Perhaps its silly (or downright blasphemous!) of me to suggest a memoir for the beach, when the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows excitement looms so near on the horizon, but if you decide to forgo the Potter parties and you’re looking for a real page turner, think about picking up Meryle Secrest’s Shoot the Widow: Adventures of a Biographer in Search of her Subject, just out from Knopf. The title of the book comes from the so-called “first rule of biography,” and points to Secrest’s most challenging obstacle as a biographer: the families of her very famous and famously reclusive subjects. As artists, you may be interested to know, for example, the vivid stories behind her Salvador Dalí and Romaine Brooks interviews.
From the press:
Among the other
biographical (mis)adventures, Secrest reveals: how she tracked Salvador
Dalí to a hospital room, found him recovering from serious burns
sustained in a mysterious fire, and learned that he was knee-deep in a
scandal involving fake drawings and prints and surrounded by dangerous
characters out of Murder, Inc. . . . and how she went in search of a
subject’s grave (Frank Lloyd Wright’s) only to find that his body had
been dug up to satisfy the whim of his last wife.
She writes about her
first book, a life of Romaine Brooks, and how she was led to Nice and
given invaluable letters by her subject’s heir that were slid across
the table, one at a time; how she was led to the villa of Brooks’
lover, Gabriele d’Annunzio (poet, playwright, and aviator), a fantastic
mausoleum left untouched since the moment of his death seventy years
before; to a small English village, where she uncovered a lost Romaine
Brooks painting; and finally, to 20, rue Jacob, Paris, where Romaine’s
lover, Natalie Barney, had fifty years before entertained Cocteau,
Gide, Proust, Colette, and others.
I can’t resist recommending too Susan’s Griffin‘s wonderful The Book of the Courtesan’s: A Catalogue of Their Virtues, in which she delves into the lives of the courtesans whose faces were immortalized in by the Renaissance masters,
by Degas, Renoir, and Toulouse-Lautrec. Broadway released the book in 2001 and I’ve read it almost ever summer since.