Sunday, May 31, 2020

A Different Type of Biography

By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin

I love biographies. As a young reader, I would get stacks of biographies from my library and read each of them, then get some more. Now as an adult, I continue to read biographies and hear biographies on audiobooks.

As editors look at book proposals and pitches, they are looking for different—but not too different. This week I found an example in the book, Life Isn't Everything. Well-known director Mike Nichols resisted writing a memoir or autobiography despite his remarkable life and amazing experiences. Nichols died in 2014 so the memoir opportunity disappeared. Authors Ash Carter and Sam Kashner instead wrote Life Isn't Everything with insights from 150 of his friends.  The result is a book with fascinating stories and full of insights.

Jeffrey Wright gave quote with the title for the book. According to Wright, Life Isn't Everything was an expression that Mike Nichols used often. As he worked on the set of plays and movies, Nichols told stories about himself and the news and other things to guide the actors. His background in the theater helped him in film and television. From the opening pages, this book is constructed with a series of quotations from different people who knew Nichols. The result is a bunch of lessons for anyone in theater or movies or television about the behind the scenes work. The stories are filled with insights.

While I’ve read numerous biographies and written a number  as well, I’ve never seen a book like Life Isn't Everything. In some ways it is like gathering 150 people in a room and recording their thoughts and words about the life of Mike Nichols then piecing those conversations together into a cohesive biography—not how I assume it was actually done. The result is listening to well-known people talk about different aspects of Nichols' life. The insights and stories are an incredible listening experience. I loved listening to Life Isn't Everything and highly recommend it.

While this book was different, it still falls into the biography category. The construction and format is unlike anything I've ever seen (read or heard). It shows me why it was published and why the editor found it engaging to bring it into the market. It's the same sort of unique work we need to do with our own pitches to editors and literary agents.

Have you read (or written) a book which is different yet still in a particular category of book? Tell me about it in the comments below.


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