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?