Thursday, July 06, 2017

Choose Wisely

I don't recall ever having read a celebrity memoir before, but there was something about Neil Patrick Harris' Choose Your Own Autobiography that made me decide to give it a try. Well, specifically, a couple of somethings I can pretty easily identify.

First, it's Neil Patrick Harris. He's had a rather wide-ranging career that would seem to offer enough anecdotes for an interesting book: he made it past being a child star without losing his career, sanity, or life; he's had two successful television shows; he's won a Tony Award for a high-profile Broadway revival; and he took the journey from closeted gay man to out and proud all in the public eye.

Second, he picked a kitschy gimmick for his autobiography. Everyone of a certain age has read one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books, a sort of text-based adventure game rendered in young adult novel form. Harris has aped the format here, dividing up all his anecdotes, writing them in second person ("you" do all the things he describes in the book), and then letting you hop around his life in whatever order you like. He's even dropped in a handful of fictitious "bad endings" just like the ones the old series was known for, that have "you" (NPH) dying in quicksand, working in fast food, dying in the jungle.... a lot of them are about dying, actually.

One of the reasons I've never really bothered to read a celebrity autobiography is that I've never really been all that interested in celebrities themselves. Give me stories about, say, the skill of acting. Give me a book about the recording of a famous album. I'd be all over that -- stories about the work. A series of mostly unrelatable tales of the things you've done in your life? I'm hesitant. And, as expected, that's a fair amount of what you get here.

That said, I made it through easily enough, thanks mainly to two things. First, the CYOA gimmick does actually count for something, and Harris' writing style is fairly breezy and entertaining. There's a lot of wry humor (including footnoted Barney Stinson-style jokes).

Second, the sections in which NPH writes rather candidly about being gay and coming out were quite relatable. That's an experience most people will never have, of course, but he writes about it in a way that I think could help many people understand it better. The coming out experience of every LGBT individual is different in many ways, big and small, but his version, a long period of self-discovery and acceptance by degrees, felt particularly familiar to me.

I'm hardly convinced that autobiographies are a genre I'm now going to seek out more of. Still, this one made for a decent enough read. I'd give it a B.

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