Saturday, 22 May 2010

Bono On Bono

by Michka Assayas

This is another example of a book I wouldn't pick up from a bookshop myself. It's the third and final installment of my bought-with-sweets series.

I don't (didn't) know much about Bono. I'm not a huge fan of the band, but probably know and like about a dozen of their singles. So I reckon I came to this book without the prejudices -- either direction -- that a lot of people might have.

It's an entertaining read. I didn't completely warm to Bono or Michka, though they gave honest answers and earnest questions, usually. Bono is smarter than I expected. He had some really interesting things to say, and interesting ways of thinking about things.

There was something wrong, though. He reminded me of something in myself, in one aspect, and it's probably something a lot of people can relate to. You see, he's good with words, rather than careful with them.

He can string together interesting answers, articulate answers, and clever maxims, all spun with a kind of impressionistic honesty, with ease. But he does it with too much ease: he ends up at attractive conclusions he doesn't really mean, and contradicts himself over time. Which of course you do, when you talk in maxims and absolutes over the course of hundreds of topics and questions.

It's not a novel, so I won't try and assess it as one. But on that topic, there is an interesting exchange:

BONO: It's not that I'm trying to figure anything out. That's the difference. A novelist is just trying to figure things out.

MICHKA: I don't think so... I think a novelist has no clue about what he's grasping. There is that fantastic phrase that I always quote, by the Franco-American writer Julian Green: "I write my books because I need to know what's inside of them." It's not that you draw out a map, make a big plan, and then fill in the gaps. That's what I would say bad writers do.

It's a fair microcosm of an argument I am expecting to have with a writer-friend of mine in the future. Planning vs. 'The Art'. I admit that there is huge value in the creative process: I inevitably learn things and surprise myself in the writing of a book. But I think planning helps that, rather than opposing it. I plan like mad.

It can also be framed as creativity vs. craft. Well, I've been 'creative' all my life. I know tons of 'creative' people. It's no big deal. I'm far more interested in craft, at the moment. Sure, you need both, but one is a real set of skills and processes you can learn and practice and master, one is this mystical thing behind the curtain that you're not allowed to stare directly at, prod with a stick or call names.

I'm confidently expecting this opinion of mine to change, maybe even reverse, over the coming years.



    I am pro-planning a basic chronology and then if what i write diverts from it, oh well.

    Bono sounds interesting.

  2. Bono is a far greater writer than most people realize (google his Pastiche of Beckett, & prepare to pick your jaw up off the floor).

    I actually found Michka's book kind of glib & overly gone-over by the U2 machine, but it's nice to see some honesty creep out now & again.

    Interesting thoughts re. creativity & craft.

    Keep up the good work. Really like your blog.

  3. I love Bono. I grew up listening to U2; my mum was one of those fans who was listening to them before they became 'cool'. I think he's brilliant. So what, some people say he's so up himself and thinks he's God. Doesn't make a difference. It still works, and he still manages to do a world of good. So whether he's doing it for his ego or for the good of the people, it's happening.

    I've seen U2 live, and I would listen to the man wh00p and wh00 forever and a day regardless.

  4. I think the methods used by people who write vary just as much as the people themselves. I'm sure there are those who are lucky enough to stumble into something good without having planned it first and others who could plan all day and still have nothing.

    I think a good idea has to come from a brilliant mind and then be worked with care until it becomes a great novel. But I'm a bit like that. I like believeing that really clever people can do amazing things when given the proper skill set.