This is an audio recording of J. Michael Lennon, author of Norman Mailer, at Politics & Prose Bookstore on January 12, 2014.
While reading the first chapter of “Norman Mailer, A Double Life,” the exhaustive (and exhausting) new biography of the great man by J. Michael Lennon, I discovered that during his formative years, from the age of nine through his admittance to Harvard at 16, Mailer lived in an apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, seven blocks from where I reside now.
You’ve got to keep it together. There’s no future in going off the rails. “You go in dutifully, slavishly, and you work,” commanded Norman Mailer, his head-buttings long behind him. “This injunction is wholly anti-romantic in spirit.” But his sternness communicates the strain, does it not, the effort required to suppress the other thing: the room-wrecker, the Shelley inside, the wild buddings of Dionysus.
Dr. J. Michael Lennon is the man who helped Mailer put “The Spooky Art” together. Lennon, an author and professor at Wilkes University, also collaborated on Mailer’s last book, “On God: An Uncommon Conversation.” Since Mailer’s death in Nov. 2007, Lennon has been at work on the only authorized biography of Mailer’s life, a 300,000 word volume that will be published by Simon&Schuster. At the same time, he’s played a major role in establishing The Norman Mailer Writers Colony in Provincetown, MA.
In the Prologue to Norman Mailer: A Double Life, biographer J. Michael Lennon writes that “Mailer’s desire for fame, and his distaste for it, never abated over his long career. Nor did his ability to determine how he might write about his current situation, whatever it might be. It became a reflex.”
Lennon avoids flourishes of style and presents the facts cleanly, modulating with ease between explication of facts, letters, quotes from texts by Mailer and others, and occasional personal input (he was a close friend of Mailer’s for over two decades). The prose is breezy and fluid, even when Lennon incorporates critical literature and other secondary materials, allowing his subject to emerge unhindered. In addition to its readability, the book is also an excellent academic resource with over 100 pages of endnotes—a treasure for literary scholars. Not only is Norman Mailer: A Double Life enlightening, lively, and a pleasure to read, it is almost certain to become the standard Mailer biography.
Noted Norman Mailer scholar, editor, archivist, and authorized biographer, J. Michael Lennon, whose “Norman Mailer: A Double Life” was released in October, will be the featured speaker at Darien Library on Sunday, Feb. 9 at 5 p.m. Books will be available for purchase at the talk, and refreshments will be served.