Tom Perrotta

Tom Perrotta writes:

“I’m an avid reader of biographies and memoirs. I tend to favor books about writers, but I’m also interested in music and politics. Here are a few of my recent favorites.”

By Andre Dubus III

“Though he’s the son of a legendary writer, Andre Dubus III grew up poor in the hardscrabble city of Haverhill, Massachusetts. In an effort to protect himself and his siblings, Dubus turned himself into a street brawler, and discovered that he liked it. Townie is a unapologetic memoir of adolescent violence — read it for the realistic, eerily convincing descriptions of what it feels like to live by your fists — and a moving coming-of-age narrative, in which a young writer discovers his true vocation and his better self.”

Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke
By Peter Guralnick

“Guralnick is a national treasure, as anyone knows who’s read his monumental two-part biography of Elvis Presley. His chronicle of Sam Cooke’s tragically short life is equally remarkable, focusing on Cooke’s gospel roots, his turbulent private life, and his masterful musical contribution to the civil rights movement, “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Guralnick’s detailed reconstruction of Cooke’s murder in a cheap L.A. motel feels like a chapter from a crime novel.”

Margaret Fuller: A New American Life
By Megan Marshall

“Margaret Fuller is probably the least-known (and least-read) major member of the Transcendentalist movement. Megan Marshall’s vivid, highly readable biography brings to life a troubled, brilliant woman who invented a role for herself as a public intellectual through sheer force of will, at a time when women were barred from higher education and confined to the domestic sphere. Marshall’s examination of Fuller’s passionate but chaste friendship with Ralph Waldo Emerson is especially poignant.”

George F. Kennan: An American Life
By John Lewis Gaddis

“This one’s a real doorstop, but Kennan is a fascinating subject — an old-school man of letters and committed Russophile who somehow ended up being the architect of America’s Cold War foreign policy, trying to protect a country and a way of life that he didn’t understand or approve of. Kennan’s not easy to like, but he’s a formidable figure nonetheless, and a bona-fide American dinosaur.”

A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates
By Blake Bailey

“Richard Yates was a great, mostly unappreciated writer, and he drank himself to death. It’s a relatively simple, terribly sad story, but Blake Bailey invests it with it a deep pathos. For the last decades of his life, Yates was essentially kept alive by graduate students at the colleges where he taught creative writing — there was something about this broken-down, nearly helpless, but somehow regal man that inspired deep devotion in the people who knew him.”