The Joy of the Well-written Biography
By Wendy Murray
Being a professional book reviewer I have little time to linger in books of my choosing. Sometimes a book I'm asked to review or otherwise write about rivets me and I am satisfied. This year two volumes hit that mark, while a third, which I read at my leisure for the fun of it, has proven to be the best of all. All are biographies, reminding me again of the bounty and exuberance of well-crafted nonfiction when the writer is a wordsmith and thus creates a portrait of the subject. (A notable disappointing exception to this is the recent biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (2011).
Three top my list for 2013 (books I read in 2013, not necessarily published in 2013):
by Eric Metaxas
"What Wilberforce vanquished was something worse than slavery . . . . He vanquished the very mind-set that made slavery acceptable" (p. xv). Eric Metaxas paints a riveting picture not only of the times in which William Wilberforce lived, but of the core of the man who stood against a cultural tide out of conviction and sheer will. Engrossing and at times a romp.
The year 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of Lewis’s death, and times have changed and evangelical sentiments have matured. McGrath offers a new and at times shocking look into the complicated life ofthis complex figure, in a deeply researched biography. The author takes us headlong into the heart of a Lewis we’ve known little about: his unconventional affair with Mrs. Jane Moore; his hostile and deceptive relationship with his father; his curiosity about the sensuality of cruelty. McGrath navigates the reader through these messy themes, ultimately landing us onto the solid ground of Lewis’s postconversion legacy. He shows with skill, sympathy, dispassion, and engaging prose that Lewis, like the rest of us, did the best he could with the hand he was dealt. But he got over it, as must all those who would prefer a Lewis without shadows. (Publishers Weekly)
Best Read in 2013:
Van Gogh, The Life (Random House)
"To Vincent [VanGogh], his art was a record of his life more true, more revealing ('how deep--how infinitely deep') even than the storm of letters that accompanied it. Every wave of 'serenity and happiness,' as well as every shudder of pain and despair, he believed, found its way into paint; every heartbreak into heartbreaking imagery; every picture into self-portraiture. 'I want to paint what I feel,' he said, 'and feel what I paint' "(p.6)