Marion Rodgers frames the public man and the private man within the context of his era, and covers the many love affairs that made him known as "The German Valentino," as well as his happy marriage at age 50 to Sarah Haardt, and his pivotal role in introducing James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Langston Hughes to the American literary scene.
©2005 Marion Elizabeth Rodgers; (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"A superb study of the life of the cigar-chomping controversialist, civil libertarian and muckraker who remains the patron saint of journalists." (Kirkus Reviews)
"Drawing on research in more than 60 archives (including previously unseen private collections in the U.S. and in Germany), exclusive interviews with Mencken's friends and his love letters, this is a meticulous portrait of one of the most original and complicated men in American letters." (Publishers Weekly)
Some biographers of Mencken never completely warm up to his candid and belittling prose, and it shows. However, Marion Rodgers first grew to know him through his tender letters to his future wife, Sara. Discovered in storage at Goucher College, they became her first book on Mencken. Intimately knowing that tender side, she was able to write a more credible and entertaining biography. The situation is sort of like having a current friend meet a friend you knew closely years ago. You want them also to be friends but your current friend finds your older friend to be self-absorbed, crude and unappealing. You say to your newer friend, "Yes, perhaps on the surface, but if you only knew my old friend better, you would recognize that he (or she) is a dear and caring person inside." With some of the Mencken biographers, I have had a desire to say something just like that. With Ms. Rodgers, one knows that, while she is willing to accept and criticize him for all of his many faults, she also knows his softer side and, hence, was able to write an unusually balanced and nuanced biography. It is the best and I have read them all. Well narrated as well.
This is a very detailed biography of HL Mencken, perhaps the greatest (sometimes nasty, sometimes intellectual) journalist of his generation in the US. A colorful guy (or at least I thought so before reading this biography), a colorful writer and generator of many pithy quotable quotes (I still think so after reading this biography).
There is nothing really wrong with the book, if you want to follow HL around day-by-day, year-after-year. But the life of a journalist (and typically of most famous authors ... Hemingway excepted perhaps) is not all that interesting. I found that my interest in Mencken flagged about halfway through the book and, had I had a paperbound version, I might have skimmed through the rest ... something that is hard to do with audio.
The book is well-written and well-narrated. That is in its favor.
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