This month I have mainly been reading the biographies of people who have become legends in their own lifetime, through talent, accident or sheer bloody-minded willpower.
Larger than life – Shatner Rules by William Shatner
William Shatner is not a man for false – or indeed any – modesty. In fact, William Shatner isn’t a man at all but is, in many ways, the biggest character Bill has ever played. This is not a biography of Bill but the story of how he became William Shatner, a character larger than life and twenty times as confident.
Shatner Rules is his guide to becoming William Shatner, or at least taking on enough of the lessons he has learned to become usefully Shatneresque when you’re in need of a bit of a boost. It’s filled with comedy and glorious hyperbole; its blurb states it will give you “a look at the man, the myth, and the magic that is William Shatner”. It could have been tedious but Shatner carries it off with enough self-depreciation to stay engaging and enjoys poking fun at his over-the-top image (along with his former co-stars, Facebook and most of Canada). The book isn’t a biography but a guide, filled with lessons learned and “rules” to apply to pick up a touch of Shatner’s positivity and magnetism.
It certainly worked in my case. I bought the book as I was heading in for day surgery and needed something entertaining enough to distract from the pain but light enough to be readable when I was off my head on leftover anesthetic. Shatner Rules did the job perfectly and had the bonus effect of making friends with every single person I met that day in the hospital as they all stopped to ask if it was good. Doctors, nurses, co-patients and some bloke on the train – it appears that interest in Shatner is the great uniter.
Look, I’m not saying you could definitely use this book to make friends and attract people while feeling less than stellar but who couldn’t do with a touch of the Shatneresque occasionally?
And twice as loud – Life by Keith Richards
The blurb has a scrawl from Keith, written in red: “This is the life. Believe it or not, I haven’t forgotten anything.”
It might seem like an unbelievable boast from a man renowned for embodying all the excesses of the rock and roll lifestyle. Denis Leary once quipped, “Keith Richards says that kids should not do drugs. Keith, we can’t do any more drugs because you already did them all, alright? There’s none left! We have to wait ’til you die and smoke your ashes!”
And while Keith’s biography backs up that point, with plenty of hair-raising drug busts and close shaves, his memory is as clear and complex as one of his solos. It’s not a love of drugs and hazy excess that comes through – it’s the love of music and the freedom to play it as he chooses. Keith chronicles his love affair with music in all the forms it took; from listening obsessively to the radio as a teenager to slumming it in a squat with struggling start-up band to the Stones and his solo work. Keith’s diaries and letters occasionally do the leg-work in remembering, as do numerous asides from partners in crime over the years, but it’s mainly Keith’s unique voice taking you though his life as he experienced it. And what a life it is.
A legend in the making – The Name of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
‘I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me.’
This one is a bit of a cheat but Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of The Wind is, while not an actual biography, a fictional take on writing up the biography of a legend, according to the author, Patrick Rothfuss.
“In some ways it’s the simplest story possible: it’s the story of a man’s life. It’s the myth of the Hero seen from backstage. It’s about the exploration and revelation of a world, but it’s also about Kvothe’s desire to uncover the truth hidden underneath the stories in his world. The story is a lot of things, I guess. As you can tell, I’m not very good at describing it. I always tell people, “If I could sum it up in 50 words, I wouldn’t have needed to write a whole novel about it.””
I’m glad he did, and even better that he plans a series of novels as Rothfuss is an excellent story-teller. The Name of The Wind is the first book in a trilogy, the Kingkiller Chronicles, and an excellent coming of age story in the fantasy writers such as Robin Hobb.