A heartfelt and very funny gallery of mini-biographies of twenty great world authors. Like Isak Dinesen (who "claimed to have poor sight, yet could spot a four-leaf clover from a remarkable distance away"), Javier Marías has a sharp eye. He casts a long, shrewd, but appreciative look over his cast of great writers. Nabokov is here, making "the highly improbable assertion that he is 'as American as April in Arizona,'" as is Oscar Wilde, who in debt and in great pain on his deathbed, ordered up a bottle of champagne, "remarking cheerfully, 'I am dying beyond my means.'" William Faulkner, refusing to be "beholden to every son of a bitch with two cents to buy a stamp," is fired from the U.S. Post Office. Marías also considers "the fairly disastrous" lives of Malcolm Lowery, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and Lawrence Sterne. Affection glows through Written Lives, evidence, as Marías remarks, that "although I have enjoyed writing all my books, this was the one with which I had the most fun."