I’ve been reading Anthony Trollope’s autobiography, and it keeps surprising me. First it surprises me by how current it is; the job of a writer (and of a reader) hasn’t changed much. WHat he has to say about the craft of writing isn’t far off what Steven King said a decade ago – the difference is that Trollope, like many current writers, had a day job, whereas King was supported by his wife until his writing took off (but during much of Trollope’s youth, his whole family was supported by his mother’s writing – I keep meaning to read Fanny Trollope’s Manners of the Americans). What he has to say about Important Writing vs. ‘Genre Trash’ isn’t far off what Alma Alexander said just a few weeks ago – except that in Trollope’s time, “genre trash” was novels as a whole, not only a subset of them.

(One fascinating difference was that he wanted to write, but never did, a complete history of the English novel; in his time it was still possible to read all of them. Apparently, he was not a fan of Mrs. Aphra Behn. Having listened to an audiobook recording of her defense of her own works, I don’t think I would be either.)

Another surprise is that his writing about his Post Office work is as fascinating to me as his writing about writing. A summary of his job is that he was responsible for improving the organization’s processes and the quality of service in order to improve service to and satisfaction of their customers. I work in the semiconductor industry, which I’d have a hell of a time describing to Trollope, but the same description covers my own job. It just involves a lot less time on horseback – however, next week I’ll be traveling across half the world and spending hours on trains, as he did. My train rides are just separated by an airplane flight from Europe to Asia.

There’s one other correspondence to modern times in Trollope’s Autobiography: apparently his life uniformly sucked until age 26, through his family life, schooling, and the first several years of his career. Then he found a job that he could do well and where he was appreciated, married, had kids, and became a popular novelist whose works survive more than a century after his death. He’s a poster child for the young geek’s version of the “It Gets Better” project.

I like Can You Forgive Her?, but I’m beginning to think his own life is the most engrossing story Trollope ever wrote.