christian life.

 
by Philip F. Gura

From the acclaimed cultural historian Philip F. Gura comes Truth's Ragged Edge, a comprehensive and original history of the American novel's first century. Grounded in Gura's extensive consideration of the diverse range of important early novels, not just those that remain widely read today, this book recovers many long-neglected but influential writers -- such as the escaped slave Harriet Jacobs, the free black Philadelphian Frank J. Webb, and the irrepressible John Neal -- to paint a complete and authoritative portrait of the era. Gura also gives us the key to understanding what sets the early novel apart, arguing that it is distinguished by its roots in "the fundamental religiosity of American life." Our nation's pioneering novelists, it turns out, wrote less in the service of art than of morality.
 
This history begins with a series of firsts: the very first American novel, William Hill Brown's The Power of Sympathy, published in 1789; the first bestsellers, Susanna Rowson's Charlotte Temple and Hannah Webster Foster's The Coquette, novels that were, like Brown's, cautionary tales of seduction and betrayal; and the first native genre, religious tracts, which were parables intended to instruct the Christian reader. Gura shows that the novel did not leave behind its proselytizing purpose, even as it evolved. We see Catharine Maria Sedgwick in the 1820s conceiving of A New-England Tale as a critique of Puritanism's harsh strictures, as well as novelists pushing secular causes: George Lippard's The Quaker City, from 1844, was a dark warning about growing social inequality. In the next decade certain writers -- Hawthorne and Melville most famously -- began to depict interiority and doubt, and in doing so nurtured a broader cultural shift, from social concern to individualism, from faith in a distant god to faith in the self.
 
Rich in subplots and detail, Gura's narrative includes enlightening discussions of the technologies that modernized publishing and allowed for the printing of novels on a mass scale, and of the lively cultural journals and literary salons of early nineteenth-century New York and Boston. A book for the reader of history no less than the reader of fiction, Truth's Ragged Edge -- the title drawn from a phrase in Melville, about the ambiguity of truth -- is an indispensable guide to the fascinating, unexpected origins of the American novel.
 
by Lyndall Gordon
 
In 1882, Emily Dickinson's brother, Austin, began an adulterous love affair with the accomplished and ravishing Mabel Todd, setting in motion a series of events that would forever change the lives of the Dickinson family. Award-winning biographer Lyndall Gordon tells the story of the feud that erupted -- and that still continues today. Making unprecedented use of letters, diaries, and legal documents, Gordon proposes a groundbreaking new solution to the secret behind the poet's insistent seclusion, presenting a woman beyond her time who found love, spirituality, and immortality all on her own terms.
 
The first major biography of Dickinson in nearly ten years,
Lives Like Loaded Guns is a highly acclaimed story of creative genius, illicit passion, and betrayal that will forever change the way we view one of America's most important literary figures.


 

Here is a ringside seat to the exchange of Barbs, Slights, Insults, Verbal Jabs, and Other Assorted Acrimonious Remarks by Upstanding Members of Our Esteemed Literary Pantheon.

In these eight profiles of quarrels between famous authors, Anthony Arthur draws on a lifetime of reading and teaching their works to describe the feuds as lively duels of strong personalities. Going beyond mere gossip, he provides insights into the issues that provoked the quarrels - Soviet communism, World War II, and the natural tension between the critical and creative temperaments, among them. 

The result reads like a collection of short stories, with the featured authors as their own best characters and having the best lines.
 
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***All synopses and pictures taken from goodreads website.