I've been on a bio-streak recently. No, that isn't some sort of mad-scientist experiment. I've just read a lot of good books about fascinating lives.
It's interesting that there are so many versions of biographies – memoir, autobiography, epistolary account, biography, fictionalized bio, and more.
Two very different tales of larger-than-life characters were recent favorites: One is truth and the other is a daring tale of fiction.
If Anna Wintour is the "devil" at Vogue, then you can call Grace Coddington the sorcerer behind the scenes. She is the creative force that has given Vogue's photo layouts their distinctive flair for decades.
This very candid memoir, perfect for anyone interested in the oh-so-snarky fashion world, follows Coddington's career from its beginning as a '60s Brit model who first wore Sassoon's famous five-point cut, to her work with British Vogue, then Calvin Klein, and then her amazingly long-term career at Vogue's American flagship.
She is just as open about her personal life, her ups-and-downs with co-workers and colleagues (including La Wintour), her sister's death, her marriages, and her 30-year relationship with her current flame, Didier Malige.
Not only is this a fun "insider's" read on the industry and a look at the creative process, but Coddington's signature quirkiness is also spotlighted, including her little pen-and-ink sketches of Vogue staffers, industry insiders, and her two cats.
Now this is a biography of another color. Touted as a "non-fiction novel," Pulitzer-Prize winning author J.R. Moehringer takes the real-life account of bank robber Willie Sutton and weaves it into a daring and fascinating tale of right vs. wrong, truth vs. fiction.
Sutton grew up in Brooklyn during the tough 1920s with luck already turned against him. His father was a blacksmith at the time when cars were hitting the streets, he was an Irish immigrant in a city that looked down on "his type," and he was one of the millions caught in vicious cycles of recessions and depressions in the early 20th century.
Those formative early years fed a deep anger and resentment in Sutton, particularly at the banks that he saw as the cause of all the financial woes of his generation. That simmering frustration found an outlet in crimes against those very banks. Styling himself as a modern-day Robin Hood, Sutton had a fruitful 30-year career robbing banks throughout New York and New Jersey. Ever the gentleman, he relied on disguises and guile rather than violence to commit his crimes, priding himself on never firing a shot.
During his several stints in prison, Sutton studied up on the classics and philosophical tomes, trying to find meaning in his life, and his crimes.
Moehringer finds a clever way to pull us into Sutton's life and mind with this fictionalized account, full of twists and turns.
Both of these books breathe life into the biography genre, making truth more compelling with a generous dash of daring. Look for more reviews of great biographies in the coming weeks.