Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Born to Be Public by Greg Mania. (CLASH Books)
I had a memoir come out back in 2015, Learn to Swim. It’s a short focus on a person and the moments we shared together. It’s not a life-spanning look at my relatively uninteresting life—it’s a look at ten years from when I was 10 to 20.
When my book came out, I was 28 years old. And because of this, I bumped into more than one person that scoffed and said, “You’re 28 and you wrote a memoir? No wonder it’s so slim.” The thing I never told these people is I’d finished writing that book when I was 21 and it took me a few years to sharpen it up and find a press that wanted to publish it (University of Hell Press, for those wondering—I’m very lucky to be a part of their catalog).
Had these skeptics known I was barely an adult upon the completion of the book, I assume none of them would have given it the time of day. I thought about all this while I read Greg Mania’s new memoir, Born to Be Public. At the tail end of his book he’s 28, but had started writing it years prior. How many times has he gotten that dismissive eye-roll from readers who have a specific idea of what a memoir should be?
There seems to be a misunderstanding: this idea that you need to be old(er) with a lot of wisdom to offer. Your life itself isn’t enough to share with the world. No, you need an underlying moral objective. I think Mania—consciously or subconsciously—has taken this thought and shifted it. His book isn’t necessarily trying to get at anything larger than itself and I think that’s why it works so well. He’s using his past as the springboard to put together a literary time capsule for the formative moments in his life, and we’re lucky enough to be along for the ride.
There is an underlying electricity to Born to Be Public. A buzzing energy that’s essentially forewarning us that this is just the beginning of the age of Mania.
Born to Be Public is sectioned out, detailing Mania’s time growing up and—quickly becoming acquainted with his flamboyant self—heading to New York City for college, and then moving past the party culture he’d come to identify with. It was in the Big Apple (does that make me sound dorky? pretend I called NYC something cool and not dorky) that he found himself. He frequented a weekly event where he met his group of lifelong friends and began chiseling out the persona that would become Greg Mania. He dives into the details of what these nights entailed, and also goes into different facets of his life and how each of them informs an important part of the person he’s grown into today.
A compelling element employed in this book is how Mania writes as both the persona “Greg Mania” and also his authentic self. There are the moments that feel staged, like he’s putting on a show for us; entertaining bits where you’ll find yourself laughing and smiling because you got front-row tickets to this exclusive and private performance. But then there are the spots where we’re seeing Mania be vulnerable. These are where he acknowledges the fabricated version of himself and then takes it a step further and explores the circumstances and stories that influence his pursuit of public life. This tactic creates a push and pull when it comes to transparency. There are moments when it feels so rare and honest, which satisfies what I look for in books, but then there are the moments that feel like a masquerade, creating a mystique that I’m immediately drawn to.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Born to Be Public is Mania hasn’t totally “made it.” He has many impressive works, including writing in HuffPost, Vanity Fair, The Oprah Magazine, and others. A movie he co-wrote and co-produced is now streaming on Amazon Prime and his script, Mania, won the Grand Prize of the Fourth Annual Stage 32 Comedy Writing Contest. So, when I say he hasn’t made it, I don’t want it to sound like the dude hasn’t done anything. He’s done quite a lot, actually, and an impressive amount for someone under 30.
The reason I even tread that weird little line is because there is an underlying electricity to Born to Be Public. A buzzing energy that’s essentially forewarning us that this is just the beginning of the age of Mania. He’s a writer who will soon enough be a household name, and this slim memoir is the precursor. Get ready. You’ve been warned.