Disclaimer: I haven't actually decided on this idea. It's sort of like breaking up. Yes, maybe you think a certain other person is attractive, but you're not actually leaving your boyfriend/girlfriend for that other person. You're breaking up because the relationship itself isn't working out, not because you fell in love with someone else.
|Photo by hashmil on Flickr|
If you're a student (or possibly if you're not a student), that one word alone might be enough to make you drowsy. Your immediate reaction? Boring. My immediate reaction to your immediate reaction? Exactly.
I have sort of a revolutionary tendency, particularly with writing. No matter what I end up doing, I want to do it in a way that's different and unique--but not just for the sake of uniqueness, but because I think a change is needed. And as I have seen, the genre of biography needs a revolution.
Maybe I should back up a little.
When I was about 14 or 15, I had to write a paper for a class, on a person of my choice, who exemplified virtue. For some unknown reason, I chose Lady Jane Grey, the rather obscure 9-day queen of England. I was so excited, it's almost ridiculous. I visited numerous libraries. I read more than one book cover to cover, and dipped into several others. I took books on vacation with me (and then actually read them). And I wished I had more time.
When I got to class to present my paper, I discovered that the rest of my classmates had not done that much work. They had done a reasonable amount of work. They had probably gotten a couple different biographies out of the library, perused them, and maybe done a Google search, and then written a paper. And I realized I had done way more than I was supposed to. And I didn't even mind it.
Maybe that past experience helped my subconscious along in coming to a realization lately, which is that I really enjoy reading about people. Real people. In my British literature class, my absolute favorite part of the readings for class, no matter which author I'm reading, is the biographical headnotes. I was not getting the whole idea of the Romantic poets--until I read two pages about their lives. Suddenly Shelley, Byron, and Wordsworth were real people, who wrote for a reason. Keats wrote an ode all about an imaginary urn. With, you know, stuff painted on it. Who cares? It means so much more once you know that Keats died young, unable to marry the girl he loved because of his poor health, probably longing for more time to finish his work and is life. The images on his imaginary urn may well have been his desperate avoidance of death, wishing he could freeze time and enjoy the loveliness of life like the people painted on the urn.
I could go on and on with examples when knowing the lives behind the authors make writing so much more real. "She Walks in Beauty" seems like such a sweet, romantic poem--until you discover that its author, Lord Byron, spent an entire year cavorting around with over a hundred different women. Mary Wollstonecraft's bold demand for women to be less silly and more wise is a lot more interesting in light of the fact that she tried to commit suicide after being rejected by her lover.
Since middle school, I've loved reading about historical figures. History isn't made by things or events--it's made by people. People whose actions have had an influence in our lives, whether we realize it or not, even down to this day.
But let's be honest for a moment. Sure, it can be fun to learn about famous people, but the question is, is it worth it to slog through dry 800-page biographies written by people who obviously took great pains to write down every detail of the person's childhood, education, allergies, favorite colors, and what they ate for breakfast, not to mention the same details of the lives of their family, friends, and dog. Plus, they make sure to give a thorough background of the time period and location. Let's face it, the only reason we would pick up a biography like that would be that we had to.
So I think people have come to be a little afraid of biographies. But what if the whole genre of biographies could be changed?
Actually, as far as I can tell (and I'm no expert), the genre has been changing. Biographies are becoming more reader-friendly. There are a lot of really fantastic biographies out there. I just finished a really great one, Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence, which I highly recommend to anyone wishing to know more about Austen's life.
But there are some biographers who try too hard to be interesting, to the point where they almost make stuff up. They make the story as scandalous as possible, using creative liberties in places where there are gaps. And they can, because they're the biographer, and they know everything.
But anyway. Enough of this ranting. (Homework calls, you know.) The point is...I see a place for me in biography writing. It feels like...me.