Saturday, January 03, 2009

Biography Beat 2009

This is the third of three reports on biography publishing. The first dealt with 1909 and the second on 2008.

The economy may be a factor in publishing in 2009, but there are no signs of fewer biographies yet. Mainstream publishers have issued catalogs promoting many upcoming titles. Searching Baker and Taylor's B&T Link Online today (January 3, 2009), I find 1251 hits for the subject "biography" and 72 for keyword "memoir" to be published in 2009. There will, of course, be more titles added to the database as the year progresses.

As they did in 1909, publishers (some being the same imprints) are scheduling titles to connect with the Abraham Lincoln anniversary:

  • A. Lincoln: A Biography by Ronald C. White. Ecco Press, January 2009. ISBN 9781400064991
  • Abraham Lincoln, 1861-1865 by George S. McGovern. St. Martin's Press, January 2009. (The American Presidents). ISBN 9780805083453
  • Abraham Lincoln: A Presidential Life by James M. McPherson. Oxford University Press, February 2009. ISBN 9780195374520
  • Lincoln's Men: The President and His Private Secretaries by Daniel Mark Epstein. HarperCollins, February 2009. ISBN 9780061565441
  • Mrs. Lincoln by Catherine Clinton. Simon Spotlight, January 2009. ISBN 9780060760403

Of course, there have always been many books about Lincoln. It is almost too late to be publishing Lincoln books for the anniversary as there have been many highly touted titles in the last three or four years. On pages 16 and 17, the December 15, 2008 issue of Booklist reviews thirteen core collection Lincoln titles.

One of the coincidences of history is that Abraham Lincoln was born on the same day as Charles Darwin. In this year of bicentennials, this was noticed by author Adam Gopnik who wrote a dual biography:

  • Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Lincoln, Darwin, and Modern Life by Adam Gopnik. Atria, January 2009. ISBN 9780307270788

Unlike Lincoln, there will not be a flood of books about Darwin in the mainstream book market. Looking at B&T Link Online, most of the titles that I found were scholarly. There is one book that is being marketed to the general public:

  • Darwin's Garden: Down House & The Origin of Species by Michael Boulter. Counterpoint, February 2009. ISBN 9781582434711

2009 is also the bicentennial of the birth of poet and short story writer Edgar Allan Poe. Prolific biography Peter Ackroyd took the opportunity to write:

  • Poe: A Life Cut Short by Peter Ackroyd. Bantam Dell, January 2009. ISBN 9780385508001

Felix Mendelssohn, Louis Braille, Alfred Tennyson, and Kit Carson were also born in 1809. 1909 was not as remarkable a year for the birth of historical and cultural figures. Wallace Stegner, Barry Goldwater, Maybelle Carter, Benny Goodman, and Simone Weil are leading names from that year.

Early 2009 will see new titles from some leading and upcoming biographers:

  • Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King. Simon & Schuster, January 2009. ISBN 9780312377328
  • Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster. Scribner's, January 2009. ISBN 9780345453235
  • Mrs. Lincoln by Catherine Clinton. Simon Spotlight, January 2009. ISBN 9780060760403 (also mentioned in the Lincoln books)
  • Pauline Bonaparte: Venus of Empire by Flora Fraser. Knopf, February 2009. ISBN 9780307265449
  • She Always Knew How: Mae West: A Personal Biography by Charlotte Chandler. Simon & Schuster, February 2009. ISBN 9781416579090
  • Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, 1858-1919 by Douglas Brinkley. HarperCollins, March 2009. ISBN 9780060565282
  • Woman Who Named God: Abraham's Dilemma and the Birth of Three Faiths by Charlotte Gordon. Little, Brown, March 2009. ISBN 9780316114745

Of the many other biographies, these sound particularly interesting to me:

  • Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor by Brad Gooch. Little, Brown, February 2009. ISBN 9780316000666
  • House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War by Alexander Waugh. Doubleday, February 2009. ISBN 9780385520607
  • Painter's Chair: George Washington and the Making of American Art by Hugh Howard. Bloomsbury, February 2009. ISBN 781596912441
  • Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Francis Perkins, FDR's Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience by Kristin Downey. Random House, March 2009. ISBN 9780385513654

There are many memoirs coming to library shelves. Knowing which to choose to purchase is difficult, as we all have our own tastes and may not realize what would interest other readers. I know that in the past I have passed over some memoirs that later became blockbusters. Here are some titles that look promising to me:

  • Confessions of a Mullah Warrior by Masood Farivar. Atlantic Monthly Press, March 2009. ISBN 9780871139825
  • Cooking & Screaming by Adrienne Kane. Simon Spotlight, February 2009. ISBN 9781416587972
  • Death by Leisure: A Cautionary Tale by Chris Ayres. Grove Press, February 2009. ISBN 9780802118813
  • Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran by Azadeh Moaveni. Random House, February 2009. ISBN 9781400066452
  • Jane Goodall's Return to Gombe: Reflections on a Life's Work in Africa by Jane Goodall. Penguin Group, February 2009. ISBN 9780525949954
  • Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World by Mary Pipher. Riverhead Books, March 2009. ISBN 9781594488610
  • That Went Well: Adventures in Caring for My Sister by Terrell Harris Dougan. Random House, January 2009. ISBN 9781401323295
  • War Child: A Child Soldier's Story by Emmanuel Jal. St. Martin's Press, February 2008. ISBN 9780312383220
  • Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family's Journey to Freedom by John F. Baker, Jr. Atria, February 2009. ISBN 9781416567400

That's all I know at the moment, gleaned from reviews and announcements. I will keep my ear to the ground, and let you know when I hear something more.

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