The Minneapolis Star Tribune posted an updated article on “Holiday Books: Our critics choose their 10 favorite books”— though, not to nit-pick, what the headline writer ought to have said was “Our 10 critics choose their favorite book.” And Malcolm Forbes selected Adam Begley’s biography, Updike, as his:
“Updike by Adam Begley (Harper, $29.99) does what all good literary biographies should — shows how life influences art. Through meticulous research into Updike the man and critical readings of Updike the writer, Begley constructs a compelling and intimate portrait of a true American great. We come away with a better understanding of this prolific man of letters but also with the urge to rediscover him. Updike’s star fell somewhat in the years before his death, but this stunning work could be the first sizable step toward rehabilitation.
Meanwhile, in an updated Guardian story, “Writers pick the best books of 2014: part 1,” Blake Morrison named three favorites, among them (what else?) Begley’s bio:
“You wait a century for a major Norwegian writer then two come along at once … In Per Petterson’s novel I Refuse (Harvill Secker), childhood friends Jim and Tommy meet by chance, decades later, at a point of crisis for them both. The familiar Scandinavian tropes are present (snow, skating and depression) but the texture is more Ingmar Bergman than Stieg Larsson: the suspense isn’t in the plot but the prose, with its extraordinary looping sentences. The translator is Don Bartlett, the man responsible for bringing us Karl Ove Knausgaard, the third part of whose life writing epic, Boyhood Island (Vintage), also weighed in here this year: why its seemingly banal episodes should be so compelling remains one of the great mysteries of our time.
The best biography I’ve read in 2014 is Adam Begley’s Updike (HarperCollins), an admiring but not uncritical portrait of a novelist who was merciless in drawing on his own experiences, sexual and otherwise.
And I’m enjoying A Modern Don Juan, edited by Andy Croft and NS Thompson (Five Leaves), in which 15 contemporary poets lend fresh interest to Byron’s cantos, thanks to some ingenious modern rhymes (sequined cap / Gangsta rap, Che poster / pop-up toaster, Minerva’s Owl / Simon Cowell).