Sam Asks: What About Biographies?

biologoBiographies. I have been thinking a lot about this genre lately and have come to the conclusion that there really needs to be better definition within the biography genre. Let me explain.

Last week I went into the biography section at the library and I was frankly puzzled by what I found. Biography isn’t a genre that I tap into much, so I haven’t been in that part of the library in quite some time.

I’m not sure if I’m way off base here, but I just don’t like the idea of Justin Bieber’s biography sitting on the same shelf as Madame Curie, Mother Theresa, William Shakespeare, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Beethoven, etc. My expectation of biography is that the person being written about has done something truly special to earn themselves a place in the library. This is not to say that these celebrity type people have asked for their biographies to be written, as they are of course authored by others. I’m also not saying that there isn’t any value in knowing exactly what Sandra Bullock’s childhood was like…because I’m sure it was fascinating. I would just like a section for “famous people who are very popular because we see them everywhere” and a section for “people who made a difference.”

I think there is something to be said for a person like Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr. who put their lives on the line for what they believed in. Who stood up and said something that many people didn’t have the courage to say. I think that those innovators and inventors like Edison, Einstein, and even Bill Gates have accomplished feats of greatness that deserve a certain level of respect. For me, seeing the One Direction crew in the company of people such as these makes me pause for a moment.

I still remember my 5th grade biography project. It was 1997, so the US Olympic Gymnastics team from Atlanta was still a pretty big deal. Obviously, I chose to read about Dominique Moceanu. I remember reading about her life, diet, and training schedule and thinking about how cool she was. Cool. I think that pretty much sums her up. She is a really talented, athletic, cool person. I think she is definitely biography worthy. However, I don’t think that she’s of the same caliber of biography as Winston Churchill.

What I’m trying to say is that the biography genre generally needs to be more specific. Within fiction there are categories: fantasy, science fiction, realistic fiction, and so on. I suppose biography is a sub genre of non-fiction, but I think we can do better. So far I propose these categories:  cool people, famous people, people who changed the world (so broad, I know…I’ll work on it!)

What do you think? Is one huge biography category enough? Who was your elementary school biography project about?

10 thoughts on “Sam Asks: What About Biographies?

  1. I love biographies. I think my sub categories would be a little different. Sports/entertainment, political, religious, science and others. While I do love the idea of maybe cool people and uncool people, I think we may not agree on those definitions.

  2. I think I would prefer categories like Yvonne “Sports/entertainment, political, religious, science and others”, cool and uncool maybe too subjective 😉 but I do agree it should be divided somehow, in other way we will have to spend too much time looking for “changing the world” among “cool” or “famous”, althought the “changing the world” can also be “cool” or “famous” 😉 hahahah I think I’m a little bit confused 😉

  3. I understand your dissatisfaction with the Dewey Decimal system that often encompasses everything under one subject heading. Any book that is deemed biographical falls under 921 and collections of biographies, like Famous Women, Famous Musicians, etc, fall under collective biography, 920. As a librarian, I sometimes categorize a biographical book under another subject so that it is more visible. For example, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is biographical, but it is also about medical history, so I have it catalogued under that Dewey subject heading. So, instead of dividing up the biography section, maybe it would make more sense to place content specific biographies in those areas of the library, like I’ve started to do. I feel better about my decision to separate bio’s after reading your post! 🙂

  4. I enjoy reading biographies from time to time, and I like your comment “My expectation of biography is that the person being written about has done something truly special to earn themselves a place in the library” – that’s totally true! However maybe we have to come to terms with the fact that if they have a book written about them then they likely have fans/interested people who will want to read it, which is just as true for Justin Bieber as for Martin Luther King, so at least having a biography section means that everyone knows where to go to find this information

  5. I completely agree that there should be categories for Biographies. Nice observation! I’m an avid reader myself, but I only delve into biographies once in while. Overall, I’ve found them to be a great inspiration and motivator.

  6. I would suggest people that matter – they can be cool and important and even more – when I have studied their life I feel I have learnt something for my own life | and what life can do to people…

  7. Reblogged this on phb und kommentierte:
    Just started my second BLOG with some reflections on my own life, on reading and travelling and on death…Just back from Haneke’s film AMOUR …

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