Thursday, July 30, 2009

Reading Lives

Until recently, I wondered why anyone would read nonfiction books when there are all those thrilling novels out there. I adore history and at one point could tell you a good bit about the kings and queens of England and the times they lived in. But that was because I read so much historical fiction, especially a prolific writer named Norah Lofts, whose career spanned a large portion of the 20th century.

I think I've collected almost all her books (at least 50 or so), and they cover every time period of English history--from the Saxon invasion and the occupation by Caesar's troops, through Civil War and Restoration and right on up until current times. Although her stories sprawl across time periods, most of them take place in one small area of England, with characters and families that are interconnected. Once you've read enough of her books, the fragments of English history start falling into a memorable pattern. Now, that's my way to learn facts. Read a suspenseful, thrilling story and have the educational bits slipped in like medicine in a spoonful of sugar!

As a part of research for my fiction writing, I have to dip into nonfiction, of course. I usually consider this a chore. But lately, I've started reading biographies to help me get an insight into people. Maybe I need details on a certain career, or insight into a unique personality, and a biography seems like a good resource. In the past two weeks, I've dipped into several different bios, and I'm surprised to find myself actually zipping through them.

One was called If I Am Missing or Dead, by Jeanine Latus. I picked this one up because I may soon be writing a character who is obsessed with a particular man and will do almost anything to hang onto him. She blinds herself to his abuse and manipulations and rationalizes everything he does. I have trouble understanding the motivations of someone like that, but I need to be sympathetic to her. In real life, both Jeanine Latus and her sister put themselves in that situation not once, but over and over--until sister Amy ended up dead. Latus's book covers their lives and "loves" from childhood until the time of the tragedy in an attempt to understand, and help us understand, what went wrong. It's a sad and disturbing story, but it broadened my knowledge of people who are different from me.

On the other hand, the celebrity bio I'm reading makes me realize that people in different walks of life can be pretty similar under the skin. There And Back Again is an autiobiography by actor Sean Astin, maybe best known for playing Sam in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Astin is the son of Patty Duke and John Astin (remember Gomez Addams?) and has been acting since childhood, including a major role in The Goonies when he was a kid. What fascinates me about his story is that, even though he was born into a successful show biz family and has been acting professionally and successfully since childhood, the angst and self-doubt he experiences sound incredibly similar to what Kristi and I write on this blog!

Astin is open about his experiences and his feelings, and even though I've only read about a third of the book, it's fascinating to know this "star" agonizes over feeling untalented, or insignificant, or what direction he should take. Just as Kristi and I do, he wonders whether he should do things that are commercial that don't interest him, or follow his art. He'll have a major success, followed by...nothing. Then he'll worry that it's over and he'll never work again. He knows there are games and strategies to be played to get ahead in Hollywood, but doesn't really know how to go about them. He knows that ultimately he wants to be a filmmaker and director, but has trouble staying on goal, or figuring out whether taking certain jobs will help or hinder him in his direction.

And just like me, he gets distracted from his goals. I had to laugh when he confessed that, in the middle of his most successful acting phase, he tried to fit in going to college because he felt inadequate without a college degree. I, on the other hand, always take college for granted but feel inadequate because I have no real artistic accomplishments!

People are indeed complex creatures. I'm glad I'm finally catching on so I can enjoy some of these real-life stories.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like some fascinating reading, Robin! Me, I'm hoping to finish Emma tonight! 1 down, 5 to go!