My Father Is a Book (Magill's Literary Annual 2007)
Biographies, after all, are books, not the lives themselvesa point that Janna Malamud Smith seems to acknowledge in the title of her memoir but which she can only fitfully support. After her father’s death in 1986, Smith wrote a piece for The New York Times exploring the novelist’s “complex sense of privacy and my own.” Although Bernard Malamud enjoyed reading biographies and had written a novel, Dubin’s Lives (1979), featuring a biographer as the protagonist, he did not like to divulge the “personal sources of his fiction.” Smith noted that he “delighted in [William] Shakespeare’s relative biographical anonymity.” She seconded Joyce Carol Oates’s outcry against “pathographies,” which demean their subjects by focusing on private failings, and Smith supported Stephen Joyce, James Joyce’s grandson, in his affirmation of his family’s right to destroy his grandfather’s papers. Smith concluded that it was “most unlikely that I’d ever make the contents of my father’s early journals public.”
Determined not only to safeguard her father’s life but also to call into question the right of others to publish biographies of unwilling subjects, Smith published Private Matters (1997), which included a chapter titled “Burnt Letters, Biography, and Privacy.” She approved of the bonfire author Henry James made of his correspondence because he was defending the integrity of the self: “My whole...
(The entire section is 1682 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2007)
Kirkus Reviews 74, no. 2 (January 15, 2006): 78.
Library Journal 131, no. 5 (March 15, 2006): 74.
The New York Times Book Review 155 (March 26, 2006): 6.
Publishers Weekly 253, no. 4 (January 23, 2006): 201-202.
The Times Literary Supplement, May 12, 2006, p. 8.
The Washington Post, March 19, 2006, p. BW02.
The Wilson Quarterly 30, no. 2 (Spring, 2006): 100-102.
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