Two New Biographies: Dickens and Joyce

This week, on Tuesday, November 29th, two biographies made their debut:   CHARLES DICKENS A LIFE by Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley and JAMES JOYCE A LIFE by Edna O’Brien.

As a youngster biographies fueled my early interest in reading, I could not get enough of them.  I think the many, many, many, did I say many years of schooling that followed sort of pushed me in the direction of reading for pleasure. Somehow my brain compartmentalized that as fiction and then light fiction.  I was dragging my feet before breaking into the Dickens biography prior to this post, but I was wrong and cannot wait to read Joyce.

My interest in the life of Dickens has been heightened this year with all of the talk about books and events planned to commemorate next year’s 200th anniversary.  From the start Smiley indicated this was not going to be your standard biography as she acknowledged the plethera out there already and specifically those by a peer Forster and more recently by Ackroyd that she references throughout the book. Instead, Smiley chose to look at his literary works and then lay them over his life and take us through it in that manner.

Prior to reading this biography, I did not know much about Dickens the man nor his literary works.  I was surprised to find out how much of a celebrity he was during his life and that he made a very good life for his with his writing and performances. Dickens had ten children and a wife and others in his life that he continued to support throughout his life.

Like most creative artists the road was not smooth sailing.  From early on Dickens controlled his literary path like none other.  He was a business man and not just a writer.  He was accepted into society and he was often shuned by fellow peers because of his position and perhaps acceptance.  But one thing was clear, Dickens used his society platform and good favor to speak for those less fortunate and he continued to do so throughout his life. Very similar to our modern day celebrities that take on causes with their platforms.

One of my favorite stories shared by Smiley was the house that Dickens was able to purchase later in life.  While writing LITTLE DORRIT he purchased Gad’s Hill Place a large house in Kent.  Dickens and his father had admired this together when he was just a little boy and his father had indicated that this was within his reach if he worked hard.  And it looks like Dickens did just that and through a set of coincidences Dicken’s was able to purchase if for his family.

Another aspect of Smiley’s biography that fascinated me was the discussion of characters in his works that were pulled from his real life.  While this is nothing new for a writer it seems like Dickens might have been even less transparent then other writers.  I feel compelled to pull out a Dickens classic or two from the shelves with this new insight and see them with new eyes.

I thoroughly enjoyed Smiley’s take on the life of Dickens. If you are a fan of Dickens as many are, this is a biography you will not want to miss out on.  As of the date of this posting I have yet to read JAMES JOYCE so I have posted something from Penguin below.

In JAMES JOYCE, O’Brien chronicles the author’s early days as the rambunctious Jesuit school student, one of ten children, through his flight to Europe and the success, love and despair he would experience there, to his final, frustrated days as “a poor old man in a long overcoat, an eyepatch and a stick, stones in his pocket to keep off marauding dogs.”

Thanks to Penguin Books for putting biographies back in my TBR rotation, I have missed you.  Next a gift for you.  I have a copy of each biography to giveaway to two lucky visitors*.  All you have to do is:

– leave a comment below

– share your favorite biography

– indicate which biography you would like win

* contest is open until Monday, December 5th at midnight

About poofbooks

With a wave of the wand and a good book in hand travel to places and spaces beyond your imagination. Because reading does not require you to leave the comfort of your own living room or the bunny slippers behind. So if a vacation is not in your plans for this year, take a bookation, you will love it.
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28 Responses to Two New Biographies: Dickens and Joyce

  1. Mary Pat D. says:

    Thanks for sharing. I would welcome the opportunity to win Dickens’ biography but one reader’s comment about Joyce makes me also want to read Joyce’s biography. aahhhh dilemmas. I will go with Dickens.

    Favorite biograpy- Billy Graham’s biography. Inspiring and a great peak into the life and sacrifices of this man. I appreciate how he focused on his wife, Ruth’s contribution to his ministry.

  2. Pam Leiter says:

    I am going to have to go with an autobiography, Kathrine Graham as my favorite. It is really a wonderful history of a privileged woman working hard to save the Washington Post. While she lived a charmed life, she did not let it get in the way of her accomplishments. She used her contacts wisely for achievements outside of herself. The book provides an excellent description of history and gives us a unique glimpse of President Johnson and Warren Buffet.

    I love reading Jane Smiley and particularly liked A Thousand Acres, although at the time I had no idea it was supposed to emulate King Lear. So I would very much like to win the Charles Dickens biography.

  3. Leigh says:

    Loved “The Only way I Know”, Cal Ripken Jr’s biography. I know, it’s not one about an artsy or theatrical person, but that’s part of what I found interesting…a guy that just looked at life in one way…you show up every day ready to play the game…whatever game your game may be..a very down to earth perspective that was an easy read..which sometimes you need.
    Love your site- it keeps getting better!
    Lik either biography….how do choose…Joyce or Dickens…it’s like choosing between warm apple pie and a hot fudge sundae…delicious choices, either of them.

  4. jnkuhn says:

    I am in the market for a favorite biography and I think the Dickens book can fill that void! 🙂

  5. bookmagic says:

    Both sound so awesome. I don’t read a lot of biographies but they are usually about writers. I think my favorite is one about Edna St. Vincent Millay, What Lips My Lips Have Kissed.

    I’d like to enter for the Dickens biography.
    Thanks for the giveaway!

    • poofbooks says:

      Thanks for stopping buy. Interesting that you are the second to comment on a biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay but a different title. I guess she was a very interesting person.

  6. Dana Huff says:

    I think my favorite biography is Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman. It was later made into the film The Duchess. Really well-researched and readable.
    I would be interested in the Dickens biography.

    • poofbooks says:

      I think I have a copy of that book somewhere in the stacks. I was at a Borders and she was signing books and I always feel compelled to purchase the book when the author is present.

  7. I enjoy reading biographies of our presidents. The last great one I read was about John Adams. The most enjoyable ones are the oldest presidents….learning about those times within the context of the person….a great way to learn!

  8. Karen Wan says:

    Like many of the other commenters, I would like the book on Dickens. My favorite biography, that’s a tough one. Don’t read too many of them, that’s why the Dickens book would be great.

    Like one of the commenters, I liked the autobiography by Katherine Hephurn, Me. I guess, my answer is a bit weird. I like the fictional biographies of Jesus and Buddha by Deepak Chopra. Not exactly typical biography. Also like My Sarton’s Journal of Solitude that I read a long time ago.



  9. tinyturtle88 says:

    for so many years i was so involved in my childraising but also try to make a mark at work that i only read professional books. one day a friend asked me “when was the last time you read a book for pleasure?” i thought long and hard and had to reply “9 years ago”. what a shame! that same week, one night i was ironing and had oprah playing from my tivo and saw that rob lowe was on talking about his book “Stories I Only Tell My Friends” so I checked it out the next day at the library and it was actually very good! If i won one of your books, i think i would choose james joyce. i hope i win!!

    • poofbooks says:

      So glad you took a chance on a book, definitely good to read something for you. A book can give you a break from life and that can reset you for work and with your family.

  10. Bonnie says:

    Favouriter Biography: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I would love to win the Charles Dickens biography.

  11. Jackie Jones says:

    I really started reading Biographies in high school and devoured all that I could get my hands on.
    My favorite would have to be ME by the great Katharine Hepburn.
    Also enjoyed all on Louisa May Alcott and Savage Beauty about Edna ST Vincent Millay.
    Would l to win either!

    • poofbooks says:

      You are so well read that it was clear you were destined to be among books. I have been gone from biographies for soooo long but this definitely won me back. Thanks for stopping by with a comment, means so much.

  12. Farin says:

    AGH! It’s hard to choose a favorite, but I’d have to say Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. So sad, but his writing style makes me want to read it over and over again.

    Keeping with Ireland, I would love to win James Joyce.

    • poofbooks says:

      I think it is always hard to chose a favorite. Over the years have heard so much about this one but I have never read it. Your comments about his writing style are definitely making me think about it.

      • Farin says:

        I think the best thing about the book is that, for all the wretchedness in his childhood, McCourt still managed to find the humor. And he paints a vivid picture of rural Ireland. Not to mention he revived the Limerick tourist industry, and Limerick is scary!

      • poofbooks says:

        I am all for a book that influences those to visit a location, that must be one powerful book.

  13. Michelle says:

    Ooh, what an awesome giveaway! To be honest, I don’t usually read biographies, so I don’t have a favorite. They’re just not usually the books I pick up and take home from the bookstore. These look really interesting though and I’m excited to maybe get the chance to win one! I’d like to win the biography of Dickens 🙂

    Thanks for hosting this giveaway!!

  14. I’m reading both right now — finishing up the Joyce bio which is so marvelously playful, it makes me smile just from the love of language.

  15. Like you, I have no real knowledge of Dickens. Thanks for sharing.

    – share your favorite biography
    >autobiography: My Wicked Wicked Ways by Errol Flynn. Really enjoyable. Any fan of film or literature will like.
    – indicate which biography you would like win


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