My Favorite BiographiesI absolutely adore biographies, autobiographies and memoirs. These are just a few of my favorites—old and new—I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
by Hermione Lee
Lee also wrote Virginia Woolf’s famous biography.
Not sure this is the best book for traveling (800 pages), but this hefty volume was on my “finished reading shelf” in no time.
Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King
by Antonia Fraser
Those French kings and their mistresses have always fascinated me!
Enchantment: the Life of Audrey Hepburn
by Donald Spoto
I’ll make a confession: for years I thought Audrey was French. Maybe because I’d seen photos in magazines of her with her friend Hubert de Givenchy (whom I met later through my work, and thought of as a dazzling, dapper, and delightful designer and human being), but I knew little about her besides seeing her in films! Reading her bio made me discover that she had a tough life (and could have benefited from reading my books) in spite of all the glamour.
My Life in France
by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme
What a lady. I met her several times (she loved champagne) and I had the privilege of sharing quite a few wonderful moments with her around the table. Alas, the last meal I had with Julia Child was a few days after September 11. She was preparing to move to Santa Barbara, and the "ladies" of Boston wanted to have a grand send-off dinner for her. It took place at Barbara Lynch’s #9 Restaurant and included women chefs, sommeliers, public relations agents, members of the press, and some friends and VIPs. I thought the dinner would be canceled, but a call implored me to please come, as everybody needed something to lift his or her spirits. We had a ball. And what appetite and joie de vivre this 80-something grande dame had.
This book has been an added bonus to my personal memories of Julia, as I hadn't known much about her life in France as a young bride and her first French meals. Very illuminating. This is definitely a book for those who have turned, and want to turn, into "French women."
Alma Mahler ou l’art d’être aimée
by Francoise Giroud
It’s about the love life of Alma Mahler, wife of the composer Mahler. I’m not sure the work has ever been translated, but it’s the kind of book one devours—in the same way Alma “devours” the men she fell in love with and lived with . . . four, sometime two, at once. Some phénomène, she was also a composer, but not a good mother, and certainly not a good wife—though passion ruled her life.
What Lips My Lips Have Kissed: The Loves and Love Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay
by Daniel Mark Epstein
I discovered her in a funny way when I first came to New York City and lived in Greenwich Village: several friends of Edward would say that I looked like Edna! I wish. Alas, I never saw much resemblance. I started out reading her poetry and fell in love with it. This biography is a rich one, as she had a rich life—her loves and love poems making for the best of it.
by Calvin Trillin
I had seen Calvin Trillin many times at parties then eventually met both he and Alice at a friend’s dinner party in the Village years ago. Walking home that night I said to Edward I would have loved to have met Alice years ago and be her friend. What an amazing woman…and the book reflects that very sentiment—from the viewpoint of a male who adored her. It's hard to imagine how to live without her.
The Italics are Mine
One of my favorite books and a splendid read is Nina Berberova’s autobiography—so rich with anecdotes from her time in Russia and Paris where learning about the Russian community in the city of light is illuminating.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
An amazing and moving true story about an African-American woman whose cells were used extensively for research after she died and without her family being aware of it.
Next up on my list:
Binyon’s biography of Pushkin
Hilary Spurling’s The Unknown Matisse and Matisse The Master Ellen Burstyn’s Lessons in Becoming Myself
I'll let you know what I think, stay tuned!