"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton
This is where I chronicle my reading life. I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.
“My policy was that if something I might do or say were to put off just one of my one million fans, I wouldn't take that risk. I believed that I had it in my power to maintain the approval of all one million people, and anything short of pleasing every single one of them was unacceptable to me.”
I usually don't read celebrity biographies, but Chely Wright's documentary about coming out as gay ("Wish Me Away") is so well done and moving (my husband and I both cried) that it piqued my interest in reading her autobiography, especially since the documentary also chronicles her journey to release the book. I also have her CD "Lifted Off the Ground," and these three media offerings serve as something of a "trifecta" of Chely's coming out journey, each one complimenting and enriching the other.
This is also the only celebrity autobiography I've ever read that doesn't have a ghostwriter credited -- probably because she was writing it in secret for months, without a publisher lined up, as the first step in coming out publicly. As such, the book is more a collection of short stories about her experiences as a lesbian and in country music, and the somewhat stilted writing, especially near the beginning, reveals her lingering discomfort or "old-fashioned" sensibilities when it comes to homosexuality (example: she uses the word "homosexual" a lot in the opening chapters, rather than the more casual "gay" or "lesbian," keeping her experience somewhat clinical. As the book goes on, she more naturally starts using conversational language around her experience of being gay.) This "collection of thoughts and stories" approach keeps the book from having a clear narrative arc, and there often are not tidy segues from one chapter to the next. The short chapters can feel somewhat abrupt, but they feel fitting in a book about fragmenting yourself.
This is not a titillating "tell-all." Chely's reputation as a "private person" remains even in her autobiography, which skims over intimate details of her relationships and her first sexual experiences with women, and it ignores her first sexual experiences with men; she mentions them in passing but it's not clear when they began. Still, Chely is a surprisingly competent writer. (I say surprising because writing is not her profession, and it takes most writers years to attain anything even close to mastery.) While the prose isn't transcendent or particularly beautiful, it's authentic and filled with specific details that easily ground the reader in Chely's experience. Overall, it feels so real and relate-able even though the life of a country singer on a major label is so different from mine. Through it all, Chely seems to remain grounded and down-to-earth, aware of her privileged position and also not out of touch with the way the rest of the world lives. This captures her sensibilities particularly well:
“I was becoming known in Nashville and in country radio as one of the hardest-working new artists around. Mind you, the work that was being asked of me was not that difficult—they weren't asking me to throw hay bales up on the back of a flatbed trailer; they weren't asking me to pour and finish concrete. It was not hard labor, for the most part. They were asking me to come in and sign five hundred posters at once—big deal.”
Despite coming out and becoming active in GLBTQ rights, Chely retains a lot of traditional sensibilities, including her approach to sex, drugs, work, and religion. As such, her voice is an important one for progressives and conservatives alike, and she bridges the gap with strength and authenticity. After years of fragmentation, it's beautiful to see this brave woman step into her wholeness.