Memoirs

The past month has been busy, and full of endings of one kind and another, including the last day of my job as my contract came to an end. Some good things too: performing in a concert on a beautiful summer evening, and going away with my choir for a weekend, which is one of my favourite things to do: days full of singing, escaping my familiar surroundings and spending time exploring another city.

I read a couple of very different memoirs, which reminded me how much I enjoy autobiographies and that I want to seek out more. One of these memoirs was An Education by the journalist Lynne Barber. I’d already seen and liked the film adaptation, but was interested to find out that the episode focused on by the film (Lynne Barber’s teenage affair with a middle-aged con man and the weird way her parents encouraged the relationship) was only one chapter of the book. Her childhood, her career as a writer, her time at Oxford University and her relationship with her husband were also covered, all in a very witty style. What made the book so entertaining to me is Lynne Barber’s personality, her writing voice, and the insight into people that made her such a successful interviewer. One thing I found interesting is that she dislikes her speaking voice, the elocution-lesson accent she acquired in childhood and her tendency to waffle, and feels that her writing expresses her true self far better. She is definitely very honest, both about herself and about her opinions of other people. If an author is completely candid, it makes an autobiography much more compelling, and An Education is definitely the kind of page-turner you can read in one long train journey.

I also read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami, a memoir about his passion for marathon running. Despite having no interest in running whatsoever and viewing the joggers who regularly speed past me on the streets with complete incomprehension, I find whatever Murakami writes interesting, and the book doesn’t focus exclusively on marathons (thankfully for me), instead using the topic as inspiration for digressions about the author’s life, personality and his writing career. I found Murakami’s writing quite funny and also surprisingly honest in this book – it felt a little like reading his diary. There are stories of running the original marathon route in Greece, followed by magazine reporters, and a ‘super-marathon’ of over 60 miles (which I found interesting to read about because it seems such an extreme thing to do). The subject of running became of more interest to me, mainly because of the discipline and self-control involved in training. I liked the part when Murakami brought up the popular image of a writer (such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of his favourite authors) as self-destructive and dissolute, leading a very undisciplined life, and how this is related to genius and to burn-out. Murakami’s life is the opposite and people apparently often wonder how he can continue to write novels leading such a controlled and healthy existence! But Murakami seems to believe that the healthier the author’s body is, the greater his ability to venture into dangerous territory in his writing and to go on exploring it without destroying himself. It was definitely interesting to learn more about the real life and character of an author who always seems quite mysterious to me from his novels.

 

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