Every time I canvas my book groups for suggested reading, at least half say they want to read more biographies or memoirs. Memoir is a nonfiction genre that is perennially popular with readers and one that BGBloggers enjoy writing about. Biographies, on the other hand, while just as popular with readers, are a little trickier to select.
The facilitator wants a biography that gives a multi-layered look at a person’s entire life in a compelling, readable manner that is not too scholarly, and for most book group members, not too long.
Lately I’ve been turning to Real Lives Revealed: A Guide to Reading Interests in Biography by Rick Roche. This hefty tome organizes and annotates about 600 biographies in twelve chapters ranging from sports and science to true crime and science and celebrity.
The chapter that caught my interest immediately is culture. I am fascinated by the lives of people who devoted themselves to the arts, whether it’s dance, painting, poetry, or music. I only ask one question of my book group when we do a biography of a cultural figure, “How does the biographer show the reader where this person’s talent reflects or denies the culture of the times?” Roche has included writers, artists, composers and even the figures who inspired the artists such as dogs and lovers.
At the end of each chapter is a “Consider Starting With… ” list of biographies of a manageable length to entice readers. These would be good titles to consider for a book group looking to spend time in someone else’s skin without adopting an entire lifestyle.
Facilitators and book group members looking for a browsable resource to enhance a reading group’s selections will find some crowd pleasers in this crowd.