Tag Archives: Autobiographies

Will, by Will Smith

Will Smith: rap singer, TV star, movie star, and now Man of Letters. What a life this guy has led! His father was a military man and expected rigid obedience, and his sweet grandmother called him Lover Boy. Although his dad was not always a good husband or father, he gave him discipline, while his Gigi let him know he was beloved. It was probably both of these influences together that propelled Will through his high-pressure life and allowed him to achieve great things.

I only became aware of Will Smith when he started making movies in the ‘90s, so his entire earlier life was a mystery to me. He had a hardworking mother and father, and he loved to make people laugh. He started rhyming and performing hip-hop for fun with some friends, and then they decided to make a go of it. They made some rookie mistakes, and then Will made some mistakes that only a young, suddenly rich man could make. He was climbing to the top, and the fall was a resounding crash. He was determined to regroup and succeed, and he always wanted to be the good guy. He never cursed in his songs, which is rare in the hip-hop world, and he recognized and used his gift for humor. He wanted to get married, to be a great husband and a great father. He expected a lot from the women in his life, but he wanted to give them everything he could. He also wanted to be the biggest movie star in the world. Life never turns out the way we expect, but by this point, he has been everywhere, met many amazing people, and had experiences that few people on this planet are able to enjoy.

There are passages in the book that were uncomfortable to read, because it seemed that Smith had huge blind spots when he was bragging openly about events or achievements that were not as kind or generous as they could have been. Often, however, that would be followed by a candid confession of his own faults or how his hubris caused him to fall on his face, sometimes publicly. He was, and continues to be, earnest in his pursuit of self-improvement.

Many successful people write name-dropping, tell-all memoirs, but the defining feature of this autobiography is the thoughtful consideration of lessons learned and wisdom gained. Smith works hard at learning from his mistakes, and his conclusions often have universal application, so that those who can’t spend millions of dollars on therapeutic endeavors can learn from him, instead. All of this without sacrificing the fun of reminiscing about younger days and super-cool movies. Tremendously entertaining.

This book was recommended to me as an audiobook, and I recommend it to you in this format, as well. Not only is it read by Will Smith in his own affable voice, but when he mentions a song, it is inserted into the narrative. Smith is also great with impressions, and he changes his voice for all the characters in the book, which is often hilarious. The language is blistering, especially for the parts with rappers, and many of his rapper friends from Philly stay with him his whole life as managers, producers, and bodyguards. It’s one of the best new audiobooks out there, but don’t play it in front of the kiddos.

Great fun.

Disclaimer: I listened to an advance audiobook from Volumes. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers

Heartbreaking WorkThis candid memoir tells the story of Eggers’ life after his parents died of cancer when Dave, the third of four children, was college-age, but somehow became the caretaker for his eight-year-old brother, Toph. All of the siblings moved from Illinois to the San Francisco area immediately after their parents’ deaths, and although Beth was supposed to be the live-in surrogate parent, she continued to pursue her education and career, while Dave and Toph set up a sort of “bachelor pad” where they both attempt to grow up together.

Eggers’ style is very accessible and conversational for the most part, but at times he becomes an unreliable narrator and puts his own thoughts and anxieties into other character’s mouths, working through problems and issues by arguing with himself. Toph often appears to be wiser than his much-older brother, and Dave struggles to reconcile his parental persona, assumed at school functions, with his desire to be a twenty-something young man who wants to date and find a relationship with a young woman without feeling so desperately guilty. His deep and protective love of Toph shines through with heartbreaking vulnerability.

Along with his personal story, this sometimes fictionalized autobiography is also a chronicle of Generation X in California, at a time when the dot.com bubble was beginning, Bill Clinton was president, and all the cool people were there. Eggers and his friends were trying to start a magazine in the same abandoned building as the group starting Wired magazine, and at one point Dave auditioned for a role in a brand-new phenomenon called “reality TV.” His turbulent narration shows a young man who works relentlessly to be part of the intellectual, effortlessly hip crowd while simultaneously exposing them as shallow, privileged poseurs, and all the time, in the back of his mind, he is tortured by the thought that he is neglecting Toph, who will surely die at the hands of an incompetent or even sadistic babysitter.

Both a portrait of an artist and of an era, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is on most of the “100 Books Everyone Should Read” lists, probably those compiled by Gen X folks. For all of his swagger, Eggers will truly break your heart, and although his favorite word starts with an “f,” his prose is filled with a raw beauty that causes the reader to empathize with this young man trying to play the hand that life has dealt him with integrity, all the while desperately aware of his own weaknesses and flaws.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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