Back to autobiographies

Reading biographies and autobiographies can be a terrible bore. For the most part, unless the protagonist is a figure of note, the tale is relevant and interesting only to close family members. Even autobiographies of famous people can be a bore. I am told that Churchill's contains some very tedious passages…

Years ago, I asked a friend to get me Virginia Woolf's latest biography, a heavy tome, considered by critics to be "definitive". Guess what – it was tedious beyond words, containing entire paragraphs along the lines of "… and the teapot on the mantelpiece described in Woolf's story XYZ turns out to be an accurate description of the teapot that was found in her home, given to her apparently by her Aunt Gertrude on her 20th birthday." Who cares, I ask you?

My mother loved autobiographies, so long as they were written by brilliant people and/or focused on subjects that were close to her heart (the theater, science fiction, Zionism & Israel…) Among her favorites were Neil Simon's memoirs, Rewrites and The Play Goes On; Golda Meir's autobiography My Life; and Stephen Fry's Moab Is My Washpot -- an autobiography of the first 20 years of his life; Clara was so sorry he stopped there, that she wrote to Fry to tell him how much she enjoyed his book and asked him to write another, of the next twenty years… He answered very kindly, but declined. (Am scanning his letter for you as I write, so scroll down to see it.) She also read Woody Allen's biography by Eric Lax, and at least one memoir by Isaac Asimov, I'm not sure which one - he wrote several.

Most of the above are on my bookshelf, of course, just waiting to be read… The only one I read so far, quite a while ago, is Rewrites. What can I tell you – pure agony, what a writer goes through. You read or watch a Neil Simon play, and the witty, funny dialog flows so naturally, so effortlessly. Ha! There's never writing, there's only rewriting, say the real pros.

Clara (a.k.a Mom), too, wrote her memoirs. She wrote them in longhand and dictated them to me on weekends when she stayed with us. I have plenty of letters, diaries and notebooks that can help me fill in gaps, if any. I do intend to complete that document one of these days, before it's too late, bind it and give it to her closest friends and family – should they be interested. I won't blame them if they decline. You can love and admire a person but not have the patience to wade through their autobiography.

And so – I said to myself – I shall do my best with translating the autobiography of the American gentleman mentioned in my previous post, in the hope that some of his kith and kin will read and appreciate it. But meanwhile, the project has been put on hold, or given to someone else, or perhaps canceled. Funnily, I'm a bit curious about this man's history. Maybe I'll read it all the same…


Post a Comment