I’m a bit of a biography geek. I love reading biographical and autobiographical books. When I was young, I thought that sort of information must be as boring as shit. But then, as I tore through paperback novel after paperback novel, reading books in 3 hours, I thought to myself that there must be better reading out there.
I blame Holidays in Hell by P.J. O’Rourke. In university, I started reading P.J. O’Rourke in Rolling Stone magazine. As a journalism junkie with a bent for foreign correspondents, I loved the stories of foreign lands and people, the descriptions of war-torn places, the up-front look at faraway places. So one Christmas, I asked for Holidays in Hell. And honest to God, the book made me laugh so hard I had an asthma attack. Sitting on my bed in my room in Ottawa, reading out loud to a boyfriend, laughing so hard I was crying and could barely breathe. This is some funny stuff, I thought. It’s compelling. It’s interesting. AND it’s kind of like (*gasp*) NON-FICTION. So I started looking a bit at other sources of interesting non-fiction.
First, I started out reading music books. Well, more specifically, I first became enchanted with Alan Cross’s “Ongoing History of New Music” series on 102.1 The Edge/CFNY. The man is an encyclopaedia of new music, and he does his research. As a music fan, I was fascinated by the behind-the-scenes information he provided about my favourite bands. I loved to hear the history of certain songs or bands or musicians. He made me think more about what I listened to. I gobbled up any liner notes that he wrote on any CDs I could find. So then, when he came out with a series of books, like The Alternative Music Almanac and the Alternative Rock book in the 20th Century Rock and Roll series, I was hooked. From there, I moved on to more musicians and their auto-/biographies — Sting, Rosemary Clooney, Midge Ure, Bob Geldof (of course), Bob Marley — and coffee table books about The Beatles, the guys from Monty Python, and Geldof in Africa. And then, on to movie stars. Still anecdotal, still entertaining stuff.
Then along came Nelson Mandela. (Well, not really.) I picked up Long Walk to Freedom. Heavy, intense stuff, but well written. I learned so much, but never felt like I was reading a boring textbook of information. I was being told a fascinating story by a fascinating man. Why read fiction when you can find this kind of engrossing, dramatic reading in the story of a real live person?
My bookshelves are now full of these biographies. I have stacks of them by my bed, and under my night table, and in the corner. I pick up the odd fiction from time to time — usually a travel book — but for the most part, I devour biographies now. I love the information, still about places I have never been and people I will never see. I love the conversational style. I love the pictures.
Right now I am reading Michael Palin’s Diaries from 1969-79. It’s a good 1000 pages, I think. (He’s one of the members of Monty Python, for those of you wondering.) He kept a diary consistently from 1969 on. It’s quite a fascinating glimpse into the life of one of my favourite personalities. I am learning so much about what it was like to be a part of a television series and a comedy troupe and movies that I loved so much. There are some interesting details about the times, the people and the work, and he has a lovely style. It’s a good read. I am hoping that he decides to continue to publish his diaries, so I can read about his life during his A Fish Called Wanda and Around the World in 80 Days and the like. I guess it depends on how this first book is received. But I am hopeful for more. It’s another glimpse into a world I will never see, at people and places I will never know. (I bet Michael Palin would make a great blogger.)
And after that… In a bag beside me on the floor I have the U2 autobiography U2 by U2, books on Jimmy Stewart and Audrey Hepburn, a Caribbean cookbook by Morgan Freeman…
I’m always eager for more good reads. Let me know of any you discover.