Friday, March 6, 2009

Why people read biographies, a thesis

I can only think of three reasons to read a biography.

One, you admire or revile the subject. (Admiration or disgust work the same way, just in opposite directions.) For example, people read Nelson Mandela and Hitler biographies for the same reason. They want to know how a “normal” person became a world-changing figure.

This category also applies to people who read historical biographies like David McCullough’s “John Adams.” They are fascinated by a certain period of time.

Whether it be Neil Simon, Rocky Marciano or Idi Amin, people want to get a glimpse of their heroes (and villains.)

Two, sometimes people read a biography for the theme. This only applies to the rare biography that functions as literature. Recent NH Book Club selection “Black Boy” qualifies. The book told the story of Richard Wright’s life, but people don’t read it for Wright. They read it for a tale of isolation and racism in the south. The book would function the same way if it were fiction.

Another examples: Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Living to tell the Tale.”

Finally, people read biographies so they can see themselves in someone else. Every now and then, a relative nobody releases a biography. They didn’t break the color line in baseball or conquer Europe or release a multiplatinum genre-smashing album.

They just lived an unusual life and wrote about it.

We read their stories so we can see how we are alike. You may live in Tehran and I may live in Cleveland, but we feel the same way when a parent dies. You may be 68 and I may be 24, but we feel the same uncertainty and excitement when a beautiful woman enters the room.

I reviewed Deanna R. Adams’s “Confessions of a Not-So-Good Catholic Girl” for this Sunday’s “The News-Herald.”

I don’t suspect many people would read “Confessions” because they revile her. And, with all due respect to Ms. Adams, I don’t think she’s earned global admiration yet either.

No, most people will read Adams, a Lake County native, to find a little piece of themselves.

Her story of a young girl-gone-greaser/gone-mod/gone-hippie/gone-from-Ohio/came-back/got-married/got-divorced/got-married-again will strike a chord with baby boomer women.

If you want to find out why, specifically, you’ll have to buy a copy of Sunday’s paper.

What? I can’t give it all away online.

Leave me alone. It’s Friday.

-Jason Lea,



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


March 25, 2009 at 1:44 AM 

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