Plotting a biography

Terry Teachout is soliciting your opinions about the best place to start his biographies of George Balanchine and Louis Armstrong:

I’ve been reading a lot of biographies in recent weeks (I’m judging a literary award), and I’m struck by the fact that so many of them, including several of the best ones, start out more or less like this:

“In an old barn fixed up to serve as a studio, Arshile Gorky backed away from the canvas on his easel.”

“Alexander Hamilton realized instantly that he would die.”

“Guilty. He heard the verdict and flinched.”

“‘I am going to Washington Saturday night to make a speech at the Gridiron Club dinner,’ H. L. Mencken wrote to a friend on December 7, 1934. ‘This is a dreadful ordeal for me, and I bespeak the prayers of all Christian people.'”

In case you didn’t guess, the last of these books is my own The Skeptic: A Life of H. L. Mencken, so I think I can poke fun at this particular stylistic quirk with a fairly clear conscience….


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