Check It Out
Courier Article by David Locker
Sunday, February 18, 2001
Celebrity Lowdown Is Guilty Pleasure on The Shelf
Reading about famous people is one way to bring a spark of excitement to our own lives. Not that we would necessarily trade places with the celebrities we read about; most of us would surely choose security and family over the selfish lifestyles of the rich and famous. But there's no denying that it's thrilling to experience their mistakes and accomplishments secondhand.
So if the grocery store tabloids leave you hungry for more juicy gossip, why not head for your local library and stock up on some recent biographies?
Susan Sontag: The Making of an Icon by Carl Rollyson and Lisa Paddock (Norton, 2000).
Susan Sontag entered the University of Chicago at the age of 16 and graduated in 21/2 years. As a girl, she had read through the Modern Library giants by the meager illumination of a bedside nightlight. As an adult, she became a leading intellectual and essayist.
Sontag was also stunningly beautiful. She was a thinking man's fantasy, but beware-- she was a damsel without mercy.
Sontag moved to New York and took up a prominent position in the New York literary crowd. This has always been a fast crowd, and only the sharks survive. She's made a lot of enemies over the years, but one is forced to admire the strength of her character and her resolve to carve out an independent life of her own.
She has twice survived cancer and risked her life helping the Bosnians during the Serbian bombardment.
Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon by Robert Rosen (Soft skull, 2000).
Rosen tells us more about John Lennon than we have the right to know.
Since Lennon surrounded himself with domestic help, some of whom were hired off the street, he was particularly vulnerable to exposure.
John Lennon was a compulsive man. He was addicted to cigarettes, coffee, dieting, and astrology. During his last days he managed to free himself from many of these addictions and to center himself adequately to produce his last recording, Double Fantasy.
It took an iron resolve to achieve, and it is doubtful that if he had lived, he would have been able to do it again.
Greene on Capri by Shirley Hazzard (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2000).
British novelist Graham Greene purchased a home on the island of Capri in the 1950s as a place to rest from his global travels and to write. This is the same island where Roman emperor Tiberius retreated to run his empire safe from imperial intrigue. Writer Shirley Hazzard met Greene there in the late 1960s in a café, when she finished reciting a poem, the ending of which he could not remember.
Greene was a tall and slender man, as was Hazzard's husband Francis Steegmuller, the eminent biographer of Cocteau and Flaubert. There is no question that she admired her new acquaintance a great deal, at the same time being highly aware of his faults. Greene could be opinionated, surly, and overbearing. But what a thrill it must have been for her to share a close friendship with the author of "The End of the Affair" in such an idyllic spot in a time before commercialism came to Capri.
Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of Henri J. M. Nouwen by Michael Ford (Doubleday, 1999).
Unlike Sontag, who is often talked about but less frequently read, Nouwen is one of the most widely read spiritual writers of our times. In these pages, we find out that he was unable to live up to his message in his own life, but that he nevertheless was an inspiring priest who ministered in spite of his own wounded condition.
A mesmerizing preacher, this Dutch man of God gave up a successful academic career at Yale and Harvard for the mission fields of South America, then a decade-long ministry to a handicapped community in Canada. Though he had a network of 1,500 friends, he could never find enough affection. He drove himself relentlessly in a search for something he never found, although he enriched the lives of thousands.
Henri Nouwen died of a heart attack at the age of sixty-four.
David Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.