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Biographies and Autobiographies

Life stories reviewed with a discerning eye.

Michael Caine, What's It All About?

This book is inspiring, a great example of "follow your dream." Michael Caine knew at a very young age that he wanted to act, and through perseverance, he has become highly successful and one of the most respected actors of our time, with two Academy Awards to his credit. This should serve to encourage those with dreams but who tell themselves "I'll never make it."

This is the real thing. Caine starts at the beginning and tells it all without indiscreet name dropping. He mentions that he does not plan to write another autobiography and so does not want to leave anything out. That makes for a really great read.

But what's really special about this autobiography is how approachable Caine seems to be. He comes across as just a regular guy whom you could approach on the street and say hi. Considering that most of the other autobiographies I've read, however great they may be, still seem like stories told by a celebrity who has deigned to share his/her life story, that in itself is an amazing accomplishment.

Margaret Cho, I'm the One that I Want

A warning: This is not a funny book!

Well, it is, in parts. But she goes into such detail about her personal problems (drinking, drugs, sex, strict dieting) that this book is in turns depressing, disturbing, and poignant.

Nevertheless, it is an excellent autobiography. One wishes for such frankness and forthrightness in autobiographies. Margaret Cho does not whitewash. She comes right out. More authors should be so blunt in their writing.

So, it's not a comedy, but it does illustrate the sources of her top-of-the-line standup routines. If she can go through all of these awful situations and still come out on top, then more power to her.

William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade (1989 Reissue)

Goldman (whose credits include Marathon Man, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride, and Misery, and who is also a terrific novelist) was the first screenwriter whose name I recognized as having appeared on the credits of several films. He has since become my favorite, so when I found that he had written a book on the workings of the screenwriter in Hollywood--a town for which I have always had great fascination--I knew I had to read it. Unfortunately, it was years before I finally got around to it.

To give you an idea how good I think this book is, I had read Stephen King's Needful Things (app. 800 pages) in five days and that was at that point my quickest pace. Well, I read Adventures in the Screen Trade (including the full script of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid--a terrific read in itself, and alone worth the price of the book)--a total of 600 pages--in two days. I just couldn't put the thing down, and I find that phrase to be a cliche of the most odious order. I was reading it at breakfast, on my commute in, at lunch, the commute out, all evening, and before bed. Goldman writes such a gripping story of his experiences in Tinseltown, that I was drawn in, always wondering what was going to happen next.

Only once did my interest flag, and that was halfway through a screen adaptation of a story presented in the book just beforehand. The story was ten pages, the adaptation forty, so I simply felt at that point that I was reading the story over, it was just longer. However, once I got over that and realized that the point of the exercise was to illustrate the differences in form, I read again with relish.

Goldman writes with a nicely conversational style--but not overtly so--that draws you in to his world. I think that this book would be especially of interest to anyone who wants to write for Hollywood (although you may not wish to continue with that dream after reading this), or any writers in general (as he goes over form and structure that is relevant to all writing), or to a fan of the behind-the-scenes workings of Hollywood.