California Literary Review

Biography

Book Review: The Book of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon

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May 2nd, 2013

The title The Book of My Lives is apt: rather than presenting a seamless memoir, Hemon instead emphasizes discontinuity, a series of Aleksandar Hemons moving before us in different settings, sometimes without roots to ground them. His decision to provide his version of a table of contents at the end of the book, and to title it “Table of Discontents,” is a play on words that reveals a sense of sadness and dislocation.

Book Review: Titian: His Life by Sheila Hale

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December 12th, 2012

Seeing a paint brush on the floor, the emperor reached down to retrieve it and presented it to the painter. Had Charles bestowed a golden scepter upon Titian, the honor would have been no greater. Artists were still viewed as artisans by most of the nobility of Europe. In sullying his royal hands with a tool of Titian’s trade, Charles paid him the ultimate compliment.

Book Review: John Keats: A New Life by Nicholas Roe

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November 16th, 2012

Whether one approaches Keats’ life by reading a biography or by the direct study of his poems, there is no escaping the fact that he was obsessed by the nature and effect of beauty in its various forms. He was also haunted by death, the sheer, undeniable, inescapable physical annihilation that awaits each of us, sooner or later. In the case of Keats, death occurred much, much too soon.

Book Review: Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan

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October 15th, 2012

The course of Curtis’ campaign to document the lives and life style of the Native American peoples is related by Egan with considerable detail and page-turning élan. There were plenty of incidents of physical ordeal and, in some cases, real danger. An Apache medicine man who divulged secrets of his tribe’s religious practices died under suspicious circumstances shortly after Curtis left the reservation. That fate might well have befallen Curtis…

Book Review: Diaries by George Orwell

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August 28th, 2012

Europe had yet to recover from the First World War and the Allied peoples were at a grave psychological disadvantage in comparison with the civilian population of Nazi Germany. Through nearly a decade of political indoctrination, news censorship and threats of imprisonment or worse, the German people were schooled for war. To Orwell, the only things that could shake the British out of their complacency were the drone of the engines of German aircraft over London and the detonation of the bombs they dropped.

Book Review: Mike Wallace, A Life by Peter Rader

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July 2nd, 2012

He suffered, too, the tragic loss of his oldest child, Peter, who disappeared while backpacking across Europe after his sophomore year at Yale. His father went looking for him in Greece, where he had last been seen–and it was Mike Wallace himself who found his son’s body beneath a precipice that had given way and sent him to his death.

Book Review: The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination

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February 29th, 2012

It was at Oxford University that Burne-Jones found divine beauty and William Morris. They shared a love for medieval themes, what we now call Gothic Revival, and were attracted to the art of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Founded in 1848, the Pre-Raphaelites were a loose confederation of young artists in revolt against the false veneer of academic art.

Book Review: George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis

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January 19th, 2012

George Frost Kennan was one of the most influential of all American diplomats, as well as an historian and writer who won two National Book Awards and two Pulitzer Prizes. It was Kennan who, first in his “long telegram” sent from the American embassy at Moscow in February 1946, and then in his anonymous “X” article in Foreign Affairs the following year, laid out for policy-makers, and then for the American public, the true nature of Stalinism and Soviet policy at a time when some still took a benevolent view of our wartime Soviet ally.

Book Review: Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith

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December 15th, 2011

For an artist who vied with Rembrandt in painting self-portraits, van Gogh seldom allowed himself to be photographed. The one surviving photo, from his days at Goupil’s, shows a scowling, tousled haired young man with troubled, searching eyes. It is the face of a man destined to be a prophet or a lunatic.

Book Review: Verdi and/or Wagner: Two Men, Two Worlds, Two Centuries by Peter Conrad

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November 28th, 2011

Perhaps, the best way of approaching Conrad’s book is to regard it primarily as a meditation on creativity. As with opera itself, where passion and empathy lead, intellectual appreciation will follow. The key insight of this fine book is easy enough to grasp. In an age of strutting nationalism, both Verdi and Wagner gave the world music that ultimately transcends the limits of borders or political ideology, regardless of how subsequent regimes used it.

Book Review: Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin

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November 6th, 2011

The happiness was not to last. More Scrooge than Bob Cratchit in some respects, he was not particularly fond of his sons. Charley, his eldest, he deemed to be suffering from a “lassitude of character” and he did not see much hope for the others. He worried they might metamorphose into his father or his brothers, relying on him for handouts. And he was becoming thoroughly sick of Catherine.

Book Review: Blue Nights by Joan Didion

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October 30th, 2011

We learn that Quintana Roo was adopted, a beautiful precocious girl with hair “bleached by the beach sun” and an unearthly adult sensibility. At the age of 5, she called the state psychiatric facility to “find out what she needed to do if she was going crazy;” soon after, she called Twentieth-Century Fox to “find out what she needed to do to be a star.”

Book Review: Cabin: Two Brothers, a Dream and Five Acres in Maine by Lou Ureneck

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October 27th, 2011

In September 2007, Lou Ureneck, a 56-year-old journalism professor at Boston University, was hospitalized for atrial fibrillation, the exclamation point following a decade-long tailspin that included divorce, his mother’s death, financial failure, deepening depression, and a withering sense of purpose or connection. The week-long stay at Massachusetts General underscored what he’d already begun to realize: he needed to change.

Book Review: Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark by Brian Kellow

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October 24th, 2011

So if she wasn’t pleasant, what was Pauline Kael? She was earthy; she was tough; she was not afraid of sex, drugs or Woody Allen. Cigarettes and bourbon were her loyal companions. The East Coast establishment and prissy editors her enemies. As Jerry Lewis said, she was a “dirty old broad.” But he also called her “the most qualified critic in the world. “ Both, I think, she would have perceived as compliments.

Book Review: Virginia Woolf by Alexandra Harris

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September 30th, 2011

Woolf spent much of her life trying to free herself from the grasp of the past, specifically the Victorian milieu of her childhood. Her father, Sir Leslie Stephen, was the editor of the prestigious Dictionary of National Biography and a personification of the Victorian pater familias. Woolf both loved and rebelled against him. She suffered a severe nervous breakdown following his death in 1904. Yet it was not until her father died, that she was able to liberate her emotions to the point where she could begin a serious career as a writer.

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