Reading a literary biography or a collection of some great writer’s correspondence, one tends to slog impatiently through the early pages—the childhood stuff—out of a sense of duty, often more than a bit numbed by the obligatory details about parents, siblings, schooling, and such, and itching to get to the good bits; later, much later, as the subject, now (most likely) jaded, world-weary, and in artistic decline, approaches the final curtain, one follows the post-climactic personal and professional developments with (at the very least) a faint sense of melancholy. What’s almost always most gripping in such books, by contrast, are the pages in which we see the author’s art and career come into fu ...