Biographies Recently Read

I just read a couple of good books; one a biography and one an autobiography.

The first is I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg by Bill Morgan which I ordered on an inter-library loan. I raced through this one and found it fascinating.

I don’t respect the rampant alcoholism and drug addiction of the hip people of the time but I did hold some respect for Ginsberg, and reading this has increased my esteem of the man and his work. I remember seeing him protesting on various things on television and cringing at the way he seemed to hitch himself to causes, but the book explains his genuine interest in such things long after it became shameful to do so. I was also astounded to learn that he didn’t have much money due to his support of various organizations and friends. He could have been wealthy and comfortable and wasn’t. He was quite a genuine person.

And speaking of causes and not being politically correct, someone on one of my reading lists recommended Michael Moore’s new autobiography. He has written stories of his life and will continue to expand on this volume in one or two subsequent books. This was excellent and as many reviews state, you will come away knowing things you didn’t know about Michael Moore: Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life by Michael Moore.

I have been reading several biographies that I got on inter-library loan. I seem to be in mid-century modern mode lately, reading about some of the musicians and writers that became popular in the 1950s and 60s.

Frank O’Hara: Poet Among Painters by Marjorie Perloff

Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn by David Hajdu

Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original by Robin Kelley

All were interesting, though the Frank O’Hara biography was not well written and didn’t contain much biographical detail, but this seems to be the only book on him available. Incidentally, according to Allen Ginsberg’s voluminous journals, he and Frank had an encounter but they were both too drunk to do anything about it. Frank hung around painters more than he did writers but I suppose paths crossed at parties and such.

I am not sure where to explore next. I could read about scandalous Jane Digby or perhaps the Mitford sisters, or I could stick to music and read about Henry Mancini or Johnny Mercer, both musicians I respect. I might decide to read the abridged autobiography of Isaac Asimov. I have biographies of Oscar Wilde and Zelda Fitzgerald to read at home here but I am not in the mood.

If anyone has suggestions, please comment, I am always interested in book recommendations.

Update: One of my friends wrote to tell me about a biography of Edmund White she is reading.  I have never even heard of White but I see he has written a biography of 19th century French poet Arthur Rimbaud. I have another biography of Rimbaud written by Graham Robb that I should read. Since I am reading about writers and musicians of the 1950-60s era, I find a lot of them were influenced by Rimbaud. Phil Ochs even named a cat Rimbaud. I have a book of poetry of Rimbaud’s but still need to get to this biography. It might be a good tie-in with some of the biographies mentioned in this post.

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