A Liar’s Autobiography by Graham Chapman (1980, Eyre Methuen)
Most autobiographies by comedians tend to fall into one of two categories: mundane or depressing. Chapman avoids both, providing instead a fascinating case study of a man who is constantly dealing with warring aspects of himself.
The early part of the book covers his youth and his successful studies to become a doctor, fulfilling the expectations which had been set for him, while simultaneously developing and pursuing his desire to become a performer. Much of the rest of the book deals with his efforts to keep his homosexuality deeply closeted while simultaneously pursuing relationships.
Because Chapman was a member of Monty Python, he recognizes that the reader is likely to want to know behind-the-scenes anecdotes from the show and movies. And, because Chapman was a member of Monty Python, he carefully includes behind-the-scenes anecdotes for every aspect of his performing life except Python.
No matter. The book shifts back and forth between obvious hyperbole and silliness and intimate admissions which were likely painful and cathartic to write. The chapter memorializing Keith Moon is alone enough to make the book worth purchasing to any Who fan. It’s full of pain and alcoholism, but the reader is left with the notion that Chapman had his life on course at the end of the book, and that he’d earned some measure of confidence.
Murder Racquet ed. Alfred Hitchcock (1975, Dell)
Alfred Hitchcock grew famous because of the directorial skill he brought to the movies, but his expertise in that medium was bolstered by his ability to discern which plots would make for interesting screenplays. That talent was cultivated in the same way that Rod Serling developed his own ability to seek out great ideas: he read. But where Serling read fantasy and science fiction, Hitchcock read mysteries. Many, many mysteries.
It was due to the revelation of this fact that Hitchcock was given his own mystery magazine, one which would regularly feature some of the best writers in the business. It was also why he would produce anthologies at a rate of two or three every year. These groupings of short stories would showcase authors both young and old, but would tend toward excellence.
The titles of the collections rarely have anything to do with the stories, and this is no exception. This is not a collection of sports-related stories or of organized crime tales, but rather a group of tales unconnected by anything save mayhem and illegality.
By this time in his life, Hitchcock had stopped choosing the stories, delegating that task instead to the editor of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Still, the format remained the same: pick the best sampling of recent stories, which had all conveniently appeared in print over the preceding few months in AHMM.
The results were a way for contemporary readers who didn’t buy magazines to keep up with the recent efforts in the mystery and thriller fields. Even today, years after the stories were considered cutting-edge, the writing is tight enough to hold up perfectly. The art of the short story is often underappreciated. The AHMM demonstrated some of the best at the craft.