e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the tag “biography”

A quote on one of the values of reading

Anyone who says they have only one life to live
must not know how to read a book.

This is an anonymous quote and I think I’ve come across it several times in the past. My own feeling is that the extra lives available from books are usually only part lives – very few books cover the whole of someone’s life. But if you read a lot, think how many extra lives you’ll have had by the time you reach the end of your real one.

There are, of course, other ways of getting these extras. Story and biography telling were originally oral. Sitting round the fire listening to the wise woman’s description of the deeds of your ancestors must have been similar to sitting in the library reading about Harry Potter.

Even when we aren’t reading, other lives are available to us through imagination. Last time I was at an airport, waiting for my flight to be called and annoyed at how time was crawling rather than running, I started to wonder where all my fellow waitees were in their minds. Perhaps they were exploring alien planets, swimming the coral sea, winning in the Olympics or dating the boy next door.

We also get some extra moments in our dreams. I frequently dream whole days with friends I haven’t seen for years or even with people I’ve never met. These too are extra experiences that add to our down-to-earth real-time lifespan.


30 Day Book Challenge – day 27: A book I’d write if I had the resources

Arvon bookMy dream book is factual not fiction.

If I had the resources I’d write a biography of some historical person who has had a great deal of effect on the modern world, but who has either been overlooked by biographers or misunderstood. I’d prefer someone from an interesting period in an exotic location.

The resources I’d need would be considerable: the main one is time.

So I’m looking for plenty of time to read up on history and identify my person. If they weren’t English speaking I’d need time to learn at least some of their language. Time figures again in locating information on them and any relevant documents like letters, diaries etc.

Some serious historical knowledge about their period would require reading again, and possibly taking a course or two (or several).

Then I’d have to have money for travel and for taking those courses as well as buying books.

Am I within the realms of possibility? Can I write my dream book?

Did my overlooked and misunderstood subject even live? And if they did, is there any trace of them that a biographer could use? Whoever invented the wheel, the pot and the plough made the modern world, but their names and life-stories have disappeared and no amount of resources will produce a book about them.

Picture from Amazon.

30 Day Book Challenge – day 26: A book I wish would be written


A book I would love to read would be the imaginary biography or autobiography of Richard Parker. (Note, just in case you don’t know: Richard Parker is the tiger in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi.)

I’ve always thought that giving him a human name was a brilliant move. It makes him seem more of a character, less of a stereotype. In googling for this post I came across a Wikipedia entry for Richard Parker (shipwrecked) which lists several real and fictional Richard Parkers. Apparently it’s from these stories that Martel got the name.

He had an exciting life: captured as a cub, locked up in a zoo, transported on a ship and shipwrecked, on a lifeboat with a boy, finally free in a Mexican jungle. What happened after that? I’d love to know.

I’m sure that in the end he had (or will have) a dignified death.

Picture from Wikimedia Commons.

30 Day Book Challenge – day 25: Favourite biography

My Fathers Fortune coverFor this topic I have no hesitation. I’ve read numerous biographies in my time and could list several that I really like but, of the ones I recall reasonably clearly (oh, for the memory of an elephant!), my favourite is My Father’s Fortune by Michael Frayn.

There are several reasons why I like this book.

It is the story of an ordinary man and it celebrates the heroism of the ordinary life. Frayn senior was born with no particular advantages: his family were not rich and the welfare state didn’t exist when he was young so he missed out on a lot of education and opportunities. Early he developed deafness which made his working life harder than it was for others. But he progressed in his career as salesman, provided for his family and educated his children to have more possibilities in their lives.

Michael Frayn is a writer who can illuminate the ordinary to show its extra-ordinariness and its universality. In this case one of the universal themes is the relationship of father and son – all men have this relationship, even orphans experience it, but as an absence. Another is the value of keeping on even when the going is tough or, worse still, boring.

On a more personal level, the book describes England as it was shortly before my own memories begin and gives me an idea of where my school and neighbourhood came from.

Picture from Goodreads.

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