March 17, 2009: Unexpectedly Compelling

I was right yesterday to think that if I got to sleep early enough, I’d be able to get up in the morning to go to the gym. It just took discipline.

One of the things I had to be tough with myself about was putting my book away when it was time to shut out the light. I’m currently reading Jean Edward Smith’s Grant, and I’m finding it an unexpectedly compelling read. Not that Ulysses S. Grant isn’t interesting — he is — it’s just that I’m quite familiar with his story, especially his life during the Civil War. So to have a hard time putting down his biography surprises me.

I’m not entirely sure why it’s hard to put down. I suspect it’s a combination of the man himself and of Smith’s skill as a writer. He’s sympathetic but not blindly partisan, presenting a Grant who’s distinct and human. I’m getting the sense of a deeply inward man who didn’t say a whole lot, and that little to the point. I’ve read Grant’s memoirs — which deserve their excellent reputation — but I’m not sure they gave me such a strong sense of Grant’s quietness. I’ll have to reread them to find out.

One of the things I love about biography is that it’s time spent in the company of someone I might not otherwise meet. What I learn about human beings from studying Grant — or Gandhi, another biography I have out from the library — will inform the characters I create in my novels.

So a good biography is a treat for both my reading and writing selves.


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