Monday, July 9, 2012

Five best books about writers' lives

Peter Collier's new book is Political Woman: The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick.

One of his five best books about writers' lives, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
My Dark Places
by James Ellroy (1996)

Every memoir is a private investigation, but James Ellroy makes the connection explicit in this amped-up exploration of the brutal murder of his mother, Geneva, in 1958 when he was 10 years old. The first part of the book, a coming-of-age story as if imagined by Poe on meth, tells of Ellroy's teenage years in Los Angeles, living in the blowback of the crime. He was a schoolboy Nazi who doodled swastikas; a compulsive thief and porn addict; a homeless drug addict and "kiddie noir" jailbird obsessed with murders such as that of Betty Short, the Black Dahlia in 1947. ("My brain was a police blotter. . . . Dead women owned me.") The book's second part is an account of how Ellroy, having somehow miraculously pulled out of this anarchic free-fall and embarked on a successful career as a crime-fiction writer ("L.A. Confidential"), revisits his mother's murder 35 years later. He hires a former police detective, and they thoroughly re-imagine the crime, investigating the dark aspects of Geneva's life as well. Ellroy doesn't find the perpetrator, but the writer achieves an unforgettable ecstatic communion with his dead mother.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue