Upgrading my own bio always reminds me of the ethical crisis kids face nowadays when they apply for college. Isn’t it both morally and artistically reprehensible to turn a childhood into a resume? Is it really a peck-or-be-pecked world out there?
I like to think of writing as one of those endeavors in which hierarchy has a work-around. A master-of-the universe can confide to an out-of-work electrician, or have it go the other way. While well advised not to lie down with one another there’s nothing to keep a lion from reading a lamb’s memoir.
The author bio has become an advertisement, but isn’t that insane? Outside of the picture (often dated or doctored), the author bio is composed of words. So’s a book. So why not just crack the book and read the first page? We agree not to judge a book by its cover, but think it appropriate to judge one by its author.
“The text seemed dreary,” people tell one another, “but this woman’s last novel was a huge best seller in Dubai.” Or: “The prose worked like Ambien on me, but the guy is 107 years old and wrote the whole thing with a flesh-colored Crayola, which he held between his teeth.”
Some writers have overcome unspeakable obstacles, about which they speak at length. Others have ruined their own lives with drugs, alcohol and the sedulous violation of all 12 of the Ten Commandments. Did these people sin for the sin of it, or only because they thought it would make for a captivating author bio?
“Half the object is gained when the audience is assembled,” wrote P.T. Barnum, but Barnum was not primarily a writer. He was a showman, an impresario. Barnum did not say, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” That was Mencken, but I don’t think H.L. meant it as advice.