Sunday, March 25, 2012

Quick Review

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Ever read Benvenuto Cellini? Fascinating man, and artist, and his autobiography is a classic full of adventure, art, history, the famous and the infamous of his day. A remarkable book. I confess though, I found Cellini -- having tried him in two different translations just to be sure -- maddening. I really did. Part of it, I'm sure, is just the style, the expected braggadocio of a Renaissance bad-ass, etc., and the fact that I personally have always found that kind of thing off-putting, but there's more to it than that. I think Cellini really was rather a dick. In fact, I would go so far as to assert that Benvenuto Cellini, however great an artist and however important an historical resource, was one of the biggest swingin' dicks of his or any other day. I can't help it, I find him obnoxious; humorless, mean, and full of shit, even if pretty much everything he claimed to have done he did.

On the other hand, I genuinely love Stephen Fry. I'm not suggesting that Fry is a comparable artist, or that his two volumes of autobiography to date represent anything like the same deathless record of his day, but I would much rather spend time with Fry than with Benvenuto.

I can heartily recommend all of Fry's books. I find him nearly as delightful on the page as he is on the television; acting Jeeves etc., lecturing, in documentaries, chat shows, or on his marvelous panel show, QI. (Check it out on if you haven't. It's addictive fun.) Fascinating man, Stephen Fry, and a very interesting life he's led, may I just say. This latest volume, however was a bit trying, for exactly the opposite reason -- exactly -- to Cellini. You see, where the Italian is endlessly, hatefully self-agrandising, Fry's very British and quite neurotic self-abasement, at least here, finally, quite nearly got the best of me. Funny as Fry is, and witty and bright as he is, he is just pathologically self-critical and, as he is all to quick to suggest, it can get, and here does get, well... tiresome.

It might not for everyone, but for this reader, it can all be too much of less. I frankly identify so strongly with the need to apologize for anything that might feel like putting something on, I can find reading Fry on Fry sometimes painful. All the more reason, in a way to read the book. Let it be a lesson to the like-minded. (I'm trying not to apologize for the presumption in saying even this, you see. Do you see?) Anyway, for all his faults, real and imagined and erroneously assumed, Fry is something of a hero of mine. To have done so much, and done so many things so extraordinarily well, well, it rather shames me. That he should think so little of what he's done seems to me appalling, frankly. I get it. Lord knows I do. But, oh my.

Still, despite this distinctly unfunny review, I do hope others will read this book, and his others. He's a dazzling performer, truly. Don't just take my word for it. Who am I after all, to even have an opinion of such an accomplished man? (See?) Shame is infectious, but only to the susceptible, I suppose. Oh bother. Read the damned book. He funny. He's charming. He's no goddamned Benvenuto Cellini, I'll say that for him. Just get on with it. You'll love him. I do.

No comments:

Post a Comment