Nonfiction Previews, Feb. 2013, Pt. 2: Celebrated Lives; Austen Meets Lennon/Ono Meets Prince and Plath

Byrne, Paula. Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things. Harper: HarperCollins. Feb. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9780061999093. $26.99.  BIOGRAPHY
Not traditional blow-by-blow biography, Byrne’s work proceeds thematically, clarifying Austen’s life and writing by examining significant moments and mementos in both. An ivory miniature, a bathing machine, letters from tantalizing sister-in-law Eliza de Feuillide, Austen’s knowledge of her brothers’ naval exploits, family ties to slave plantations in Antigua—all are grist for Byrne’s mill. We even get to travel to the East Indies and revolutionary Paris, as Austen did not. Byrne seems intent on teasing out her subject’s life of the mind and engagement with the issues of the day, from theater and religion to class conflict and war. Smart work but not dry; British biographer Byrne has had best sellers in works like Perdita: The Life of Mary Robinson, about the noted 18th-century actress, author, and royal mistress.

Cott, Jonathan. Days That I’ll Remember: Spending Time with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Doubleday. Feb. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780385536370. $25.95. MEMOIR
You have to admire a Rolling Stone contributing editor whose 15 books include Conversations with Glenn Gould and Pipers at the Gates of Dawn: The Wisdom of Children’s Literature; clearly, the man has breadth of vision. Here, Cott recalls his relationship with John Lennon, whom he met in 1968, as well as the sometimes vilified Yoko Ono. Cott sees her as a powerfully positive force in Lennon’s life. I predict a run on this one.

Ellsworth-Jones, Will. Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall. St. Martin’s. Feb. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9781250025739. $27.99.  BIOGRAPHY
British street artist/political activist Banksy is at once famous and completely unknown. He appears out of nowhere, graffitis an image on a wall (or whatever), then vanishes, and while people diligently follow his art, which sells for millions, his real identity and even his face remain a mystery. (Surely he’s the inspiration for underground artist Smitty in John Lanchester’s recent Capital.) Ellsworth-Jones, former chief reporter and New York correspondent for the Sunday Times, clearly had his job cut out for him, but he talked to folks who knew Bansky when to show how the Bristol-born author rose to international stardom. With four-color endpapers and a 16-page four-color insert, thank goodness.

Frank, Jeffrey. Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage. S. & S.  Feb. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9781416587019. $30. BIOGRAPHY
Not just formerly senior editor at The New Yorker and deputy editor of the Washington Post’s Outlook section but a novelist whose works include the “Washington Trilogy,” Frank would seem to have the skills to paint a portrait of the uneasy relationship between Dwight Eisenhower and his vice president, Richard Nixon. Frank draws on archival research and extensive interviewing to show behind-the-scenes tensions and personal and political differences, even as senior staff discussed Nixon’s role when Eisenhower was incapacitated. We’re promised a larger picture of Cold War America, too. Eye this one carefully.

Friedkin, William. The Friedkin Connection: The Movies That Made My Life. Harper: HarperCollins. Feb. 2013. 288p. 9780061775123. $27.99; eISBN 9780062097262. MEMOIR
From The French Connection, which won him Academy Award, Golden Globe, Director’s Guild, and Venice Film Festival affirmation, to this summer’s Killer Joe, which makes Matthew McConaughey look really mean, Friedkin has made films that hold up a mirror to America. Now he holds up a mirror to himself, showing how he got from Chicago’s mean streets to the director’s chair. Film buffs will want; with a 40,000-copy first printing.

Piazza, Mike. Long Shot. S. & S. Feb. 2013. 352p.  ISBN 9781439150221. $27. MEMOIR
From National League Rookie of the Year in 1993 to record holder for home runs hit by a catcher and 12-time All Star, Piazza has remained a major Major League baseball figure since his 2008 retirement. Here he tells his own story. Just in time for spring training.

Touré. I Would Die 4 U. Free Pr: S. & S. Feb. 2013. 160p. ISBN 9781476705491. pap. $14. BIOGRAPHY/CRITICISM
Cohost of MSNBC’s The Cycle and the author of celebrated fiction and nonfiction, including Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?, Touré gets to show off his skills as a cultural critic in this assessment of protean megastar Prince. He sees Prince as one of the world’s all-time great religious artists, one who uses explicit language and sexually charged imagery to reconnect listeners to God, boldly conceived in traditional terms. Along the way, Touré chats with former Prince band members and biblical scholars. Not just average celeb bio.

Winder, Elizabeth. Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953. Harper: HarperCollins. Feb. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9780062085498. $25.99. lrg. prnt. BIOGRAPHY
Guest-editing the annual college issue for Mademoiselle, known as the “intellectual fashion magazine,” should have been the time of ambitious young Sylvia Plath’s life. She went to the ballet and a Yankees ballgame, danced at the West Side Tennis Club and ate caviar, chased Dylan Thomas and typed rejection letters to New Yorker authors. But check out poet Winder’s title; one of three words Plath used to describe her experience was pain. In this portrait of 26 significant days in the life of the troubled poet, Winder aims to show that what looked to be a golden experience actually tipped Plath over into damning anxiety. A focused work for literature lovers and especially Plath fans (yes, still legion); with a 35,000-copy first printing.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.