One of my students mentioned this book and then I started reading about it everywhere. Six words. Man, you can say a lot. I keep thinking of different ones, like:
Met Evelyn, happy day, happy day.
Say It All in Six Words
by Lizzie Widdicombe February 25, 2008
Brevity: a good thing in writing. Exploited by texters, gossip columnists, haikuists. Not associated with the biography genre. But then—why shouldn’t it be? Life expectancies rise; attention spans shrink. Six words can tell a story. That’s a new book’s premise, anyway. “Not Quite What I Was Planning.” A compilation of teeny tiny memoirs. The forebear, it’s assumed, is Hemingway. (Legend: he wrote a miniature masterpiece. “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Slightly sappy, but a decent sixer.)
The book’s originator: SMITH online magazine. It started as a reader contest: Your life story in six words. The magazine was flooded with entries. Five hundred-plus submissions per day. That’s two, three words a minute. “We almost crashed,” an editor said. Memoirs from plumbers and a dominatrix (“Fix a toilet, get paid crap”; “Woman Seeks Men—High Pain Threshold”). The editors have culled the best. And, happily, spliced in celebrity autobiographies: “Canada freezing. Gotham beckons. Hello, Si!” “Well, I thought it was funny.” “Couldn’t cope so I wrote songs.” (Graydon Carter, Stephen Colbert, Aimee Mann.) Mario Batali makes a memorable appearance: “Brought it to a boil, often.” So does Jimmy Wales, of Wikipedia: “Yes, you can edit this biography.”
Still, there are not nearly enough. Where’s Eli Manning, and Katie Couric? (“Little brother; big game; last laugh”? “Morning girl goes serious at night”?) And what of the Presidential candidates? (“From Ill.; met Bill; iron will.”) Something from Obama would be nice: “Hope is stronger than dope, kids!”
A Canadian minister has done Jesus’: “God called; Mother listened; I responded.” Quieter lives can be condensed, too. The editors offer a few guidelines. “Try not to think too hard.” That’s from SMITH’s editor, Larry Smith. It’s impossible, of course, to follow. There’s the temptation to be ironic: “Born in California. Then nothing happened.”
Or to blurt out something angry: “Everyone who loved me is dead.” “Try to use specifics,” Smith added. (“After Harvard, had baby with crackhead.”) That doesn’t rule out dazzling nonsense. “Eat mutate aura amateur auteur true” (Jonathan Lethem’s nesting-doll-like memoir). Wistful recollections work; so does repetition: “Canoe guide, only got lost once.” “Birth, childhood, adolescence, adolescence, adolescence, adolescence . . .” You could spend a lifetime brainstorming.