Saturday, January 9, 2016

Jack London, an American life by Earle Labor.



I finished reading "Jack London, an American life", a biography written by Earle Labor.

It is a book that somehow dissapoints me. The reading is interesting, no doubt about that, but for the simple reason that Jack London is an exceptional and interesting  “larger than life” character. One appreciates that Earl Labor knows his subject very well, (he is after all curator of the Jack London museum), but his rendering of London’s life is a bit boring. 

It is knowledge without passion, narration without empathic sparks of insight. His work is like some elaborate, well researched Wikipedia piece, but really nothing more and that is a bit unfortunate. London’s life, let’s not forget, was nothing but passion ! Suffice to read the writer’s own semi-autobiographical books to get a better idea of who London really was, than Earl’s biography. From his early days as a trapper described in “ The Call of the Wild” over his young writer efforts in “ Martin Eden”, not forgetting his alcoholic memoirs in “John Barleycorn” , to his hilarious sailing adventure on his “Snark “, London’s books deserve reading and rereading.

At least Labor’s book reminds us of that.

But after some pondering over what exactly I missed in this biography, I came to the conclusion that the book doesn't elaborate enough on London's actual writing of his prose. Maybe that is because there is not much to elaborate on. After the initial surprise of his first books, there was too much hackwork, too much and too fast writing for money. As a writer, as a  word-artist, Jack London of the later books is a warmed-up dinner. It is a biography of an adventurer, not a literary biography of a writer.

This biography reinforces my opinion that to have a worthwhile read, the biographer, while not  necessarily a match of his subject, should at least be as passionate as the writer or his readers.

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