90. It’s Too Late Now: The Autobiography of a Writer by A. A. Milne
Publication: Methuen & Co., Ltd. (London), Hardback, 315pp
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Read: March 9, 2010
The life of A.A. Milne from childhood to somewhere in his 50s.
Sometimes I feel like I don’t know enough, especially when it comes to authors and their lives. Take, for instance, the subject of this book. I knew nothing about A.A. Milne except that he was the creator of the Winnie-the-Pooh books and named Christopher Robin after his son. I didn’t know anything about his life beyond that, or even that he had written a LOT of other stuff than Pooh! And I certainly didn’t know that he was such an entertaining writer.
Being only familiar with Pooh (and not overly fond of the actual books), I was extremely pleased to learn that Mr Milne was actually very funny, and an excellent writer. The Pooh books are just the tip of the iceberg– in his memoir his humor reminded me a lot of Roald Dahl’s humor, that sort of whimsical touch that makes reading nonfiction so much fun.
And I really enjoyed some of the things he had to say, not just how he said it. For instance, Mr Milne is of the opinion that memoirs are at their most interesting when they talk about what happened before the subject became famous, which I think is (mostly) true. I certainly enjoy reading about the circumstances that put a person onto the path that would later lead them to riches and fame– mostly this starts in childhood, and if a person can write about their childhood in a way that makes me like them and want to be their friend, that’s an accomplishment. Mr Milne did that, and though he does come across as a grouch at the end of the book (he doesn’t like Modernism and thinks it’s too “easy” to do) he also seems like a decent enough chap.
He doesn’t only talk about his childhood, of course, though it is nearly the longest section in the book. He also talks about being a young adult, going to college and university and, after graduating, trying to find his way in London by freelance writing. The most heartbreaking section of his memoir is when he writes about fighting in World War I; he says that if he could NOT write about it, he would, and that’s a pretty decently sized hint to what happened to him.
After WWI is when he really started to be successful, mostly in his plays, which I’ve never read or even heard of (unfortunately). This is also the part of the book that is the least interesting, but I think if I was more of a writer I’d appreciate it more because he writes about the actual craft of writing, and how he goes about doing his writing. Basically, he writes what he wants when he wants, and hopefully he can sell it to someone. That was why he wrote Winnie-the-Pooh and then stopped and went back to plays. He didn’t want to write W-t-P any longer, so he didn’t. And I admire that in a person, especially in an author who won’t only stick to whatever genre sold best for them. Mr Milne could write in many genres, and he didn’t limit himself to only the genres that made him the most money. Very admirable, I think.
The memoir was written in 1939, pretty early on in Mr Milne’s life, still, so it’s not a complete record of his life. Also, some things were left out, such as his brother’s death and so on. He did write about his parents a lot, though, and his brother’s life, so it wasn’t as completely annoying as it might have been otherwise. I also wanted to mention that he had wonderful parents, which seem to be pretty rare during the Victorian era. Even his father was loving and kind and nice, not like any of the Victorian fathers I’ve really read about before– so that was nice, too.
Also, Mr Milne went to public school, but unlike Roald Dahl he doesn’t seem to have been beaten. He says there wasn’t any bullying between students, but there was still corporeal punishment and students (the seniors) could punish the younger students if they thought they did something wrong. So I’m not sure what to make of that, especially since Mr Milne never seems to have been punished at all (or at least, he didn’t mention being punished). He DID, however, have the same problem of not having enough food in college, and having to supplement it with presents from his parents and so on. So it seems that schools in early 20th century England, even if they were light on beatings, were all stingy with food for their students.
Anyway, I really loved this memoir. It’s fantastically entertaining, and Mr Milne is, like I said, a great writer. I definitely want to find more things he wrote, and I feel stupid for having written him off as that “Winnie the Pooh guy” for so long. He’s so much more than Pooh!
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Couldn’t find a cover of the book (I suspect it never had one) so I stuck a photo of Mr Milne in there instead.