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Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Me

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National Book Award-winning biographer Deirdre Bair explores her fifteen remarkable years in Paris with Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir, painting intimate new portraits of two literary giants and revealing secrets of the biographical art. In 1971 Deirdre Bair was a journalist and recently minted Ph.D. who managed to secure access to Nobel Prize-winning author Samuel National Book Award-winning biographer Deirdre Bair explores her fifteen remarkable years in Paris with Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir, painting intimate new portraits of two literary giants and revealing secrets of the biographical art. In 1971 Deirdre Bair was a journalist and recently minted Ph.D. who managed to secure access to Nobel Prize-winning author Samuel Beckett. He agreed that she could write his biography despite never having written--or even read--a biography herself. The next seven years of intimate conversations, intercontinental research, and peculiar cat-and-mouse games resulted in Samuel Beckett: A Biography, which went on to win the National Book Award and propel Deirdre to her next subject: Simone de Beauvoir. The catch? De Beauvoir and Beckett despised each other--and lived essentially on the same street. While quite literally dodging one subject or the other, and sometimes hiding out in the backrooms of the great caf�s of Paris, Bair learned that what works in terms of process for one biography rarely applies to the next. Her seven-year relationship with the domineering and difficult de Beauvoir required a radical change in approach, yielding another groundbreaking literary profile. Drawing on Bair's extensive notes from the period, including never-before-told anecdotes and details that were considered impossible to publish at the time, Parisian Lives is full of personality and warmth and give us an entirely new window on the all-too-human side of these legendary thinkers.


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National Book Award-winning biographer Deirdre Bair explores her fifteen remarkable years in Paris with Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir, painting intimate new portraits of two literary giants and revealing secrets of the biographical art. In 1971 Deirdre Bair was a journalist and recently minted Ph.D. who managed to secure access to Nobel Prize-winning author Samuel National Book Award-winning biographer Deirdre Bair explores her fifteen remarkable years in Paris with Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir, painting intimate new portraits of two literary giants and revealing secrets of the biographical art. In 1971 Deirdre Bair was a journalist and recently minted Ph.D. who managed to secure access to Nobel Prize-winning author Samuel Beckett. He agreed that she could write his biography despite never having written--or even read--a biography herself. The next seven years of intimate conversations, intercontinental research, and peculiar cat-and-mouse games resulted in Samuel Beckett: A Biography, which went on to win the National Book Award and propel Deirdre to her next subject: Simone de Beauvoir. The catch? De Beauvoir and Beckett despised each other--and lived essentially on the same street. While quite literally dodging one subject or the other, and sometimes hiding out in the backrooms of the great caf�s of Paris, Bair learned that what works in terms of process for one biography rarely applies to the next. Her seven-year relationship with the domineering and difficult de Beauvoir required a radical change in approach, yielding another groundbreaking literary profile. Drawing on Bair's extensive notes from the period, including never-before-told anecdotes and details that were considered impossible to publish at the time, Parisian Lives is full of personality and warmth and give us an entirely new window on the all-too-human side of these legendary thinkers.

30 review for Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Me

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette

    Deirdre Bair has written a book about the process of writing two other books about people who wrote a lot of books. And that, my friends, is just too much excavation for my simple brain to endure. If you're interested in how one goes about writing biographies, this might interest you. I think I'd rather just read the actual biographies she wrote, one of which won the National Book Award. Samuel Beckett

  2. 4 out of 5

    Niklas Pivic

    Earlier this year, Michael Peppiatt’s The Existential Englishman: Paris Among the Artists was published; the book displays namedropping and some Parisian familières, and ended up as quite the end note of what can be written about celebrities, and Paris. It is the kind of book that most people will forget about when asked of their favourite autobiographies, six months after having read it. Enter Deirdre Bair. I did not know of her before reading this book; I’d not even read her biography on Earlier this year, Michael Peppiatt’s The Existential Englishman: Paris Among the Artists was published; the book displays namedropping and some Parisian familières, and ended up as quite the end note of what can be written about celebrities, and Paris. It is the kind of book that most people will forget about when asked of their favourite autobiographies, six months after having read it. Enter Deirdre Bair. I did not know of her before reading this book; I’d not even read her biography on Wikipedia. “So you are the one who is going to reveal me for the charlatan that I am.” It was the first thing Samuel Beckett ever said to me on that bitter cold day, November 17, 1971, as we sat in the minuscule lobby of the Hôtel du Danube on the rue Jacob. The start of the book is catchy without trying to be too engaging. It’s clear that the writer is both experienced and knows rhythm; if writing a book is similar to pacing oneself for running a marathon well, this one holds up almost throughout. Almost. Somewhere between meeting Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir, there is a lull. It is slight, and on the whole can be forgotten. This is my only complaint about the book, and mind you, I’m reviewing an uncorrected advance copy of the book. Au contraire, Bair writes of her own family in a commendable way, never delving into the sappy or drab. Professing the same kind of verve, she describes her own problems with deciding to become a biographer without knowing how to become one. She even asked Beckett how to, in a roundabout way: All this went through my mind in a matter of seconds as I dropped my head into my hands and said, “Oh dear. I don’t know if I’m cut out for this biography business.” His demeanor changed immediately, as did his tone of voice. “Well, then,” he replied, “why don’t we talk about it?” Reading about Bair’s conquests with Beckett, it’s easy to want to read her book about him. What makes it even more interesting is how Beckett didn’t let her behind the scenes of his machinations: Beckett was famous for never interpreting, analyzing, or explaining anything about his writings, particularly the plays. Although he would discuss modes of interpretation, MacGowran said, Beckett always fell back on the same final comment when questions got too close to the one he hated most: “What did you mean when you wrote X?” He brought such discussions to a quick end with “I would feel superior to my own work if I tried to explain it.” It’s clear to the reader—without Bair trying to blow her own trumpet—that the author has jumped through quite a few hoops to have her Beckett biography published, by Jove. It’s even impressive that she contacted Richard Ellman, who’d had his own Beckett biography published before Bair did hers: Richard Ellmann, then at Yale, told me he would never grant me an interview because if he had anything to say about Beckett, he would write it himself. It’s easy to think back to those days when readers were everywhere, publishing houses possessed greater cultural power than they do today, and how authors were discussed by multitudes of people while they were writing novels. It’s also, sadly, easy to consider how Bair was subject to abject sexism, which led to rumours being spread, which, in turn, nearly led to her book not being published. A cadre of Beckett specialists—the “Becketteers,” as I called them (all references to Mouseketeers are intentional), white men in secure academic positions of power and authority—formed my primary opposition. They were representative of a larger struggle in academia between the establishment and the perceived threat of women like me and my Danforth GFW colleagues, who were now competing for the same academic positions as the usual male candidates. For the Becketteers in particular, I was a brazen example, the “mere girl” who had “invaded the sacrosanct turf of the Beckett world.” One or two younger members who were brave enough to speak to me privately asked if I was completely ignorant of the pecking order, while in public they shunned me so they could “keep on the good side of the powers that be.” One of them surreptitiously motioned for me to join him as he sneaked behind a pillar in a hotel lobby at a Modern Language Association conference. “You are a pariah and I can’t be seen talking to you,” he said with a swagger, clearly feeling brave for engaging in this little clandestine conversation. His childish glee left me (unusually) speechless and unable to think up a quick riposte. When I found my voice, I said I did not understand why I was being ostracized, since my two publications about Beckett had been received positively within the academic world. “Yes,” this man said, “in the academic world. But that’s not the Beckett world.” Then, Simone de Beauvoir. I love this part from Bair’s initial meeting with de Beauvoir: I began to make stuttering conversation, starting with my thanks that she would give me time on her birthday. Her quizzical look as she replied let me know I was not making a very positive first impression. “Why not?” she said. “What is a birthday anyway but just another day?” I didn’t know what to say to that, but she didn’t pause long enough to let me answer as she asked, “Shall we get to work?” I had assumed that this was to be a brief getting-acquainted session and I had not brought anything with me; I had no notebook or tape recorder, and I had not prepared any questions. My only preparation had been to practice how to tell her, in my best French, that I had to go home on the twelfth to teach during the spring semester and would not be able to begin serious interviews until at least the summer, and then only if my schedule allowed enough time for me to prepare myself with serious reading and research during the term. I stammered something about how I did not wish to impose upon what I was sure would be a festive evening, so I had not brought any work materials with me. She snorted in derision. There was to be no celebration, she told me; her friend Sylvie would be coming later with something for dinner, but until then we should probably get started. I fished in my bag for something to write on and could find only my date book, so I pretended it was a notebook. I got a reprieve of sorts from asking questions because she launched right in to tell me how we were going to work: “I will talk, and I will tell you what has been important in my life—all the things you need to know. You can write them down, but you must also bring a tape recorder, and I will have one, too. We can discuss what I tell you if you need me to explain it, and that will be the book you need to write. That will be the one you publish.” I remember clearly how I lowered my head into my hands and said out loud, “Oh dear.” I had the sinking sensation that the book was dead and done before I even got started. “What is the matter?” she demanded. “What is wrong?” I was so flustered that I could not think in French and asked her if I could reply in English. She said of course, because she read and understood the language far better than she spoke it. “That is not how I worked with Samuel Beckett,” I told her, and then I proceeded to explain how he had given me the freedom to do my research, conduct my interviews, and to write the book that I thought needed to be written. I told her how we had agreed that he would not read it before it was published, and I even told her how he had said he would neither help nor hinder me, which his family and friends interpreted as his agreement to cooperate fully. I told her that, having worked in such extraordinary circumstances, I didn’t see how I could work any other way. I hoped that she would be generous and gracious enough to give me whatever help I asked for, but that she would also allow me the independence to construct a full and objective account of her life and work. The following paragraphs didn’t surprise me in the least, given that de Beauvoir’s one of the most notable existentialists: And so we began. I thought I would ease into my questioning by asking about her earliest childhood memories, but she went first because she wanted to thank me. “Women come from all over the world to write about me, but all they want to write about is The Second Sex.” Here she pounded one fist into the other open hand as she said, “I wrote so much else. I wrote philosophy, politics, fiction, autobiography . . .” She seemed to be pausing to catch her breath after every genre, and then she said, “You are the only one who wants to write about everything. Everyone else only wants to write about feminism.” It threw me off-balance, but I did not have the luxury of reflecting on her generous appraisal until after I left, when I grasped the truth in it. During the 1970s and 1980s she had been slotted into the niche of feminist icon—all well and good, but she did not want to be there in perpetuity. Aware of her many different contributions to culture and society and extremely proud of them, she wanted posterity to acknowledge all her accomplishments. I adore this quote from Beckett to Bair after she’d mentioned the “Becketteers”: I talked so much that my wineglass was left mostly untouched, but it was getting late, so I started to gather my things. Until then he had not said anything specific about the Becketteers’ behavior, but I think he was alluding to it when he volunteered one of the last things he ever said to me: “You must never explain. You must never complain.” Indeed, there have been many times since then when I have been ready to lash out in retaliation for a bad review or an unkind comment, but every time I have remembered these words and I have never explained and never complained. I also loved what Bair wrote about writing a biography and trying to stay level-headed in some way: Joyce provided an example (one that he cribbed from Flaubert, but never mind) that I followed for everything I wrote: “The artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.” (I did keep myself refined out of existence, but I was never indifferent and didn’t bite my nails; I just picked at my cuticles.) Pascal had the perfect pensée to help me open up and confide my own experiences to the permanence of print. When he thought about how his life was “swallowed up . . . in the eternity that precedes and will follow it,” he “[took] fright.” When I began to write biography, I was, like Pascal, “stunned to find myself here rather than elsewhere . . . Who sent me here? By whose order and under what guiding destiny was this time, this place, assigned to me?” It led me to ask myself what had ever made me think that Samuel Beckett “needed” a biography and I was the one to write it? Saint Augustine provided the answer for what drew me to Beauvoir: I had become “a question to myself. Not even I understand everything that I am.” And Rousseau gave me hope that sustained me during each biography, but especially within this bio-memoir: “My purpose is to display a portrait in every way true to nature, and the person I portray will be myself. Simply myself.” If I managed to do that, then I have succeeded, and I am content. In regards to this book, I hope Bair is more than content. She should be, I think. Then again, I was born just before her Beckett biography was published. This book contains many pointers to what a writer—biographer or not—should consider. First and foremost, this book is a tale of the ups and downs of writing about human beings, and what those human beings bring to the table while and how you write about this. This is a laudable and highly recommendable memorial of extraordinary times in the life of a very considerate and apparently skilled biographer.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

    "Obviously I would need to start a different set of folders, and I went right out to buy them. The only color I had not yet used was purple, so green gave way to purple and that's what the final version became." You guys, this is the start of a chapter, and a perfect illustration at how dull this memoir is. It's about her process writing two famous biographies. Don't get me wrong, it has it moments, but overall I cannot recommend. I don't understand why it's called "Parisian Lives" as there is "Obviously I would need to start a different set of folders, and I went right out to buy them. The only color I had not yet used was purple, so green gave way to purple and that's what the final version became." You guys, this is the start of a chapter, and a perfect illustration at how dull this memoir is. It's about her process writing two famous biographies. Don't get me wrong, it has it moments, but overall I cannot recommend. I don't understand why it's called "Parisian Lives" as there is so little of Paris here. There is no sense of place whatsoever. It should have been called "Validating Source Material" or "Reconciling Versions of Events." In the first half when she is writing Beckett's biography, the text is dominated with tedious and arbitrary name drops. Perhaps this would be interesting if you were heavily aware of actors, publishers and poets in 1970s Europe. In one page alone I count 12 name drops: Nathalie Sarraute, Maurice Girodias, Iris Owens, Richard Seaver, Austryn Wainhouse, Jane Lougee, Alexander Trocchi, Christopher Logue, Jack Kahane, Hugh Guiler, Henry Miller, Anais Nin. They are just names, no character sketches or context. There's some interesting stuff for sure. The stories of the misogyny she dealt with in academic circles in both American and Europe are infuriating. There's some interesting Simone de Beauvior stuff. But overall there's too much detail about note-taking, travel arrangements, interview delays, etc.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Paul Myers

    Deirdre Bair's memoir is the interrelated stories of writing biographies of Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir and Bair's own journey of discovery while launching her academic career, a process often in conflict with her success writing biographies that became blockbuster successes. It is a fascinating tale of how to research and write biography while observing that the process of researching and writing about great writers itself brings stunning growth and insight to the author. The reader Deirdre Bair's memoir is the interrelated stories of writing biographies of Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir and Bair's own journey of discovery while launching her academic career, a process often in conflict with her success writing biographies that became blockbuster successes. It is a fascinating tale of how to research and write biography while observing that the process of researching and writing about great writers itself brings stunning growth and insight to the author. The reader gets to share in this journey of personal revelation. What Bair achieved by writing great biography was to reach rather different heights from the rather pedestrian hills of normal academic life, even that of life at a top university. That is mostly because the biographies themselves turned out to have such reach. The stories relating to both Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir are different but equally compelling. These stories are page turners, full of fascination. The saga of the McGreevy letters illuminating troubling aspects of Becket's sexual tensions and conflicts reads like the high-stakes drama it was. If there is one surprising thing, it is the smallness of so many people in the entourages surrounding the towering personalities--and some of the large and generous personalities in the same social solar system. A lot of these mini-tales make amusing reading about human vanity; others provide gripping reading. This is about research in the real world of challenging people, not turning the pages in the special collections reading room. There is an undertone throughout that Bair clearly delineates. One is the extensive sexual harassment she encountered, which although distasteful she swats away. The other is gender discrimination of men's privileged position and women being out-of-their station. Less raunchy and distasteful but potentially more invidious. So Bair seems to be navigating continuously between the crashing breakers of one and the whirlpools of the other -- therefore the odyssey. The final chapters of the Beauvoir story, and Jean-Paul Satre, are riveting, shocking, and will change how one looks at these two luminaries. In Beauvoir's case, her work is a substantial accomplishment above and beyond her personal shortcomings and gives her legacy the greatness that her growing reputation is earning her work. But for the two existentialists, when the candles burned brightly, they burned. And of course lots of lovely vignettes about Paris, a city of burning candles.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rose

    "Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Me: A Memoir" is a beautifully written book that pulls you in slowly but deeply. It isn't just about writing about two famous authors but the memoir writer's life as well and what it takes to be a biographer. I would recommend this book to fans of Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, as well as biographies in general. I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy free of charge. This is my honest and unbiased "Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Me: A Memoir" is a beautifully written book that pulls you in slowly but deeply. It isn't just about writing about two famous authors but the memoir writer's life as well and what it takes to be a biographer. I would recommend this book to fans of Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, as well as biographies in general. I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy free of charge. This is my honest and unbiased opinion of it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sydney

    My sister gifted me this book for my birthday knowing that I worked on a Beckett-related research project during my senior year of college - not to mention my love for Paris and feminism at large (extremely well-gifted, I must say). I started the book in a bit of a fan-girl/pretentious nerd haze as I read name after name that I'd learned about in my time at the Beckett project. I had spent hours of that last year at Emory reading letters from Beckett to these people. Never before had I felt My sister gifted me this book for my birthday knowing that I worked on a Beckett-related research project during my senior year of college - not to mention my love for Paris and feminism at large (extremely well-gifted, I must say). I started the book in a bit of a fan-girl/pretentious nerd haze as I read name after name that I'd learned about in my time at the Beckett project. I had spent hours of that last year at Emory reading letters from Beckett to these people. Never before had I felt quite so directly connected to a book, or a non-fiction book at least. After this initial realization, I began to settle into the book and was able to appreciate it more for its more immediate purpose as a memoir of the esteemed biographer, Deirdre Bair. Most of the book explains the process of writing biographies for Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir, and throughout her account, she describes her struggles as a woman in her field, as well as her many triumphs. Several times throughout her account, she honestly admits the difficulties she ran into in trying to find success with her career while raising two kids and having a successful marriage. As a 23-year-old teacher who can hardly find time for myself, this was a refreshing and reassuring read. Bair doesn't sugarcoat, and I appreciated it. "Having it all" was by no means easy, but she often succeeded and fully admits that sometimes it was simply impossible for both aspects of her life to strike a balance - but that was just fine. The content of Parisian Lives also offered reliable insight into the life of a writer and professor. Although she wrote for such big names, it was by no means glamorous work. Again, she approaches this subject with authenticity, not to mention with a whole lot of helpful advice on how to go about writing and researching. Most impressively, she is somehow able to explain so much about herself solely through her interactions with these two figures and their "Parisian lives". She hardly ever explicitly includes details from her personal life or divulges too many opinions on matters aside from the ones that are truly relevant. It is apparent throughout her memoir that she is, indeed, an incredible biographer. Like she states in this book, the mark of a successful biography is that the reader wants to find out more about its subject's work and the history that surrounded them. According to this definition, Deirdre Bair absolutely succeeds with Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Me

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joan

    I love to read a book about something I never considered before. Here the topic is how to go about writing a biography of a living person. What's amazing here is that the author figured it out as she did it, and after the fact shares her process and thoughts with us. She started as a young, married mother of two writing her dissertation on Samuel Beckett and continued on to write Beckett’s first biography. Shortly thereafter, she spent a decade researching and writing a biography of Simone de I love to read a book about something I never considered before. Here the topic is how to go about writing a biography of a living person. What's amazing here is that the author figured it out as she did it, and after the fact shares her process and thoughts with us. She started as a young, married mother of two writing her dissertation on Samuel Beckett and continued on to write Beckett’s first biography. Shortly thereafter, she spent a decade researching and writing a biography of Simone de Beauvoir. And now she tells her story of that period in her life. This was the '70s and '80s, and much of her writing reflects the sexism she encountered (especially in academia), the feminist movement of that time, and her personal struggles with her conflicting roles. Ironically, she says that feels that her role as a literary biographer is to make you want to read the author's work. If that is so, she has succeeded with this memoir — I am now anxious to read these two biographies.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Aria

    Dnf ~ p. 75 or 78.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Marvin Fender

    I received this book from the Goodreads Giveaway program. The stories told in this biography/memoir/creative process compilation is very unusual and entertaining. I really like good biographies and memoirs that are told well and have enlightening information and this book delivers. Ms Bair has a very wonderful way of keeping a vast amount of history and personal information flowing and compelling you to read further. You also find empathy for her and her subjects caught in a candid look at a I received this book from the Goodreads Giveaway program. The stories told in this biography/memoir/creative process compilation is very unusual and entertaining. I really like good biographies and memoirs that are told well and have enlightening information and this book delivers. Ms Bair has a very wonderful way of keeping a vast amount of history and personal information flowing and compelling you to read further. You also find empathy for her and her subjects caught in a candid look at a living persons intricate life. "Parisian Lives:" is a remarkable and enjoyable look a three very interesting and colorful people plus a lesson in how absorbing and consuming a biographers life can be. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes biography and writing done superbly.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    DNF. Read 100 pages, skimmed rest.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Marietje

    How does an author go about writing a biography of a well known subject, while refraining from judgement, creating controversy, maintaining a good working relationship with the subject and the people around them? In this "bio-memoir Deirdre Bair relates her experiences, struggles and reactions while first compiling the biography of Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir. It was a revelation for me to see how much time, money, effort and negotiating goes into the research for a biography. This is a How does an author go about writing a biography of a well known subject, while refraining from judgement, creating controversy, maintaining a good working relationship with the subject and the people around them? In this "bio-memoir Deirdre Bair relates her experiences, struggles and reactions while first compiling the biography of Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir. It was a revelation for me to see how much time, money, effort and negotiating goes into the research for a biography. This is a book about Bair herself, not about Beckett or de Beauvoir. I read it as a personal memoir , and as such it is engaging, honest and important. I received this book in a giveaway, and I am glad to have read it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Paul Wilner

    Engaging account of the author's successful bearding of two literary giants, with autobiographical diversions into the pettiness and sexism of literary and academic politics. I came away with the feeling that she may have respected Beckett more as an artist but connected with de Beauvoir, for all her difficulties, more as a person. That said, it was a bit disappointing not to see more material on each of their actual work, which is mentioned in passing, in Beckett's case, and focused primarily Engaging account of the author's successful bearding of two literary giants, with autobiographical diversions into the pettiness and sexism of literary and academic politics. I came away with the feeling that she may have respected Beckett more as an artist but connected with de Beauvoir, for all her difficulties, more as a person. That said, it was a bit disappointing not to see more material on each of their actual work, which is mentioned in passing, in Beckett's case, and focused primarily on "The Second Sex'' for deBeauvoir. I know she has a massive, award-winning biography of Beckett out - I just checked it out from the library - and I'm sure this material is dealt with in depth there. But it would have been worth seeing more of it here, in both of their cases, along with more serious quotation of their actual words, which is what drew everyone's attention, including Bair's, in the first place. Still, worth reading for the depictions of the authors, the complex tasks of the biographer, and her honest accounts of her own struggles. But...the prose is pedestrian, off-putting when you consider the artistry of those she is writing about, which perhaps presages some of the critiques that have been made against her biographies, particularly of Beckett.

  13. 5 out of 5

    M. Sarki

    ...We live now in an age of indecency, when nothing is off-limits… Bair wrote her book in a time when decorum and respect for others ruled. The story of Bair’s seven year struggle to finish and get her book to press was somewhat painful to read, but heartwarming to see her persistence and steadfastness to achieve her goal. To think she sat with and interviewed the literary giant Beckett is amazing in itself. …”I would feel superior to my own work if I tried to explain it.” (Samuel Beckett) The ...We live now in an age of indecency, when nothing is off-limits… Bair wrote her book in a time when decorum and respect for others ruled. The story of Bair’s seven year struggle to finish and get her book to press was somewhat painful to read, but heartwarming to see her persistence and steadfastness to achieve her goal. To think she sat with and interviewed the literary giant Beckett is amazing in itself. …”I would feel superior to my own work if I tried to explain it.” (Samuel Beckett) The above statement is not surprising at all. Bair’s job was to write the story of Beckett’s life. There is no way she could possibly deconstruct his work or persuade him to help. Though I never read Bair’s Beckett biography it was fascinating to read how she went about it. ...one of my favorite Beckett sayings has it, “no symbols where none intended”…I sat on their rock talking to myself. I told myself that I had written the best book I could and I had nothing to be ashamed of or to apologize for. I would hold my head up high and not let a bunch of spiteful mediocrities tell me otherwise… There was a period in which the publication was in doubt. Again Bair held her own and persevered. But her tenure and professorship was put in jeopardy. ...Just after the Beckett book was published, I read a remark made by the sculptor Louise Bourgeois, who told an interview that “a woman has no place as an artist until she proves over and over that she won’t be eliminated.” It became one of the mantras with which I fortified myself for possible combat… And she did. The academics and book reviewers who would decide her fate were by and far mostly male. Bair would remark they could ...disappear into their own assholes… ...how she had colluded with Sartre in the seduction of one of her pupils, Bianca Bienenfeld Lamblin—was much easier to understand… The second section focusing on Bair’s relationship with Simone de Beauvoir was also fascinating. Both charming and accessible, getting the unfiltered truth out of Beauvoir proved more difficult. The one supreme failure was in regards to Bianca Bienenfeld. But we know the gist already and the confession wasn’t necessary. An explanation might have been helpful. But connecting the dots isn’t difficult. ...the best (or worse) thing about my writing is that I never tell readers what to think but expect them to form their own opinions. And the individual writing that draws this divided response most of all is the chapter on The Second Sex… Parisian Lives is a feminist’s story, a memoir where hard work and persistence is exhibited. Though not a perfect five-star read the book certainly merits a good hard look and perhaps a glimpse, at least for some of us, into the abyss we see as mirror.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Therese

    "Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Me" recounts Deirdre Bair's baptism of fire as the first biographer of the Irish author and playwright, Samuel Beckett, a long-time resident of Paris. In order to capture the reclusive Irish-man on paper, Bair had to first figure out how to actually write a biography. This enthralling account of her struggles to capture the essence of both Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir, in actual fact is Bair's own autobiography. She first encountered "Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Me" recounts Deirdre Bair's baptism of fire as the first biographer of the Irish author and playwright, Samuel Beckett, a long-time resident of Paris. In order to capture the reclusive Irish-man on paper, Bair had to first figure out how to actually write a biography. This enthralling account of her struggles to capture the essence of both Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir, in actual fact is Bair's own autobiography. She first encountered Samuel Beckett as the subject of her Ph.D dissertation. As a young mother and budding academic, she decided to enlarge on her dissertation by embarking on a full-scale dissection of Beckett's life and works. This entailed going to Paris, contacting Beckett and announcing her intentions. He replied that he would neither help nor hinder her. This did not prevent him from directing confidants to monitor Baer's activities and report back to him. The Simone de Beauvoir section of the book revealed a supremely self-possessed, some would say, self-obsessed woman. De Beauvoir performed the gymnastic feat of continuing to project herself as a feminist in spite of her role in procuring young girls to satisfy her lover, Jean Paul Sartre's insatiable sexual appetite. Nevertheless, Deirdre Bair's own feminist sensibilities were aborning during her exposure to de Beauvoir, not to emulate the French-woman's behavior, but rather to absorb her philosophy of the place of women in a male-dominated world. Bair never lost her desire to be the perfect mother, the perfect wife. I felt like shaking Bair at times over her concerns for her husband's comfort, and how her frequent absences might impact on him. He was a man who accepted her ministrations as his due. He remained the same cosseted male throughout Bair's biographical odysseys. There is much recounting of Deirdre Bair's almost constant need to obtain funding for her trips to, and living expenses, including lodging, in Paris, in order to continue her research into Beckett's, and later, de Beauvoir's lives and written output. This is not surprising, as it imposed an aura of uncertainty on Bair's biographical ambitions. What is questionable however, is her not infrequent references to the lack of support from her academic peers and professors. Her sense of hurt at this is still vivid in her memory 41 years after the publication of "Samuel Beckett, a Biography" in 1978, 640 pages long, with almost 100 further pages of notes and index, even though this ground-breaking biography received The National Book Award. It is not difficult to speculate that the academics Bair knew were motivated by petty jealousy at her astonishing coup in producing the first biography of Samuel Beckett. The "ivory tower" thinking may have been "what right does this upstart newcomer have to write the biography of a giant of 20th century literature"? In one of Bair's last meetings with Beckett she mentions her distress to him. This elicited a comment that was on a par with his declaration before she started writing, "I shall neither assist nor impede you." His final noncommital advice was"never complain, never explain." In addition to her biographies of Beckett and de Beauvoir, Deidre Bair went on to write "Al Capone, His Life, Legacy and Legend," "Saul Steinberg: A Biography," "Jung: A Biography," and "Anais Nin: A Biography." "Parisian Lives" is well worth reading, particularly as it may inspire readers to read Deirdre Bair's biographies of Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir, the writing of which consumed a major portion of her life at that time.. Highly recommended.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    ". . . if I'd a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book, I wouldn't a tackled it . . ."—Huck Finn Deirdre Bair’s Parisian Lives is an excellent book about writing two difficult books—landmark biographies of Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir. Beckett and de Beauvoir were two of the pricklier personalities of the 20th Century, as we discover in this well-written look at all Bair endured to get these two books composed. It was hard enough for Bair to deal with the idiosyncrasies of the two ". . . if I'd a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book, I wouldn't a tackled it . . ."—Huck Finn Deirdre Bair’s Parisian Lives is an excellent book about writing two difficult books—landmark biographies of Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir. Beckett and de Beauvoir were two of the pricklier personalities of the 20th Century, as we discover in this well-written look at all Bair endured to get these two books composed. It was hard enough for Bair to deal with the idiosyncrasies of the two authors, but she also walked nimbly through the jealousy, pettiness, and in-fighting of many of her sources as well as her fellow professors and writers in academia. We’re fortunate that Bair was responding to the wave of feminism that carried her through the long, arduous process of meeting with sources and gathering information and anecdotes from numerous people who displayed varying degrees of trust in and cooperation with the young, inexperienced biographer. Bair was forceful and adept enough to elicit loads of new information about both authors. The elusive Beckett had never agreed to a biography before, and so little was known about him. Bair was convincing enough even as an unpublished writer to convince him she was right for the job. Her story of her first meeting with Beckett is unforgettable, as is his firm statement to her that he would not help or hinder her throughout the process of writing the book. He did, however, keep a very close eye on her every step and interview through the seven years it took her to compose the book. Bair’s book contains much of the data and many anecdotes that didn’t make the official biographies, as well as information she probably didn’t feel comfortable publishing until after their subjects’ deaths. Near the end of Parisian Lives, Bair mentions that it is the hope of every biographer that her book will lead the reader to read the subject’s works and perhaps more about him or her. This book is certain to do that. I leafed through my Beckett collection while reading her book and added some to the TBR pile; I also ordered a copy of de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. My only concern is that Parisian Lives does not include photographs of the many people mentioned in the book. I had to read with my phone at my side to search for images and info on the fascinating friends and family of the two authors; however, I find I do relevant searches all the time now when reading nonfiction, so it wasn’t an obstacle to my thoroughly enjoying the book. Parisian Lives is entertaining, descriptive, and informative, an intimate portrait of two unique authors of the 20th Century as well as an occasionally surprising look at the difficult process of writing a definitive biography.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    This was a Goodreads giveaway that, quite frankly, I entered because of Parisian and Simone de Beauvoir being in the title. After finishing it, I'm embarrassed I knew so little beforehand about Samuel Beckett, nor claimed his name as being the biggest reason for my entering. Still, truth be told, the second half of the book which focused almost solely on De Beauvoir held me captivated until the very last page in a way the Beckett section did not. The Beckett section, while mostly interesting, This was a Goodreads giveaway that, quite frankly, I entered because of Parisian and Simone de Beauvoir being in the title. After finishing it, I'm embarrassed I knew so little beforehand about Samuel Beckett, nor claimed his name as being the biggest reason for my entering. Still, truth be told, the second half of the book which focused almost solely on De Beauvoir held me captivated until the very last page in a way the Beckett section did not. The Beckett section, while mostly interesting, was a bit bogged down in parts when filled with what seemed to be Bair's regrets and the feeling that the author was trying to prove to herself and her critics that all she did was above board. In contrast, her reminisces of De Beauvoir felt less self-conscious. Overall, this bio-memoir reminded me, nostalgically, of the thoughtful memoirs/biographies read in my early women's studies courses years ago as an undergrad; with so much talk by Bair about the stirrings of feminism and consciousness raising (by a white upper middle class woman) amongst the sexist 1970s and 1980s. 3.5

  17. 5 out of 5

    Edd Simmons

    The biographer Deirdre Bair seemed to go through a lot to get this biography finished. She has also other #biographies on Samuel Beckett & Simone De Beauvoir that are separate. The most oxymoronic thing about this book is that Beauvoir hated Beckett. In the beginning Bair was asked why she was writing such a thing. Along the lines of this, “a masterful/satanic beast” Beckett that is, is what Beauvoir referred to him as with the mentioning of his name. Only certain people have a dear heart The biographer Deirdre Bair seemed to go through a lot to get this biography finished. She has also other #biographies on Samuel Beckett & Simone De Beauvoir that are separate. The most oxymoronic thing about this book is that Beauvoir hated Beckett. In the beginning Bair was asked why she was writing such a thing. Along the lines of this, “a masterful/satanic beast” Beckett that is, is what Beauvoir referred to him as with the mentioning of his name. Only certain people have a dear heart ❤️ for theatre 🎭. I would escapade myself to see one of his acts. In which Bair did, and with later criticism; #musing for the taste of a literary party 🎈 is just in the readers hand. On the contrary Beauvoir a fine feminist. You can compare her to the likings and mentioning of Betty Friedan, and the Feminine Mystique. This was my first time reading about her high put qualities, and I enjoyed it. But don’t have much to say. This is a great all time read, on one of #myfavoriteauthor and the attitudes of. You can literally get a sense of the time in which Bair went through interviewing them both.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Michaela

    ---Full disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads. --- Interesting idea, but sadly it didn't do anything for me. I just couldn't get interested in her experience as it was described. While reading I thought if it had been stripped down more & turned into a couple of magazine articles I'd have enjoyed it more. Before dnf'ing I skipped toward the back to see if maybe reading about her other subject would be any more interesting, but no. Although I'm let down this didn't work ---Full disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads. --- Interesting idea, but sadly it didn't do anything for me. I just couldn't get interested in her experience as it was described. While reading I thought if it had been stripped down more & turned into a couple of magazine articles I'd have enjoyed it more. Before dnf'ing I skipped toward the back to see if maybe reading about her other subject would be any more interesting, but no. Although I'm let down this didn't work out for me, I did put it in a Little Free Library for other readers.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Klr

    Interesting look at the process of writing a biography. I am not a big Beckett fan so I was less interested in that section. But I loved the section on academia and Simone de Beauvoir. Also looking at the issues of how do you find the truth. Who is reliable? What documents do you need? I will read more by this author. It also made me want to read Beckett’s novels and reread de Beauvoir’s work. Not for everyone but I enjoyed it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jeimy

    I was not expecting to enjoy this as much as I have, but it was interesting to learn how Bair's unconventional approach to biography writing, brought her fame (and infamy) after years of painstaking research into Beckett's life and how that acclaim led her to write a biography about de Beauvoir as well.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Totally absorbed by this book. Deirdre Bair’s style is both careful and friendly; a fine literary adventure. Also, if you are a fan of Paris in general, and Montparnasse in particular, you will find plenty to enjoy here. I will definitely move on to the biographies themselves.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    This book was very much out of my “normal” realm of readings. I enjoyed it very much. I am now off to read and reread the works of Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    I wish more of the book had caught my attention. Maybe at another time I'll be able to try again.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Doris Raines

    THIS IS A LIKEABLE BOOK.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Toni Mufson

  26. 4 out of 5

    Doubleday Books

  27. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Henderson

  28. 4 out of 5

    Merricat

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lex Burnell

  30. 5 out of 5

    John Dimoia

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