Monday, October 28, 2013

Why readers love big biographies

By  - Salon

It's aspirational. Says one publisher, we hope "there’s something about genius [...] that can rub off"

Why readers love big biographies
After a summer of breezy beach reads, book publishers have gotten down to the weightier business of big – in some cases gargantuan – fall biographies.

This season’s buzziest bio is Mark Lewisohn’s exhaustively researched, long-awaited, super-sized, definitive biography of The Beatles that is so big it has three names – “Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years” – and will be parceled out in three volumes.

“Tune In” covers The Beatles only through the end of 1962 – before the first album, the hippie haircuts or Yoko Ono – but is a surprisingly lean read for 944 pages. The book is out this week, and Lewisohn is already at work on the second volume.

“The whole essence of this is to not cut any corners, to do this as well as possible, to leave no stone unturned, because it will never be done so thoroughly again,” Lewisohn said. “It can’t be done so thoroughly again because the participants won’t be around anymore and, to be honest, no one has had the kind of archive access I have had.”

Lewisohn spent a decade researching and writing “Tune In.” The publishers were expecting 250,000 words [about 1,000 pages], and Lewisohn said he was nervous when he turned a manuscript of 780,000 words. That wasn’t the entire series; it was just the first book.

“My greatest fear at that point was that the publishers would insist that I deliver only 250,000 and that I would have to cut two-thirds of the book out,” Lewisohn said. “Well, that didn’t happen. When the British publishing company [Little, Brown Publishing Group] read the whole thing, they said, ‘This is fantastic. We’d love to publish this, but we do still want the 250,000-word book.’ And so did the American publisher, Crown Archetype [an imprint of Random House].”

The result was two versions of the Beatles book – the 944-page standard edition and a 1,728-page, two-book special edition that, as the book’s U.K. web site notes, “will sit within a specially designed box and lid featuring soft touch and varnish finishes.” (Crown Archetype has not announced plans yet for a U.S. printing of the special edition.)

Rather than turn the longer version over to editors to pare down, Lewisohn did the painstaking abridgement himself – focusing on the Fab Four and editing, editing, editing to bring out the definitive story.

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