For those interested in the craft of biography, there's a great exchange on The Millions this week. Scott Donaldson, author of "John Cheever: A Biography" and last year's "Death of a Rebel: The Charlie Fenton Story," (a biography of a biographer), discusses the hazards of his craft -- including sharing a subject with the descendants of Cheever and the dangers of discussing other biographers.
Read the comments, where the biographers mentioned by Donaldson and his interviewer indignantly weigh in.
Bailey’s biography achieved notable critical success, winning the National Book Critics Circle Award and becoming a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize… But Bailey fell into the trap — as I had done in my Cheever biography — of putting in too much of what he had found out… Only after turning off the switch on my ego have I finally been able to accept Bailey’s darker version of Cheever’s life as closer to the truth than my kinder, gentler account.
Commenter Blake Bailey:
I have asked Scott Donaldson for a retraction of his false remarks, above, concerning my Cheever biography. If he refuses, then I ask for the opportunity to refute them, categorically, with all due prominence on your website.
Commenter Jonathan Yardley (biographer of Frederick Exley)
Obviously Donaldson has not read my biography of Frederick Exley. I most certainly did not end up “hating” Exley. He was a difficult man, but there was much to love about him and that comes through in my book. Judging from the response above by Blake Bailey, it seems that Donaldson is in the habit of making public comments on books about which he knows little or nothing.
Commenter C. Max Magee (editor of The Millions)
In the interest of transparency, I want to note here that we have removed a small section from the excerpted section above that related to Blake Bailey. This was done with the permission of Scott Donaldson. I’ll leave it to them if they want to comment further, here or elsewhere, on the disagreement alluded to in Bailey’s comment above..
via The Millions