Wednesday, January 29, 2020

January 2020: What Are...Guilty Pleasures?

Thanks mostly to snowy days in January, I'm off to a good start, reading-wise.  Eight books so far this year!

Also, I've decided once and for all to cast off any sheepishness about loving and enjoying the Who Was...? series of biographies for young readers and embrace my guilty pleasure. I'm allowing myself to read them as long as I read one "adult" book between them. Of course, such self-imposed strictures are unnecessary and even laughable. Why do I do these things to myself? If anyone suggested such a restriction to you, I'd fight them.

To my great relief, I found that I wasn't alone. On the Facebook "Bookaholics" page, the question about guilty pleasure reads popped up, and I decided to share my fangirl feelings. Immediately, replies appeared: Oh yeah! Me 2! and Love those! and I don't always need a full-sized biography, and these fill the bill nicely.

In many ways, I'm annoyed at myself for seeking validation: I'm 58 freaking years old! I'm an English major! I have a graduate degree! I'll read what I damn well want to read! If I want to cover the couch with the Who Was...? series and let them spill off my bedside table like a waterfall, that's my business! But still. My Snobby Inner Bookbitch will never be silent. She'll always be there, judging and censuring.

But enough about my SIB. Back to this series. I sincerely feel the crackle of an intellectual challenge as I read the books and examine how they are put together. The authors/editors relate the stories of their subjects' lives in a way that is brief but entertaining and thoughtful, and they don't feel hasty or boiled-down or condescending to young readers. The sidebars that put the worlds around the subjects into context always feel organic rather than shoehorned in as a "teachable moment". Often, I'm curious to know more about a subject, and what to my hungry eyes do appear but a tasty bibliography?!

One of the main things about the series that intrigues me is the relationship between the author and his/her subject. For example, Sydelle Kramer, who wrote Who Was Daniel Boone? allows that he was a great hunter, woodsman, and pathfinder and that he was courageous and resourceful, but she doesn't shy away from discussing his less admirable attributes such as blithely breaking treaties and settling on Native American land because he feels like it and how he and his descendants were slaveholders up until the Civil War. Kramer also makes a point of showing how Daniel's wife, Rebecca, had an even harder life than the average frontier woman because of Daniel's propensity to scurry over the Appalachians at every opportunity. I don't mean that she actively bashes Daniel Boone, but there seems to be more of a critical eye than in my other two Who Was...? reads for this month. I'm glad for this multi-faceted portrait, because it provides an added richness.

 Who Was P.T. Barnum? seemed to be a completely sympathetic picture. Especially after reading Who Was Daniel Boone?, if I had been predicting tone, I'd have guessed that this biography would have been much more critical of Barnum since he was and is well-known for his humbug and flimflam tendencies. I came away with the feeling that the author, Kirsten Anderson, had expertly researched her subject, but also had visions of Hugh Jackman's charming performance as The Greatest Showman dancing in her head as she sat down to write. I must admit that I felt the urge to burst into song every few pages. Enjoyable read, although I was shaking my head a bit.

The third book I read, Who Was Babe Ruth? was an affectionate look at the legendary baseball player. Joan Holub uses an outline of Babe's life that seems to closely follow the 1948 biopic, but I also got the feeling that her research revealed numerous juicy details that she couldn't (regretfully, I'm sure!) reveal to the targeted young audience. Thank goodness for the bibliography page. Although it's not listed as a source, I feel compelled to read 2018's The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created by Jane Leavy.

So, anyway. If you love biographies and you're in need of a new guilty pleasure, the Who Was...? series is a worthwhile endeavor. If you need further convincing, let me add that the price is right. At approximately $5.00 a pop, you get a lot of bang for your bookworm buck.


Ruthiella said...

I think most serious readers have an SIB! But it always feels good to get confirmation and support from others and not feel alone!

Sam said...

I do think we all have our guilty pleasures when it comes to reading choices. Mine own involves those old paperback westerns from the fifties and sixties. Even though they are filled with clichés and follow variations on the same old script, I still love them - probably because they remind me of my boyhood.

Unruly Reader said...

I totally love this type of book -- and often suggest to people that they read children's books to get a solid footing in a subject. There's such a pleasure in learning about a person's life and getting to learn just the important parts. (One of my peeves about full-length biographies written for adults is when the book starts with the great-grandparents. I mean, really.)

Bybee said...

Ruthiella, I often wonder what other people's SIBs are like. Do they castigate the reader for not being able to parse Latin?

Sam, Do you mean like Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour?

Unruly, James Holtzhauer, a recent Jeopardy! champ, attributes his success to reading children's books. I know what you mean about biographies starting with the great grandparents. It smells more like the biographer must show off what a great and thorough researcher they are.

-blessed b9, Catalyst4Christ said...

I'll not only show you some bookish love,
I'll also show you the Way home. Why??
We all must perish, dear; we're mortals.
Follow us Upstairs, miss gorgeous.
We'll RITE zillions upon zillions
of novels. How long dost we gott?
E T E R N I T Y.
God bless you.
Cya soon...