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Steven Jobs inspired a full range of reactions, all strong. He also provided fodder for countless lines of copy online and off, and inspired at least one novel, a film and a biography. Except for his name and his connection to the Mac, my first and forever favourite computer, I knew very little about him. Feeling oddly delinquent, I began what became a crash course in the life, times and legacy of Jobs.
My quest to discover Jobs started ass-backwards on a whim. I rented the film. Usually, if there is a book to be had, I will forgo the film version. Usually, I steer clear of biopics. Call me easy, but I guess I liked the psychedelic portrait of Jobs on the DVD box. As for the trash talk about Ashton Kutcher’s acting abilities, as usual, I ignored it.
Jobs, the movie, never claimed to be the definitive and complete story of the man. Still, it felt lopsided. I sensed that the screenwriter (or producers) cherry-picked the juiciest tidbits of Jobs life without worrying about whether it all hung together. Actually, the narrative approach reminded me of another forgettable film: The Social Network. I came away from both feeling not much smarter or satisfied than when the opening credits rolled. The one useful takeaway: a desire to read the biography by Walter Isaacson.
Biographies are like sweet potatoes, either you love them or you don’t. I loathe sweet potatoes (yes, even, nay, especially with mini marshmallows on top) and I’m not at all keen on biographies. First, I don’t adhere to the “great man in history philosophy” that underpins most. Second, and especially when a biography deals with a celebrity, I feel as if I’m reading an overlong edition of People Magazine. Frankly, if stranded in an airport, I’d rather consume fictional brain candy or stare witlessly out the window than slog through a biography.
Isaacson’s book, all 600+ pages, surprised me. Informative, well-written, seemingly balanced, I was hooked from the first pages until the end. He writes well and the exhaustive research behind the prose impressed me. At last, I started to understand the Jobs mystique and learned a lot about the research and development, and the complex evolution of IT. I have only one criticism: Why, oh, why did Isaacson have to mention Mona Simpson? Well, as she is Jobs’ sister, I guess he had to. Still.
At some point or another I read a novel by Mona Simpson, for some reason didn’t like it and avoided her work thereafter. Unjust? Perhaps.
After finishing Isaacson’s book, I figured I’d give her another shot. A Regular Guy is a novel based on Steven Jobs. It reminded me why I didn’t like the other book by Simpson. What was its name? Search me.
Literary fiction is like wine. Unless you’res swilling ripple from the corner convenience store solely for the buzz (hangover guaranteed), enjoyment depends largely on personal taste. Simpson is Liebfraumilch. Bitte, pass the Brunello.