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Maze Runner
05-22-2012, 01:06 AM
I do, and I love them for some reason. But that's only if I have a strong interest in the person.

Just wanted to ask writers if they read biographies, and if so what have been some of the best written.

Only interested in unauthorized biographies. Thanks.

Ken
05-22-2012, 01:20 AM
... bios are cool. I read a number each year. No unauthorized ones though :-(

(Abe Lincoln is one I gravitate towards the most. I've read at least a dozen on him.)

alleycat
05-22-2012, 01:22 AM
I certainly do.

David McCullough has written some interesting biographies; written in what I would call a popular style (as opposed to those that are written in a more academic style).

Maze Runner
05-22-2012, 01:27 AM
... bios are cool. I read a number each year. No unauthorized ones though :-(

(Abe Lincoln is one I gravitate towards the most. I've read at least a dozen on him.)

Ken, have you read Team of Rivals? Just picked it up, rather I hefted it up. Can you give me an idea (know it's a big question) of what approaches have worked best, iyo. I'm sure it must have to do with the character, the era in question. I don't think one would approach a bio on Lincoln in the same way as a bio on Billie Holiday- maybe it's the market that your writing for that should inform approach or style?

Ken
05-22-2012, 01:40 AM
Ken, have you read Team of Rivals? Just picked it up, rather I hefted it up. Can you give me an idea (know it's a big question) of what approaches have worked best, iyo. I'm sure it must have to do with the character, the era in question. I don't think one would approach a bio on Lincoln in the same way as a bio on Billie Holiday- maybe it's the market that your writing for that should inform approach or style?

... most would scorn my reasons why.

I honestly like bios that tend to create myths out of historical figures by representing them very respectfully and possibly even exaggerating their deeds. Well, maybe not that far.

The bios I have enjoyed the most have done this. I love being awed by historical figures. Lincoln of course didn't need any artistic flourishes. Neither did Fredrick Douglass or Harriet Tubman. All that was needed was honest representation and respect for their greatness and contribution to the betterment of humanity by the writer.

Oddly, that isn't always a given and some writers seem to go out of their way to find fault with their subjects by digging up all the dirt they can. Big turn off for me. Too much of that and I fling the book away quickly.

I read one on Billy, btw. Pretty awesome herself!

Maze Runner
05-22-2012, 01:58 AM
... most would scorn my reasons why.

I honestly like bios that tend to create myths out of historical figures by representing them very respectfully and possibly even exaggerating their deeds. Well, maybe not that far.

The bios I have enjoyed the most have done this. I love being awed by historical figures. Lincoln of course didn't need any artistic flourishes. Neither did Fredrick Douglass or Harriet Tubman. All that was needed was honest representation and respect for their greatness and contribution to the betterment of humanity by the writer.

Oddly, that isn't always a given and some writers seem to go out of their way to find fault with their subjects by digging up all the dirt they can. Big turn off for me. Too much of that and I fling the book away quickly.

I read one on Billy, btw. Pretty awesome herself!

Right, sensational sells. When I think of how I'd approach a bio on Billie, I'm already in a smoky dark room. I've already got my beat poet shades on. If I was going to attempt one on a historical political figure (I'd never have the audacity) I think I'd rent a cabin in the woods and write by candlelight.

Very interested in the creative approach to bios, writing in the proper language for the setting, etc, the way we do in fiction writing.

I survived
05-22-2012, 03:12 AM
I don't like bio's filled with dirt but I don't like bio's that make the subject a Godhead either. I want to see him as a real live figure. To understand how hard the war was on Lincoln you need to understand what was going on in his life and the deep depression he suffered. It doesn't make him less of a man, it makes him more of a man because he worked through it. Kennedy was wonderful for civil rights and young people, but he was also a womanizer and started ourr involvement in the Viat Nam War tell it like it is. Tell the truth not rumors and not white wash. Make the person a human being with all his strengths and weaknesses

Maze Runner
05-22-2012, 03:35 AM
I don't like bio's filled with dirt but I don't like bio's that make the subject a Godhead either. I want to see him as a real live figure. To understand how hard the war was on Lincoln you need to understand what was going on in his life and the deep depression he suffered. It doesn't make him less of a man, it makes him more of a man because he worked through it. Kennedy was wonderful for civil rights and young people, but he was also a womanizer and started ourr involvement in the Viat Nam War tell it like it is. Tell the truth not rumors and not white wash. Make the person a human being with all his strengths and weaknesses

Very helpful. Thank you.

Jamesaritchie
05-22-2012, 04:05 AM
Whenever possible, I prefer autobiographies, but, yes, I read both. A lot of both.

Whether writer, politician, scientist, or you name it, the path a person takes to get where they want to go is often more telling than the final accomplishment. Autobiographies and biographies usually show the path clearly.

frimble3
05-22-2012, 04:21 AM
I read biographies and autobiographies more from interest in an era or event and less from interest in a particular person.
Thus, they don't have to be about someone famous or important, if the writer can give me a sense of the time and place.

cmi0616
05-22-2012, 04:57 AM
I went through a spell where I really devoured them, but not so much any more. The last one I read I think was a Bob Marley biography called Catch A Fire by Timothy White. It was a bit of a biography/history, as the first third of the book or so is spent talking about the history of rastifarianism, Jamaica, and reggae music. Anyways,it was a really good read, definitely recommended.

brainstorm77
05-22-2012, 05:03 AM
I've read two in my entire life and one was gifted to me.

MichelleJean
05-22-2012, 05:16 AM
I enjoy reading both biographies and autobiographies; unauthorized aren't usually my style since they often seem to be aimed at a certain audience that I don't really fit into, or full of gossip.


I'm just about to start reading "White Line Fever" the autobio of Lemmy.

Mustafa
05-22-2012, 06:37 AM
I read them if the person is interesting (as in, I'm already interested in them before I see the book). I also will not read any unauthorized bios. Unauthorized might as well be gossip. I'd have to fact-check everything I read and I don't have the time nor inclination to do that.

Maze Runner
05-22-2012, 07:38 PM
I can see the virtue of both authorized and unauthorized biographies. I guess I've always likened authorized bios to autobios, in the sense that though you would have access to more information, it would also seem that information is filtered to a greater extent. I'm not interested in reading gossip either, but as Isurvived said, I don't want to read anything where the subject is made out to be a godshead. Something as close to the truth as possible, regardless of whether the author had the cooperation of the subject or not is what I think best.

What I'm mostly interested in is approach. For example, I've just written a fictionalized account of a boxer's young life in the 1940's. I wanted to write in a language true to that time and place, not just in dialogue which would be a given, but also in the 3rd person prose and in the 1st person inserts I used in the ring and in other introspective parts of the story. To write it in a language that was more formal would have seemed condescending. The other truth is, to write in an overly simplistic language I think would have turned out to be patronizing. So I tried to walk the line between the two.

I'm interested if writers here have read bios, authorized or not, that also took into consideration the subject's time and place, character, lifestyle, etc, in the style used, the way that fiction does. Usually when I've read a biography, I can hear the author's voice foremost in the language. It is his/her take, and that is clear. What I'm interested in is a cross between biographies and fiction in approach and style. There would still be a distance, a discernible difference between subject and storyteller, in perspective, but not coming from such a foreign place.

I need another cup of coffee before I'm sure if that makes any sense or not...

shakeysix
05-22-2012, 07:58 PM
I have loved reading them since I was a kid. I still remember the first one, in third grade--it had an orange cover and it was about Sacajawea. Over the years I read many more about historical figures--dozens about Louis and Clark not only because Sacajawea was mentioned but because by fifth grade I had developed a craving for explorers and explorations.

As I grew up I started reading the adult versions of the same people I had read about as a kid. Big differences but always entertaining. And I don't stop with one biography. If I like the subject I will read several. I don't read much but non-fiction any more. Accounts of explorations, pre-history, the Civil War and biographies are my main choices. I just finished a good one about Captain William Bligh. This winter I read about Margaret Mitchell, Harper Lee, James Cooke, Henrik Hudson, James Thurber and my personal hero--Civil War general George Henry Thomas. --s6

Maze Runner
05-22-2012, 08:10 PM
I have loved reading them since I was a kid. I still remember the first one, in third grade--it had an orange cover and it was about Sacajawea. Over the years I read many more about historical figures--dozens about Louis and Clark not only because Sacajawea was mentioned but because by fifth grade I had developed a craving for explorers and explorations.

As I grew up I started reading the adult versions of the same people I had read about as a kid. Big differences but always entertaining. And I don't stop with one biography. If I like the subject I will read several. I don't read much but non-fiction any more. Accounts of explorations, the Civil War and biographies are my main choice. I just finished a good one about Captain William Bligh. This winter I read about Margaret Mitchell, Harper Lee, James Cooke, Henrik Hudson, James Thurber and my personal hero--Civil War general George Henry Thomas. --s6

I've always gravitated towards them, too. The first book I ever read was The Frank Gifford Story- mainly because it was the first one to jump out at me from the meager stacks of my grade school library. It's funny how I can still see scenes in that book in my mind's eye.

More interesting to me than story lines have always been people, but as many here have mentioned, I have to have a real interest in the person before I pick up the book. Maybe a shame, because I've also found that once I've gotten the details on a person, I've become interested. Truth is, I think that everyone's story is interesting if you know it.

shakeysix
05-22-2012, 09:16 PM
I had read the Nordhoff and Hall book about Pitcairn Island. It was written --more or less- from the mutineer's point of view. Because of that I had no desire to read about Captain Bligh. A couple of months ago I had a dental appt and needed something to read. I grabbed the Bligh book from the school library because there just wasn't anything else. It turned out to be one of the best books I've ever read. Of course it was Nordhoff and Hall's version of Bligh. Now I am looking forward to a Captain Bligh summer reading two or three about him. Fascinating character--and way past story book hero or villain. Just a very complex man mired in his own time. So on the rare occasion that I do read about someone I dislike, it sometimes turns out well.--s6

Maze Runner
05-22-2012, 09:35 PM
I had read the Nordhoff and Hall book about Pitcairn Island. It was written --more or less- from the mutineer's point of view. Because of that I had no desire to read about Captain Bligh. A couple of months ago I had a dental appt and needed something to read. I grabbed the Bligh book from the school library because there just wasn't anything else. It turned out to be one of the best books I've ever read. Of course it was Nordhoff and Hall's version of Bligh. Now I am looking forward to a Captain Bligh summer reading two or three about him. Fascinating character--and way past story book hero or villain. Just a very complex man mired in his own time. So on the rare occasion that I do read about someone I dislike, it sometimes turns out well.--s6

Thank you, yes. Heroes have their blemishes and villains, if we look closely enough have their reasons, whether they're conscious of them or not. I see it, as I think most writers would, in gradations of accepted attributes and faults. No one, imo, sets out to be wrong. This is what fiction does so well, it lives in the gray area, and what I think a good bio should do. What's the expression? There are three sides to every story- yours, mine, and the truth. Watched "Absence of Malice" last night- better each time I've seen it. Deals with this issue. In one scene the Paul Newman character tells the Sally Field character, a Miami newspaper reporter whose lose reporting has gotten him into a world of trouble and brought about the suicide of his best friend, more or less- "You don't write about truth. You write what people say. You eavesdrop. You don't come across truth so easy."

Phaeal
05-22-2012, 09:37 PM
As a giddy young person, I for some reason fell in love with an autobiography of Lillian Gish, the silent movie star. Since then, I mostly read biographies for research.

I recently read Salem Witch Judge (Samuel Sewall) by Eva Laplante. Enjoyed muchly. Next will be Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul.

Shadow_Ferret
05-22-2012, 09:46 PM
I read biography articles for research. But an entire book? I can't think of anyone I'm that interested in. And I wouldnt bother with an unauthorized bio, those always seem to be written by someone with an ax to grind.

Jamesaritchie
05-23-2012, 12:05 AM
I read biography articles for research. But an entire book? I can't think of anyone I'm that interested in. And I wouldnt bother with an unauthorized bio, those always seem to be written by someone with an ax to grind.

You aren't interested in famous writers, and, in particular, how they came to be famous writers?

From my experience, the best writing how-to books out there are autobiographies and good biographies of famous writers you like.

I also think such books are the best possible how-to method for learning any business.

For me, it isn't so much about being interested in the person, though that's part of it, but of wanting to know how the heck he accomplished what he did, and how I can do the same.

Maze Runner
05-24-2012, 12:43 AM
I think we can learn a lot about life by reading true stories. This can help us understand life from different perspectives, it can teach us empathy, the stuff that good fiction is made of.

Sunnyside
05-24-2012, 07:20 PM
You aren't interested in famous writers, and, in particular, how they came to be famous writers?

From my experience, the best writing how-to books out there are autobiographies and good biographies of famous writers you like.

I also think such books are the best possible how-to method for learning any business.

For me, it isn't so much about being interested in the person, though that's part of it, but of wanting to know how the heck he accomplished what he did, and how I can do the same.

Spot on.

So, SF, would you consider a biography of Edgar Allan Poe to be an unauthorized biography, then? He's not around to sign off on it, after all.

What about an authorized biography of the Beatles in which no one will allow a frank discussion of drugs or their marital relationships? (Think neither of those are relevant to their work? Think again.) Be very careful about selecting biographies based solely on the words authorized or unauthorized.

James is right; part of the fun of biographies is learning how and why people do what they do. Issacson's Steve Jobs bio was brilliant at this (and my god, the guy cried all the time!) and Caro's ongoing bio of Lyndon Johnson is as good as it gets. One was authorized, the other was not. Both are meticulously researched, and neither has an axe to grind nor is trying to make their subject look like a saint. Great biography is great biography.