Autobiograph

Thursday night I went to my friend’s book reading (the one I contributed on review/editing in draft). Friday night we went to see Brian Copeland’s Not a Genuine Black Man.
Attending these two events back to back made me ponder something.

The author was asked at the book-reading whether it was autobiographical. She said no, the characters were fictional, but the setting was based on her experiences. I wasn’t sure how much to believe that. When I was reading the draft, I can’t remember whether I had actually asked her the same thing; but I remember feeling convinced that one of the characters was pretty much her (the author) based on things she had told me about herself. Or perhaps the author and character were the same in the beginning of the novel, but the character diverged from the author.

Brian Copeland’s one-man-show is pretty much billed as being his experience growing up in San Leandro as practically the first African-Americans in that community in the early 1970’s. He very deftly wove in a bit of comic relief in most of the scenes where something tragic or horrifying was going on. It made me wonder, how much he had exaggerated some of the stories or details for entertainment value or even to prevent the audience from feeling overly uncomfortable?

I’m in awe of people who write fiction. So often writing is often based on the writer’s own experiences and self; very true in my case. I tried writing short stories before, and failed abjectly; I really couldn’t get into my characters enough to animate and manipulate them; because I couldn’t wean them from their basis in real-life. I don’t have that kind of imagination.

The point that struck me is that when we tell stories about ourselves we either downplay certain things or we embellish. Sometimes we omit details to avoid implicating ourselves; or even just to preserve a sense of privacy, i.e. ‘it’s not that I did something wrong or bad or shameful, but I like to keep my business my business.’ Embellishment makes for telling a better, more interesting, more entertaining story. I know I’ve done that with anecdotes I tell, to make the story sound funnier. . .

I have yet to finish reading the published book; I wonder how it compares to the draft I read, which was pretty good. The book was actually published last year in the UK, before being picked up here. I had ordered the British version through my friend, but didn’t have a chance to pick it up from her until now! I prefer my British version rather than the American, because of the cover. The American cover has a collage of brush-painting flower, and a photo of a hot Chinese babe (ooh, how exotic!) The British evokes the Orient in a classier fashion: flowers and calligraphy!

She’s pretty amazing: she wrote the novel in English, and is translating it Chinese herself. She’s also working on her second novel in Chinese; which she’ll then translate into English herself!

Brian Copeland’s show will probably extend its run at the San Jose Stage. I recommend seeing it. I waited 2 years to see it. It ran in SF for a long time, but I never got around to making the trek up there for it; even when my cousin Kathy invited me to go. It ran in LA for bit, and finally made its way to San Jose. San Jose is a shorter drive away than SF, but psychologically it’s more tedious to go downtown San Jose: (1) the traffic signals are timed atrociously; (2) the parking lot is usually free, but the circulation design is horrid; and (30 worst of all, there’s nothing good to eat. There’s nowhere in downtown San Jose that I would go eat at voluntarily, which is really a disgrace, considering the sizeable Latino and Vietnamese communities there. There’s so many more places I enjoy eating at in three blocks of downtown Mountain View than in the 4 square miles of downtown SJ.

As I’m writing this I’m baking tomatoes that I’ll then freeze and enjoy this winter, courtesy of my uncle’s overabundance. (Also overexuberance, he planted 20 plants this summer. Still better than last year, where he planted 60.) I also got enough yellow tomatoes from him (and my own garden) that I made into an exclusively-yellow-tomato sauce. It does smell and taste slightly different.

I also just finished (1) a book on bullfighting in Spain. It makes me want to go see a bullfight now. It’s something I’ve been curious about before, but reading the book has enforced it (2) two of Joe Sacco‘s lesser books: after checking out his better works from the library, I bought these two, because they weren’t at the library. Probably because they weren’t as good. So I just got suckered into buying the books that were the ‘let’s just throw his odds and ends together because he’s sort of famous and people will buy it.’ Oh well. It’s financial support for an artist whose works I admire 🙂

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