I never thought I’d be someone who adored biographies and autobiographies. I mean, who would want to read about someone real when they could be reading about wizards or faeries or aliens? Who would want to read about someone talking about their own boring life like it was different to the rest of ours? Who’d be interested in writing about how they grew up, got a job, and did all the other mundane things which life entails? Certainly not me.
But then I read an autobiography. By read, I mean forced to by my literature teacher in 11th Grade as a part of an assignment. It was Bill Bryson’s memoir entitled The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid and I couldn’t have been more annoyed at having to waste my time reading that nonsense when I could have been rereading The Fault in Our Stars or delving deep into Wattpad to read more Drarry fanfic.
It wasn’t until I reluctantly opened up the autobiography (after trying to find a reasonable summary on Sparknotes. Believe me, I tried), did I realise that I might actually enjoy it. If my laughs at the strange and funny situations Bill found himself in as a kid where anything to go by, I actually really loved it. And that was the beginning of a whole new adventure for me.
I realised that reading biographies and autobiographies were not nearly as boring as the name suggested. I thought that reading about someone I didn’t know, and quite frankly, didn’t care to learn about, would be the most boring experience of my life. In fact, it was the opposite. I found that there wasn’t all that much difference between reading about a person in the real world as compared to reading about a fictional character. They both came with backstories and vibrant lives and things that made me connect with them or even be able to relate to them.
After I realised that I liked reading about so-called real people, I investigated some other biographies and autobiographies to pick up. While YA fiction remains my one true love, this whole new genre I found, thanks to my pushy literature teacher, has provided both some really fascinating and empowering reads. I couldn’t have been more thankful for not just opting to read the Wikipedia page on that book I was made to study.
I’ve now read a number of biographies and autobiographies, but I want to discuss who I picked up recently in depth. Those ones are Note to Self by Connor Franta and Finding Nevo by Nevo Zisin. While they’re both vastly different in the topics they discuss and how well they’re both known in general media, I loved reading both of them because they allowed me to do the one thing all great autobiographies and biographies should be able to do — they made me feel as though I knew the author in a more personal way, and it allowed me to not only learn from the experiences they recounted, but think about how I would be left a little different than when I turned the first page.
In his New York Times bestselling memoir, A Work in Progress, Connor Franta shared his journey from small-town Midwestern boy to full-fledged Internet sensation. Exploring his past with humour and astounding insight, Connor reminded his fans of why they first fell in love with him on YouTube—and revealed to newcomers how he relates to his millions of dedicated followers.
Now, two years later, Connor is ready to bring to light a side of himself he’s rarely shown on or off camera. In this diary-like look at his life since A Work In Progress, Connor talks about his battles with clinical depression, social anxiety, self-love, and acceptance; his desire to maintain an authentic self in a world that values shares and likes over true connections; his struggles with love and loss; and his renewed efforts to be in the moment—with others and himself.
Told through short essays, letters to his past and future selves, poetry, and original photography, Note to Self is a raw, in-the-moment look at the fascinating interior life of a young creator turning inward in order to move forward.
I really enjoyed reading A Work in Progress, Connor’s previous memoir, but it’s safe to say that I absolutely adored Note to Self — perhaps even more than the former. While I used to watch Connor’s videos religiously and now I find I have hardly any time to watch YouTube videos anymore, I’m still very interested in what’s going on in his life because he’s done some great charity work for society and he’s one of my favourite online creators.
Note to Self is a really different book to A Work in Progress. In his first work, he recounted his life leading up to this point. It was a fairly typical autobiography, complete with images from his childhood and stories about growing up and his summary of everything that led to him being one of the most famous YouTubers of our time. While I enjoyed getting to know more about his past, I enjoyed Note to Self a lot more. What could have been just an updated version of A Work in Progress, recounting the last few years after writing his debut book, was instead a collection of short essays, poems, and photographs, all with a more personal feel.
Note to Self is indeed what it sounds like — a lot of this book is comprised of Connor’s internal monologue and his musings, but while they were very personal, it didn’t lock us out. Instead, Connor welcomed us into his life by allowing us to read pieces from the darkest points in his life, but also his happiest moments. We were shown such a different side to Connor than the person he presents to the camera. Note to Self truly acts as an unabridged insight into his life behind the camera and everything his online viewers don’t get to see — his heartbreak, struggles with depression and social anxiety, and his art.
Not only did I love reading something so personal to him, I also adored the poetry and photographs that accompanied his short essays. Connor is such a talented photographer and he has a way of writing that’s simultaneously inspiring and casual. He doesn’t preach about what he’s learnt about the world in his twenty-something years. Through his musings, he encourages us to find the motivation and inspiration within ourselves. To become more open, accepting people and to find that spark buried deep within us and nurture it. Whether you’re a fan of Connor Franta or not, his latest memoir is a beautiful book that should be sitting on your shelf.
Meet Nevo: girl, boy, he, she, him, her, they, them, daughter, son, teacher, student, friend, gay, bi, lesbian, trans, homo, Jew, dyke, masculine, feminine, androgynous, queer. Nevo was not born in the wrong body. Nevo just wants everyone to catch up with all that Nevo is. Personal, political and passionate, Finding Nevo is an autobiography about gender and everything that comes with it.
Finding Nevo is one of the most important books I’ve read all year. It’s a beautifully written insight into a young adult’s journey of self discovery. Following the life of Nevo, who’s never really known how they’re meant to ‘fit in’ to society and it’s restrictive labels and boxes, it shows us that identities can change and that genders and sexuality can be fluid. Finding Nevo serves as a powerful reminder that we should always aim to be true to ourselves, and that we should respect everyone as the amazing humans they are.
Not only was this book about Nevo’s experiences as identifying as a lesbian, transitioning to male and then identifying as queer and non-binary, but it’s also about their difficulties in society as a whole and how restrictive our heteronormative world really is. But Finding Nevo was as much a memoir about Nevo’s physical journey, but also emotional, mental, and spiritual one. Nevo openly discusses their battles with depression and anxiety, and how Judaism remains an integral part of who they are and how it played such a massive part in their life.
I loved this book not just because I identified with some of the things Nevo discussed — especially surrounding bisexuality and the society’s expectation that just because you belong to a marginalised group, you have to educate others about it and are expected to be best friends with everyone else in that marginalised sector — but also because it was just so raw. Nevo didn’t shy away when discussing their transition or even admitting to the times they felt they could have spoken up more. For anyone that cares about the LGBTQIA+ community and equal rights (which should be everyone with a beating heart), I urge you to go and grab a copy of Finding Nevo. You won’t regret it.
Other biographies / autobiographies I’ve enjoyed…
Have you read many biographies or autobiographies? Do you enjoy them? What’s the first one you ever read? Which is your favourite? Is there one you’ve been meaning to pick up for ages? I’d love to know!
Thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia for providing me with a copy of Note to Self and to Walker Books Australia for providing me with a copy of Finding Nevo in exchange for honest reviews.
Cute succulents used in header sourced from Pinterest.
Original, un-Photoshopped book sourced from WeHeartIt.
Photographs below Note to Self review sourced from Connor Franta’s Instagram.