I used to read almost exclusively novels. Fiction. Usually contemporary. Sometimes a classic novel. Always escapism.
But something has changed in the last few years…..
It started with I’m Your Man, the mesmerising biography of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons. I had grown to love the great man’s uniquely poetic music, but Ms Simmons gives a depth of insight into an extraordinary life that allows you to begin to understand the very human form behind the stage performer.
Artemis Cooper’s An Adventure brings depth and colour to another remarkable life. Arguably the greatest British travel writer, Patrick Leigh Fermor was only 18 when, in 1934, he walked across Europe. In just over a year, he had traversed 9 countries and taught himself 3 languages. And that was just the beginning of a life that is so well-lived that it seems more like fiction than fact.
This Christmas, Gill has bought me Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, Elvis Costello’s autobiography. I heard him reading excerpts on the radio a few weeks ago, and I’m looking forward to understanding how huge early success – and a self-confessed abuse of fame – has moulded his later years.
And I think I might have to splash out on Easily Distracted, the newly published autobiography from Steve Coogan. I admire some of his recent work – including The Trip and Philomena – but I’d like to understand how he reached this point, and how he has dealt with some of the many demons in his life.
So why the sudden interest in real people?
I think I find it humbling, as I go deep into the second half of my own life, to read what others have achieved in theirs. It certainly forces me to confront the reality that I haven’t done much of substance, relative to these well-known high-achieving personalities.
In the same way, I’m increasingly drawn to listen to Desert Island Discs, hearing Kirsty Young peel away the layers of a guest’s character and life, whether in the arts arena, business, sports, science or any other aspect of life.
I’ll continue to escape into fiction, but sometimes reality is just that little bit more incredible. For some people.