Charles Dickens’s favorite of his own novels was David Copperfield; the least popular in his time and since is Barnaby Rudge. Dickens got his start as a writer reporting on Parliament. He was an amateur magician and mesmerist, and when traveling was always eager to visit theaters and morgues. These are a few glimpses of the literary legend available in Claire Tomalin’s richly textured Charles Dickens: A Life (Penguin Press, $36). Or make that lives: Dickens was a novelist, journalist, editor, actor, performer of his own fiction (his readings drew thousands and were more lucrative than book sales), social reformer, and father of ten. Tomalin, an award-winning novelist and biographer—her works include a study of Ellen Ternan, Dickens’s paramour—matches her subject’s range and energy with a vivid, fast-paced narrative in which she charts Dickens’s growing popularity and financial security book by book and child by child. She also illuminates the complex, often contradictory man behind the icon of Victorian industriousness. A champion of the poor and the outcast, Dickens was kind to strangers but often callous to his family, sending away all but one of his sons and publicly rejecting his wife after twenty years of marriage.

Charles Dickens: A Life Cover Image
ISBN: 9780143122050
Availability: Backordered
Published: Penguin Books - October 30th, 2012

Rosamund Bartlett, a British scholar of Russian culture, has written extensively about the grand masters of Russian fiction, including Chekhov, Gogol, and Turgenev. Her new Tolstoy: A Russian Life (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35) makes extensive use of sources not available until the fall of the Soviet Union.  Born into a landed aristocratic family, Tolstoy filled his younger years with drinking, gambling, and seducing serfs. Later, the Count became a populist, pacifist, vegetarian, and advocate for peasant literacy and women’s rights. Bartlett gives a thorough portrait of the artist and links his life in fascinating ways to his writing, showing how Tolstoy drew on his own ideas and on his family members to create the memorable figures of his novels. A.N. Wilson, who wrote the last significant biography of Tolstoy twenty years ago, says that Bartlett’s work “conveys Tolstoy to me more vividly than any biography I have read, although not any biography I have written!”

Tolstoy: A Russian Life Cover Image
ISBN: 9780151014385
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - November 8th, 2011

This memoir from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Oscar Hijuelos tells the story of his Cuban-American upbringing in New York City as his immigrant parents charted their own path in a new country. One fascinating subtext of Thoughts Without Cigarettes (Gotham, $27.50) deals with a serious illness Hijuelos experienced as a child and the pressures his condition exerted on a family already under strain. Hijuelos is best when describing how, trapped for years in a stifling job at an advertising agency, he latched onto his passion for writing, along with a few mentors who shepherded him along. I loved the honesty of the book, and the vivid and unvarnished memories Hijuelos shares even if, at times, I felt there were holes in the story.

Thoughts without Cigarettes: A Memoir Cover Image
ISBN: 9781592407187
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Avery - June 5th, 2012

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