I’m a reader.
I love reading and I read widely across genres—though, lately I tend to read mostly in my own genres, romance and women’s contemporary fiction. That said, I also love a good thriller or a crime, historical or horror novel.
Lately, I’ve been on an autobiography kick, reading about people of note in their own (or close to) words. The last time I read back-to-back autobiographies was about 30 years ago when I was obsessed with the Golden Age of Hollywood and read everything I could. Lauren Bacall stands out. I sobbed like mad when Bogie died, even thought I knew it was coming.
Perhaps that’s part of the fascination when reading an autobiography of a notable person. We already know the broad strokes, the highlights and lowlights of their (just as) notable lives. This type of storytelling—and it is storytelling, for aren’t we all storytellers when we regale our loved ones and new friends with anecdotes from our lives?—fleshes out those ‘Kodak moments’, the ones everyone knows about. Autobiographies give us insight into the author’s thoughts and feelings during those public moments, and often we get to read the result of reflective practice—the ‘What was I doing?’ and ‘What was I thinking?’ questions that we ask ourselves. We can learn about how those decisions impacted the person they became. We can, quite often, learn from their mistakes.
But I mostly love reading autobiographies for the moments in between the world-renowned events, the moments that reveal the person, the one who eats microwave meals almost every night, the one who suffers from crippling self-doubt, the one who judges their friends’ performances and choices. Those nuggets are GOLD.
So, here are my latest reads in order since the start of 2023.
This is literally Alan Rickman’s diaries, which he wrote in most days—sometimes just a line about where he went for dinner or what show he saw, sometimes paragraphs, especially if he was riled up about a friend’s performance (on stage or on film) and had a lot to say about how it could have been improved. There is insight into how he felt about working on the Harry Potter film (essentially, he and the other crème de la crème of British acting were simply ‘extra’s while the kids showed up not knowing their lines and emoting all over the set). There is little in this about his relationship with his wife, one that spanned decades, but his relationships with close friends get a lot of ‘page time’.
It took a little bit of time to get into the cadence—he didn’t write his diaries for us, he wrote them for himself—but I found I could read a year in one sitting, some of it interesting, funny, heartwarming, some of it dull. I cried at the end—again, even though I knew how it ‘ended’—because he was a favourite actor. I fell in love with him in Truly, Madly, Deeply then again in Die Hard, Prince of Thieves, and Sense and Sensibility. As Emma Thompson says in the foreword, he was complex and talented and (oh so) sexy.
I was SO excited to read this book.
I’m not a royalist, per se, but I watched Harry and his brother grow up under the scrutiny of the public eye. I adored his mother, evening staying up VERY late (as I was living in the US at the time) and watching the royal wedding on television, aged 11. I will never forget Diana transposing Charles’ names—Charles Arthur Philip George, instead of Charles Philip Arthur George. It rocked me to my core when she died (I don’t claim to be the only one). I was on tour as Tour Manager for Contiki, came down for breakfast in Austria and the radio was on. I had just enough German to understand that something bad had happened to Princess Diana. We switched the radio to BBC and got the news. I was on tour, I had to tell the (mostly) Brits, Aussies, Canadians and Kiwis what had happened. So many of the 53 people on the tour were devastated and for the next week or so we bought and exchanged every English language newspaper we could get our hands on . We arrived back in London on the day of the cortege, a few hours after she was laid to rest. And London was a ghost town. I said goodbye to the tour group, holed up in my hotel room, and watched the entire thing on TV weeping. And all I could think was ‘those poor boys having to walk behind their mother’s coffin’. And the image of that card on the wreath of white flowers with ‘MUMMY’ scrawled across it … that image will never leave me.
Years later, I was thrilled when Harry found Meghan, who seemed to be a true love match. And then I watched from afar as the monarchy and the press tore her apart. Why was this a much-anticipated read for me? Because after years of the other side of the story, I wanted Harry’s. Yes, it’s ghost written but it’s written so beautifully, so immersively, I felt like I got a strong sense of how it was to grow up and head out into the world for Prince Harry, how it felt to meet a likeminded woman who cares as much about people and the world as he does, how it felt when his place in his family was reinforced again and again (the spare), and how it felt to be that little boy who was left motherless in the most public way.
I devoured it.
This book, in contrast, was not ghost written. It started as hundreds of lines of poetry, and with the deft encouragement and support of an excellent editor became mostly prose, with lines of poetry (SO CLEVERLY) retained at key points to really drive home the pervading emotions of a particular incident or time in her life. Many people will feel like they know exactly who Pamela Anderson is. I suspected there was (MUCH) more to her than her dual personas of bombshell and activist and guess, what? There is!
What I came to discover was a bright, interesting, interested woman who is well-read, well-travelled and has had a lifetime of trauma but is still standing. She speaks of people in her life, including ex-husband Tommy Lee, with such compassion and love, this could read as a lesson in forgiveness and inner peace. She’s funny, sexy, smart and savvy, and she seems to be at peace with her place in the world, something I will take with me. It is also BEAUTIFULLY written, with a flow and energy that drew me in and kept me immersed.
By the end, I metaphorically pumping my fist in the air, shouting, ‘Go, Pammy!’ I absolutely adore and admire her. What a human being.
I wanted to love this. I (along with 1/2 the planet) was a massive Friends fan. It’s still my ‘go-to’ when I’m on a plane and the selection of movies is rubbish. Could it be any funnier? Of course, I knew at the time that Matthew Perry suffered from addiction—he was rake thin one season, bloated the next. As he says in the book (and I’m paraphrasing), ‘If I was skinny, it was the pills, if I was fat, it was the booze.’ I’ve followed his career since and have especially loved his guest appearances in shows like The West Wing, even though his appearance has always belied the demons at play. I really have a lot of respect for his talent and he seems like a decent human being.
That said, this is a rough read—and not because of the subject matter. It’s just clunky and repetitive (at times, stream of consciousness) and there were many passages and chapters that were just self-indulgent and dull . I am not sure if these were stylistic choices—let’s make the writing and format reflect the chaos of your inner life—but they didn’t work for me. I especially found it odd that the only girlfriend he ever mentions by name is the most famous, Julia Roberts. The rest are by their first name or are nameless, which is an feeble strategy to protect identities when a three-second Google search reveals who he is talking about. And what is his beef with Keanu Reeves? He actually says it’s a shame Keanu is still walking around in the world. (Back off, Matty—Keanu is a righteous dude.)
Could have used a strong editorial arm and been 1/3 shorter. A few interesting insights but not my fave.
I can’t wait for this and expect it will similar in tone and style to this book, which I read years ago and LOVED:
If you’re a Rob Lowe fan, he’s a brilliant writer—funny, self-deprecating, insightful. Great stories told by a wonderful storyteller. I will let you know what I think of Sam Neil’s book.
Till next time …
2 thoughts on “In their own words”
Really interesting, thanks. I’m enjoying Harry’s book (though the biography of The Queen by Gyles Brandreth is even better) and want to read Alan’s and Pammy’s 🙂
Great choices, Sandy. I’ve only read a few autobiographies. The Meaning Of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey, Open Book by Jessica Simpson (both highly recommended, especially the audiobook versions), Bossy Pants by Tina Fey, and Yes Please by Amy Poehler. I decided against Matthew Perry’s because I wasn’t a fan of the parts I read in the press when it first came out. Your review has solidfied that choice for me. I’m a fan of Rob Lowe, so I’ll add that to my TRB. The Pamela Anderson one sounds very interesting too. Enjoy the rest of your reads.