When it comes to finding a good book to read whether for some light reading before bed, for something fun to read while on vacation, or just to curl up on the couch with the cat on a rainy day, biographies, autobiographies and memoirs are my guilty pleasure.
I would consider that my first exposure to biographies took place in my pre-teens through my idol, Erma Bombeck. Her unique style demonstrated a consistent ability to make readers crack a smile or laugh out loud, from her seemingly effortless ability recount those everyday moments of family life we have all lived through, whether as a child or as a parent. Her talent was in the ability to hit the nail on the head in breaking down the story and examining every detail through her microscope of humour.
Even though I would suspect that she might have used some creative licence in retelling her humourous stories of a suburban housewife, at its core, her storytelling style had to be built on a foundation of truth, authenticity and love. While her books may not have been typically classified as biographies, letting us into the intimate details of her family life as she did, in memoir style, was to me, my gateway into biographies.
Throughout my teen years, I would spend much of my allowance money buying fan magazines and entertainment magazines. It was not because I had any appreciable appetite for celebrity gossip, but to me it was a way to get to know my favourite TV and musical artists outside of the realm of their public personas. This period also offered my first experiences in being inspired by celebrity quotes, especially when they related to the creative process and working at one’s craft.
In 1986, when taking a break from an all-nighter, working on a paper for university, I recall a middle-of-the-night trip to the 24-hour grocery store and stumbling upon Shirley MacLaine’s book “Dancing in the Light”. The notes on the jacket struck a chord with me. I bought the paperback and read it in a few weeks.
At 21 years old, I was struggling with a number of things, faith, identity, and my place in the world as a young adult. Miss MacLaine’s book offered the right words at the right time. “Dancing in the Light” was a catalyst in helping me understand my natural curiosity about life and my innate desire to continuously evolve. “Dancing in the Light” was the first book that demystified the concept of the soul for me and also positioned me for my own spiritual journey in life. These were my first “aha moments”, while reading a book.
As a result, once the university years were over and I returned to reading for the fun of it, my go-to books became biographies.
The beauty of celebrity biographies is that they are usually pretty accessible, given that the reader likely has an existing connection and points of reference. The biography becomes an extension of that in offering behind-the-scenes stories, personal and professional ups and downs as well as their epiphanies along the way. It is also great fun for the reader to be able to stop and say, “Hey, me too!” when a celebrity has a personal story to which the reader can relate.
Around that same time, I was getting hooked on the A&E network’s program, “Biography”, a wonderful show (that I miss dearly) that aired every night at 8 pm. How better to feed my constant craving for aha moments than a daily dose of biographies, not only from the celebrity world, but from all walks of life and at different periods in history. “Biography” was instrumental in getting me out of the celebrity zone and adding to the richness of my own journey, discovering historical figures, iconic artists and legends from all disciplines.
Sometimes it takes years of living and interacting to encounter those life-changing epiphanies and serendipitous moments. Why shouldn’t I learn from someone else’s journey and save myself a lot of heartache, mistakes and time? Sometimes one phrase or sentence in a biography can be worth the investment, and may translate into a lifelong lesson, or the inspirational words to carry on through a tough time. I have even found closure to my own unfinished business, wondering how I could have dealt with something differently, when reading a biography describing the same situation and the subject’s successful resolution.
To me biographies will always be a source of education and of inspiration as I have often related to artists’ stories about the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of the creative process.
Biographies and memoirs are evidence that we all have hundreds of stories to tell. With a little flair for storytelling, a skill I am working on with every blog post, this genre can be informative, fun, funny, inspiring or all of the above, and become a delightful source of reading material.
If you are interested, here are some of my favourites that have resonated with me over the years:
“Dancing in the Light” – Shirley MacLaine
“Priceless Memories” – Bob Barker
“Husband, Lover, Spy” – Janice Pennington
“Me” – Ricky Martin
“I, Rhoda” – Valerie Harper
“Jeannie Out of The Bottle” – Barbara Eden
“This Time Together” – Carol Burnett
“Enter Whining” – Fran Drescher
“Back To the Batcave” – Adam West
“My Life in Tights” – Burt Ward
“In The Pleasure Groove” – John Taylor
“Wild Boy: My Life in Duran Duran” – Andy Taylor
“Burnt Toast” – Teri Hatcher
Next on my list:
“Maggie Smith: A Biography” – by Michael Coveney
“Not My Father’s Son” – Alan Cumming
“The Road to Happiness is Always Under Construction” – Linda Gray
“In The Frame” – Helen Mirren
“No Regrets” – Apolo Ohno
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Have a great day,