I remember reading a lot of biographies when I was a teenager. Not memoirs or autobiographies (although I read those too), but big, thick books about famous people written by someone who had done a lot of research. I was obsessed with the Beatles, and I know I read several massive biographies of John Lennon and Paul McCartney each. I also read biographies of baseball stars like Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams.
My questions today is, was I a weird teen? Wait, don’t answer that – let me rephrase. Are there teens out there who are reading those types of “true” biographies? I know teens love memoirs–Dave Pelzer’s A Child Called “It” is probably the most popular nonfiction book at my library. And we’ve talked often on this blog about the fact that the Alex Awards has a heavy bias towards memoirs. But very few (if any – it all depends on how you count) Alex Awards have gone to biographies like the ones I described in the first paragraph.
We know that biographies are being written and being written very well. From 1964 – 1983, The National Book Award had a separate award designated, variously, “History and Biography”, “Biography”, or “Biography/Autobiography”. Even given its own separate or semi-separate category, biography seeped over into other nonfiction awards, with biographies of John Keats, Mark Twain, and others winning for “Arts and Letters” and a biography of Einstein sneaking into the “Science” category. In the 30 years of awards since the nonfiction awards were consolidated into a single category, something like 33 “true” biographies have won or been nominated for the NBA.
So great adult biographies are out there – but they seem to be a bit beyond the reach of teens. Over the past several months, I’ve been looking for a good adult biography to recommend on this blog and have struck out even on big names like Mozart and EE Cummings. Am I missing something here, or are there not as many good adult biographies for teens as there used to be?
Or, maybe a more plausible guess: maybe all the great biographies for teens are actually being published for teens these days? The YALSA Nonfiction Award has given out stickers to biographies of Steve Jobs, Janet Joplin, PT Barnum, Claudette Colvin, and Leonard Bernstein.
Help me out–are there adult biographies that I should be recommending to my teens, or should I just be happy there are so many great YA biographies?