With reference to the title of her new biography, Sheila Nevins does not look her age, which is 78 years. When I saw her interview with Charlie Rose last Friday on PBS, I was struck by how beautiful she is, in the same class of timeless good looks as Elon Musk’s mother, Maye Musk (69), and Carmen Dell’Orefice (85) who are both (still) models. She was also funny, self-deprecating, and sharp as a blade, so I immediately ordered her new book, You Don’t Look Your Age…And Other Fairy Tales, published two days ago. It is a very short, slight production and, contrary to Nevins’ stated intent, reveals only the well-disguised, carefully curated thoughts and back-stories that Nevins, who has spent her career behind the scenes as a producer of documentaries for HBO, wants to reveal. Continue reading
Paul Auster has been one of my favourite authors for many years, but not one whose name would come directly to mind if I were asked to name an author whose books I “liked”. “Liking” is not an emotion that I associate with Auster’s books. It is too friendly and mild a term. Bafflement and fascination, as well as irritation and great admiration, would come closer to the mark. I suspect he is something of an acquired taste and once you have gotten into Paul Auster, you are as devoted as a slavering but somewhat puzzled dog. Whatever his motivation for producing Report from the interior, a very strange bit of self-analysis, I would not recommend it unless you are an absolute Auster fan. Read everything else he has written, yes, do! Absolutely! But this one – I do not know whether I am crazy about it or hated it. It is an oddity that you cannot easily fit into a genre, but it is also an impressive demonstration that humans are, sadly, “on one level, no more than meat; and on the other, no more than fiction.” Continue reading
On the Graham Norton show episode 8, series 11, 2012, Norton interviewed Steve Coogan, who had just produced a “made up” autobiography penned by his fictional alter-ego, “Alan Partridge”. Like “Ron Burgundy”, created by Will Ferrell, people think Alan Partridge is real. Graham Norton commented that Coogan “must’ve read a lot of autobiographies to have gotten the style exactly right”. Coogan responded that he had, but that faking it had given him the freedom to drop more names, and drop more people in the dwang, than he otherwise would’ve been able to.
Question is: what are the attributes of personal writing, like autobiographies, diaries, memoirs or travel writing?
- They are personal pieces of writing recording thoughts and feelings about life experiences
- The reader gains an insight into the writer’s life and personality – or at least what got them to this point
- People and places are described in detail (and that’s pretty random – it’s a given that this is not always a chronological historical account)
- Language is descriptive and imaginative (well, as imaginative as the author or ghost writer is)
- They are written in the 1st person (me, I)
So bear these features in mind when next you read an autobiography – the writer might be a famous actor, artist, or scientist but they may fail abysmally on point 4 and fail to engage the reader, despite their exciting lives.
The Fry Chronicles, by Stephen Fry
(Overlook Press, New York, hardcover, 2012)