There are many ways to tell stories ranging from the purely visual – painting, photography or even, perhaps, fireworks – to the verbal – novels and poetry. There are ways which blend combinations of images, words and other sounds – film, dance, theatre, songs and graphic novels – but the storytelling is the important thing. A novel, Wuthering Heights, for example, can be adapted into a comic book, a film or a song but we still feel Catherine’s passion and the bleakness of the moorland setting. We do tend, however, to assume that those who help to portray the stories which others have written – actors, singers, dancers – are just interpreters of the creativity of others rather than creators themselves. Skilled interpreters, who can wring realistic emotions from the written word which we, as readers, can only feel echoes of but they need the words of others. Or that is how we think of them. But Hedy Lamarr was an inventor who helped to develop a radio guidance system for torpedoes and Jimmy Stewart trained as an architect, so we shouldn’t be surprised by actors who are able to produce good fiction. Maybe it is the amount of books written by celebrities which make us forget that actors, really good actors, are something very different from celebs…
Tom Hanks, as an actor, is agreed to be very good. Double Oscar winner, with lots of other awards to his name, and the star of some of the biggest, and best-loved, films of the past three decades he is a household name. He’s a real celebrity but one with talent and, it appears, principles and plenty of human warmth. All this is apparent in this collection of short stories – in fact I could hear Hanks’ voice in my head as I read them (usually a good sign for me and, it seems, Hanks himself as he reads the audio book version…). Some stories connect to the world of Hollywood actors, which Hanks obviously knows well, but also that of immigrant workers, teen surfers and recently divorced mums. Hanks’ strength as an actor has, for me, always been his ability to be an everyman figure – someone we can all easily identify with – so it is interesting that this extends to his more purely verbal storytelling.
I liked these stories because, as well as being well-written, they are very reminiscent of the kind of films Hanks is involved with. Some romance, some laughs, some heartbreak: no explosions. If you prefer something full of high-speed car chases, special effects and blood then this may not be for you: if you spent the whole of Apollo 13 on the edge of your seat (even though you know how it ends) then give it a try.