Spanish novelist Javier Marías' "Written Lives" is a collection of portraits in miniature of 20 writers, the choice of whom was "entirely arbitrary" but for two qualifications: the subject could neither be living nor hail from the author's native Spain. The book is notable for Marías' wit and charm but also for its unabashed and refreshing subjectivity.
Marías chooses one quirkily titled aspect of each writer -- "James Joyce in His Poses," "Joseph Conrad on Land," "Rudyard Kipling Without Jokes," "Rainer Maria Rilke in Waiting" -- and then, based on a few choice facts, lets his imagination loose on his topic for about five pages. Avoiding any controversy regarding his inventions, Marías states in his prologue that while "almost nothing in them is invented ... some episodes and anecdotes have been 'embellished.' "
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