Life Stories #31: Dave Bry

Life Stories: Dave Bry
photo: Dani Schuller

In this episode of Life Stories, the podcast series where I interview memoir writers about their lives and the art of writing memoir, I met up with Dave Bry, who, as his subtitle suggests, “grapples with a lifetime of regret, one incident at a time,” in Public Apology—which is, he explains, more than a collection of his columns of the same name at The Awl. Contractually, it had to be 60% all-new material, and that requirement helped him make the transition from a collection of anecdotes where Bry presents himself as the butt of a joke to a life story of substance and consequence.

(Bry cheerfully cops to the “gimmick”-y nature of some of the columns—the notion that the apology is simply the device that enables him to write about a given subject—but here’s the thing: It’s okay to use the tools that are at hand! You’ll also hear about how Bry’s editor, Choire Sicha, recognized the potential book lurking in the column long before Bry himself did…)

Listen to Life Stories #31: Dave Bry (MP3 file); or download the file by right-clicking (Mac users, option-click).

14 May 2013 | life stories |

Neal Thompson’s Ultimate Underdog Tale

Neal Thompson, A Curious Man

A Curious Man is the story of Robert Ripley, a cartoonist who became not just one of 20th-century America’s most successful media personalities, but actually shaped the nation’s popular speech—the Ripley who made “Believe It or Not!” a catch phrase. Neal Thompson tells us what led him to tell that story—and he’s got a detail of special relevance to this blog. “Beatrice was the name of Ripley’s wife, a beautiful Zeigfeld Follies dancer,” he reports. “Their volatile three-year marriage ended in divorce, but they stayed in touch the rest of their lives. Hoping that’ll be the same for me and you, Beatrice.”

I’ve always been fascinated by the origins of books—mine and others, and especially nonfiction. Over the years, I’ve spend a lot of time meeting with and interviewing other authors, and I always have to ask: Why devote two, three, five years of your life to this person? Why thisstory? Now I get to challenge myself with the same question: Why invest half a decade in researching and writing the life of Robert Ripley?

For me, committing a chunk of my life to a particular life story requires two qualities: a come-from-behind arc, and an aspiration toward excellence. In most cases, my ideas ferment for years before they feel ready to be uncorked. In the case of Ripley, though, it was uncorked love at first site.

Unlike my previous books, I can pinpoint the exact day this story became my inspiration-slash-obsession: August 24, 2007. That’s the day I read a New York Times article about a Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum opening in Times Square. The story included a brief description of Ripley the man, and something clicked. “Oh yeah,” I thought. “There was a real guy named Ripley. I wonder what he was like?” Six years later, I’m still wondering, which is a good sign—I never got bored of this guy.


13 May 2013 | guest authors |

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