biographies – when it’s ok to be nosy & judgmental

biographies make me uneasy. after all, you’re reading other people’s journals, drafts, and private correspondence etc. there are a couple of people who obviously wrote their journals with future readers in mind (pepys being an example of how not to do it), but for the most part, i assume these journals and letters were not meant for public consumption. i hope nobody ever writes a biography about me. i have penned enough embarrassing letters, journal entries and emails, and more than my share of genuinely bad poetry i don’t want anyone to dig out…


still, these books intrigue me and i will even admit there are several on my shelves: Ann – The Word (about the founder of the Quakers), Janet Frame’s Autobiography, hermione lee’s Virginia Woolf, kay jamison’s Unquiet Mind, Byromania, and The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth (by Frances Wilson). next to ann the word, the unquiet mind is the only one of these i have read from cover to cover. when it comes to hermione lee’s work i am sure i can be excused, seeing the sheer size of the book… lol. but it has been an interesting reference book for me. dorothy wordsworth just barely arrived last week, and i have read the first chapter or two, but then got distracted by the death in our family.

now as i was out saturday a book jumped out at me by that author i cannot decide whether i like or dislike, bill bryson. the title, ambitious enough, is Shakespeare, and bryson sets out to see what we actually know for sure about this playwright.


now, i will have you know that while at secondary school we read King Lear and it was okay and we also read Macbeth which i actually enjoyed (well, lady macbeth is quite the character and there is plenty of gore going on too), in all other respects i have kept a distance from billy shakespeare as if there was a restraining order.

it annoys me to this day to hear things like, nobody compares to shakespeare, he was so great and so marvellous and such a genius. uh… right. he wrote plays and poetry, as did a number of other folk in his day and age. he did what he did for a living (as far as i understand), he wrote commissioned work, whether he enjoyed it or not, and so at least part of his great oeuvre was out of sheer necessity and not the work of artistic genius. well. what i will not deny is that he / his writing has influenced much of what came after, and will likely continue to do so for a long time. so in the end when i took the book to the register and actually paid for it to take it home the idea was, let’s know more about this guy.

did you know shakespeare used any number of different spellings for his own name, and the only six signatures in his own hand each have a different spelling? well, and here is the best part. he never spelled himself the way we spell him today – there is no evidence of him ever using this spelling.

this time bill bryson’s tendency toward the irrevent is a definite plus, though even he waxes poetic about billy now and then, even between examples of his prized sarcasm. anyway. i got the book saturday, started reading sunday, and am almost half way through after staying up far too late last night. there is a fair chance i will actually read this one cover to cover, too. so far, i have learned a lot of fun trivia about 16th / 17th century england etc. kind of like the horrible histories, but a bit more grown up. (gotta love the horrible history series!!!) still, bryson has done his homework and provides a lot of detailed information without being boring or “lectury.” so far, good stuff.

what biographies have you read? how do you feel about the nosiness and those issues?

have you read this book, and maybe even know more about shakespeare – how does it rate? thumbs up, thumbs down?

how would you feel about someone writing YOUR biography?

would they be able to trace you easily or would you be the object of much speculation?


About annette.c.boehm

words escape me.

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