Biographies are under-appreciated literary goldmines, and you should be reading them.
You heard me right. The books you avoid reading offer an experience unique in scope and entertainment potential.
I don’t blame you for your initial reluctance toward reading biographies. I used to be the same way. They are non-fiction beasts of a binder with covers lacking explosions. However; looking beyond their appearances, biographies have the power to completely change your outlook toward your own mortal life.
I can assure you that, when you finish reading about these 3 perks of biographies, you will soon find yourself snuggled beneath a blanket near the fireplace fully immersed in one of these literary time-capsules.
1. They Include Honest Outside Opinions
Biographies differ from their more biased and rambling non-fiction cousins (autobiographies) by telling the history of a person objectively, with the inclusion of outside sources; namely, the opinions of the people that knew them. That factor makes the biography reading experience far better for you as they are, in essence, giant books full of historically validated information about an entire person’s life. They can include excerpts from the letters they wrote, opinions about them from their family, friends, and especially their enemies, and insights toward their personal history, beliefs, values, psychology, and politics.
Reading a biography is like getting to know a person by gathering the opinions of their entire social group. This outside-to-inside orientation gives biographies a forbidden air, as you may discover things about a person that they would rather you not know. Nothing is sugarcoated; the perspectives of everyone involved in life’s little incidents are often included, giving you a sense of depth and clarity that is hardly ever displayed in fictional narration.
2. They are ‘Proof’ of destiny
Biographies, as with fiction, sometimes start at the end of the story or at the very very beginning. Depending on the book and the person it is about, biographies will usually give background information regarding their death and how their legacy shaped history before delving into the context of their birth. This trend for biographies to provide background details before starting the relentless forward swing of time gives an interconnected sense to the person’s life.
Have you ever wished that you knew certain things about yourself earlier? Do you believe in destiny? Do you wish you could zoom out of your own life and see the big picture (past, present, and future)? I’m afraid I can’t help you there, but biographies and their dedication to providing all the facts available regarding a person, their family origins, and legacy upon death create a very real sense of destiny, and if destiny appears so real for them, why would it be any different for you?
Biographies, since they work with broad timescales, are designed to make the most of each chapter. This is best seen in their chapter titles, which are imbued with historic significance regarding different parts of a person’s life. Biography chapters have a way of making it seem that life has a plot by hinting at defining moments or turning points. For example, Chapter 3 in Ron Chernow’s Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. is titled “Bound to be Rich,” and delves into the first hints of ambition that would lead young Rockefeller to become one of the richest people in history. The chapter titles cue you into the overarching theme of the years to be explored. If only our own lives were so well foreshadowed.
3. They Flip Through The Pages of Time
Biographies, like in fiction, put the action at the forefront and condense the time between. Compared to other literary mediums, biographies span across decades and usually end with the death of the person they are about. With the timespans being so long, biographies employ techniques that allow for whole days, weeks, and even months to pass in mere sentences all the while maintaining their fullness. Biographies and their narrative style stretch, compress, and blend together the days, weeks, and months to efficiently and vibrantly capture both the minute and magnificent parts.
Biographies, like all literary mediums, are as much about the readers as they are about the people whose experiences they narrate. Your life may very well be recorded in a biography to be read by millions, in time. Just as fiction greatly influences our perceptions and interactions with the world, reading biographies can shape your perceptions toward life and time and give you a grander view of the day to day. They do this by providing some semblance of interconnectivity, structure, and meaning around the hard-to-fathom stretch of time that comprises a human existence. And the mere fact that a life can be stored between a book’s binding is reassuring for the lot of us trying to make sense of it.