Carl Rollyson's Reviews > Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, from Childhood to Go Set a Watchman

Mockingbird by Charles J. Shields
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Jun 11, 2012

This is not so much a review as a declaration of principles after reading some of the reviews on this site: 1. Review the book that was actually written, not what you think an ideal biography should be. 2. Think of what it means to write the first biography of a subject. 3. Consider what it means to work on a living figure. 4. Categorize the biography in terms of other unauthorized biographies. Analyze the sources available to the biographer and how he or she uses them. 5. Waste no time fretting that the biographer did not have the cooperation of the subject and certain friends of hers.

These principles and more will be the subject of my next column in

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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Marion (new)

Marion Meade 6. Remember that the subject was, or is, a human being.

message 2: by Carl (new) - added it

Carl Rollyson It is often the human part that readers of literary biography object to. When the biographer reveals unflattering aspects of a writer who is much admired, reviewers and readers often come gunning for the biographer. Shooting the messenger, in other words.

message 3: by Carl (new) - added it

Carl Rollyson Shields ran into a protective ring around Lee, but it some cases the biography confronts even worse problems, as Gordon Bowker relates in this piece:

message 4: by Marion (new)

Marion Meade Remember the protective ring that faced Ann Waldron with her Eudora Welty biography.

message 5: by Carl (new) - added it

Carl Rollyson Marion wrote: "Remember the protective ring that faced Ann Waldron with her Eudora Welty biography."

I sure do. She had always received wonderful reviews for her books and was quite hurt by the hostile reception for her Welty biography. I said to her, "But I told you what would happen. Did you think it only happened to biographers like me?" Ann, never one to mince words, said "Yes."

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