A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin

Staff Pick

A devoted opera lover, Claire Tomalin resists dramatizing A Life of My Own (Penguin, $27) though much that she’s experienced—infidelity, her journalist husband’s killing by terrorists in Israel, her daughter’s suicide—are the stuff of opera. Instead, she treats crises and good fortune alike with an even hand, displaying the judiciousness and empathy that have made her such an outstanding biographer of figures like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. Though Tomalin wrote poetry from childhood through college and always believed books were an essential “refuge,” she came late to writing her own: her life of Mary Wollstonecraft was published in 1974, when Tomalin was over forty. She prepared for her authorial career with a solid grounding in editing and reviewing;  when she finally got a job in publishing, it was partly due to male interviewers giving her high marks on her looks. Tomalin notes such incidents without attacking or excusing anyone (with the exception of Rupert Murdoch, whose "mix of bullying and bribery" led her to resign as books editor of the Sunday Times in 1986). Throughout her varied professional roles, Tomalin stays firmly grounded in family life; hers is primarily the story of a daughter, wife, and, above all, a mother.