Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Do You Read Biographies?


My local library sent me a list of new biographies and memoirs this morning. At the top of the list, I found the one I wanted to read. Maeve Binchy has always been one of my favorite authors. Actually, I like to call her storyteller because she had a gift for doing just that. She died two years ago and her final book, A Week In Winter, was published posthumously. So yes, I definitely want to read Maeve Binchy The Biography.

I've always felt that Ms. Binchy drew from her own background when writing her novels, much the same as Catherine Cookson had done. Read more about this new biography at Amazon.

All this brings me to today's topic--reading biographies. Far too many readers avoid nonfiction. Instead, they want an entertaining, heart-thrilling novel in their hands. I like those, too, but biographies are fascinating. We read about the lives of people we either admire or find disgusting. Humans are a curious lot--we want to know what made a person the way he/she was. What happened to them early on that influenced their accomplishments later in life? Who were the people who had an impact on them? 

We also read biographies to learn life lessons through what others have done. Even in the middle grades of elementary school, teachers encouraged us to read biographies. I remember reading about Jane Adams who started a settlement house for the poor in Chicago at a time in history when women usually sat inside on a sunny afternoon and did needlework. They didn't become activists. The story of her life stayed with me for many years. I had an example of a strong woman. Her story may have encouraged many a young woman to work for a cause, stand up for a belief and help others. And it led me to read more biographies. Pretty easy to write a book report for English class on someone's life story. We also learned a great deal of history through that kind of book.

We don't want to read a biography that reads like a report. A biographer needs to put some zip into the life story he's telling. We don't want to read a list of dates and places as much as we want to read personal anecdotes that reveal the character traits of the person in the book. Like all authors, there are outstanding biographers and mediocre ones, as well.

You probably prefer reading a biography of a person you admire rather than one you don't. Unless it satisfies you to read about character flaws in the disliked person. Author, Kitty Kelley, made a lot of money writing unauthorized biographies. She dug up all the dirt she could find on a celebrity and wrote a book. They sold well. They're OK to read now and then, but don't take every bit of information as gospel truth. It may not be exactly as written; that's something the reader must sift and sort for themselves.

Autobiographies tend to have a narrower focus than a biography written by another person. They also give us a close glimpse into the person who is writing his/her own life story. If they don't fudge, it should be true because who would know the story better? 

If you haven't read a biography before, or haven't read one for a long time, take some time to check that section in your bookstore, local library or online. There's a wealth of treasure to choose from, something that should appeal to almost every reader. Take a look at the list at GoodReads.

I noted that there is one copy of the Maeve Binchy biography at my library. It is out but there were no other holds on the book. Guess who put in a request? I'm looking forward to curling up on the couch with a book I know I'll enjoy. 

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