Having recently read biographies of Ian Fleming and Roald Dahl—and currently reading one on Hemingway—I have concluded that my life is pretty dull. I have not overseen covert operations for British Naval Intelligence in a time of war (Fleming), nor have I flown with the Royal Air Force against the Luftwaffe in North Africa (Dahl). Add to this embarrassing list of confessions the fact I have not hunted big game in the Serengeti or fished for marlin off the coast of Cuba (Hemingway). What, you ask, have I done? I once met Duran Duran lead singer Simon Le Bon in the Hard Rock Casino’s gift shop in Las Vegas. All I could manage to say at the time was, “My name’s Simon, too.” He responded, “It’s a bloody good name, isn’t it?”
This apparent lack of adventure will, I’m sure, present a challenge for my future biographer—as will my mundane love life. I have not bedded a stripper named “Stormy,” nor have I had an affair with the wife of a powerful media magnate (Fleming). I did not marry a successful actress (Dahl), nor have I lusted after a nurse who tended to my war wounds (Hemingway). On that point, I’ve never gone off to war nor been wounded in battle. What will my future biographer write about? It’s hard to say, as I won’t be leaving him/her much to work with. But it’s more than just my boring life that’s going to cause problems. It’s the lack of letters.
The Fleming, Dahl, and Hemingway biographies all list as primary source material letters written to and by their subjects. Gonzo scribe Hunter S. Thompson, believing he would someday make it as an author, had the amazing foresight to keep carbon copies of every letter he ever wrote. Today, letter writing—in the traditional sense—is pretty much a dead art form. We opt instead to send e-mails, which most folks delete as soon as they’ve read them—or we send quick text messages comprised of acronyms. L.O.L. Perhaps even more egregious is the fact many folks rely on Facebook status updates to convey what’s going on in their lives. Does this mean biographers of tomorrow are S.O.L.? Where is the primary source material for tomorrow’s biographies going to come from? Are there aspiring writers and artists out there saving their texts, e-mails, status updates, and “Tweets”?
Sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read is Speaking for Themselves, a volume of letters exchanged between Winston Churchill and his wife, Clementine, over the long course of Churchill’s years in public service. How different that book would be if it were collection of “Tweets” no more than 140 characters long.