Shelf Conscious [#2]: Biographies


For a time, I was consumed with the need to get my hands on books about other people – powerful, influential people. Some people find answers in self-help books. But depending on whose life I chose to read about at any given time, I found biographies to be a more effective motivation than most of what’s in those shelves. Moreover, and as much as we use our imagination when we read fiction novels, Biographies allowed me to imagine a life through theirs.

Admittedly, reading Diana’s biography had to do more with curiosity over living a fantasy. The release of DianaΒ in 1992 earned Andrew Morton a reputation for sensationalism. At the time, he was accused of bearing falsehoods for a woman that had held the entire world in awe. She was royalty in all the sense of the world. And because her life was far from perfect, she was well liked by all. So I was wholly intrigued.

The book was a very personal account of her life in the palace; the love for her children, her numerous charity work, her problems with bulimia, Charle’s infidelity; her life as a child, and ultimately, what had shaped the woman that she was. Later, Andrew Morton would make a case that Diana herself wrote the book with very little help from him. Not as in a ghostwriter’s capacity, but through recordings that she did herself. Diana was the very essence of grace under pressure. And that’s what I learned about her. Her personal struggles were a beacon of inspiration for my younger self.


Over the years, I’ve learned to appreciate politics a bit more. Mostly, American politics. I’m ashamed to admit that I follow the goings on South of the border more than I do Canadian politics. It’s sad, really. The truth is, American politics tend to incite a more passionate response from me. Our government is not perfect, but rarely do we have controversial contention in our Parliament. And as the whole world watches the developing political gong show that is the election in the States, I’ve become more appreciative of how “boring” Canadian politics is.

I readΒ All the President’s MenΒ because I was curious about the infamous Watergate scandal and Richard Nixon. I don’t quite know how to describe how meticulous this book was. It was very in-depth, and because I was a floundering political reader at the time, it was way out of my league. Thankfully, there was a film of the same title that helped facilitate this curiosity. It took me at least a month to read the entire thing but it was well worth it. I’ve never read anything with a more satisfying ending as All the President’s Men. As in, the bad guys got what they deserved.


And then there’s this monster of a book. I think I’m still in the middle of it after all these years. Now that Hillary formally accepted her nomination, I’m even more interested in finishing it. This book weighs in at 956 pages – easily the biggest book I have on my bookshelves. This was a Christmas present from my husband when it came out in 2004. Sadly, I’ve yet to pick it back up again. I still remember how it was wrapped – comically awful, but he knew I wanted to read it so I was ecstatic. Nowadays, I’ve added more Democrats to my Biography shelf so if you haven’t caught on, I tend to lean left. Sincerely hoping I’ll get to these books before I die.

Thank you for reading. Join me next week as I venture into English Lit.


  • I think biographies are interesting but also important. I’m not a non-fiction reader – that’s more like a snoozefest to me than anything else. Fiction is what keeps me alive. But when I do read a non-fiction it’s always a biography or an autobiography.

  • oh I would definitely want to read Diana’s book…just love her to pieces. She is quite an inspiration. I would definitely All The Presiden’t Men for sure. I am more middle ground when it comes to politics. I don’t lean right or left….I like certain aspects of both. I do love reading biographies recently I grabbed up the auto of William Shakespeare. Love his brain hehe

  • I remember a tv special about the Diana book and she was on the show telling about all the work she did with Andrew Morton. I was always fascinated with her but never got around to reading the book. I read War and Peace but I don’t think I want to tackle the Bill Clinton book! And I always liked him. I did see All the Presidents men but didn’t read it. By the way, I lean way over to the left! Interesting post!

    • Oh, War and Peace. Yikes. That’s the doorstopper of all doorstoppers, isn’t it? Lol. And *high fives* on having liberal views!

  • Impressive! I’ve never been a big fan of biographies (I think I’ve read…two. Maybe.), but the Diana one sounds intriguing.

    • I’m impressed with my 20-year-old self. Lol.

  • Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings

    I’m so impressed, Joy! I rarely pick up nonfiction and always feel a little silly for reading so much but not really learning facts, as such, from what I read. I think being able to read a biography and know someone’s life and how their circumstances shaped them is invaluable. I kinda want to pick up a biography myself, now! Thanks for such a thought-provoking and inspiring post, dear!

    • Well, to tell you the truth, I’m kind of jealous of my old self. I feel like I was reading better in my mid-twenties than I am now. At the same time, I can’t describe the feeling of loving a book because my favourite couple walked into the sunset hand in hand, you know?

  • Have you read Obama’s? If not I recommend you do

    • Not yet. It’s a recent purchase, so I can’t wait!

  • I’ve read (or well, listened) to a few autobiographies. I’ve even read one (Gene Simmons of Kiss before I got big into audiobooks). I agree that you can learn a lot from reading biographies. You can see other people’s mistakes and their successes. Learn other people’s point of view on things that make you think about an issue differently. It might change your view on things, but I think it is always great to get other people’s perspective. American Politics is a complete disaster these days. It is very scary. I’m embarrassed for my country, especially since I’m original from the South where many of where He Who Should Not Be Named has a large number of followers.

    Melanie @ Hot Listens & Rabid Reads

    • Absolutely. I feel like their first-hand experiences are better lessons than people who decided to write something because they have a degree. Yikes. I’m glad that you saw the ways. Are your parents staunch Republicans?

      • Yes, my who family is. They are also racist, though they would never admit it. My mom came to visit a few weeks ago and she had insulted two different races in the first day. I don’t think she even realized it. She also told me the problem with this country is that mothers don’t stay home and raise their kids. She was a single mom (my dad died when I was eight), so she didn’t have a choice, but she worked before he died. She also didn’t get it when I pointed it out that it didn’t matter if she had a choice or not, saying that children are bad because their mothers aren’t home is hypocritical. Family, you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them.

        • Oh, wow. You’re a very good example of growing up against the nurturing of your parents/mom. And you’re a better person for it.

          • It is education. Moving to Atlanta after my father died really helped in that regard. It had much more liberal schools than most of the south, so I had a pretty decent education and I loved school. Then I moved to Ohio for college, which got me out of the conservative south. I done a good amount of reading articles and not jumping to conclusions when a politician or celebrity tell me something. I will say that my mom did teach me to think for myself. She wasn’t a bad mom. She has actually gotten more conservative as she’s gotten older. She also doesn’t like politics, so she just gripes about all of them instead of actually learning about anything. She has never been big about educating herself, which saddens me.

          • And in the end, that’s all mothers can do. I remember having my first debate with my daughter about culture appropriation and body positive role models. It didn’t end well, to be honest and I felt bad because my husband grounded her. After thinking about it, I realized that it’s not how I want her to feel. I don’t want her to think that she’ll get punished every time she expresses an opinion. Whatever stance she may have about social issues, she needs to be able to express it freely without fear of ridicule and undue punishment. So my husband and I apologized to her the next day.

          • It is very big of you to apologize to your kid. I know several parents that wouldn’t do that. I’m sure your kid got a lot more respect for you after that. Even parents make mistakes and it is good when kids see that and see their parents admit that. Everyone is just human. πŸ™‚

  • Gosh πŸ˜€ You are awesome Joy. <3 I could never read books like this, haha πŸ˜€ But I love that you are reading them, and have been for so long, and that you love it πŸ™‚ All the hugs. <3 Thank you for sharing πŸ™‚

    • Lol. You never know. When you’re older, perhaps?

  • shootingstarsmag

    Fun posts! American politics definitely are crazy these days, so I can see why people in other countries are fascinated by us. Sigh. I just hope it all works out, somehow! I like reading biographies now and then, if I’m interested in the person.


    • I hope so, too! It’s scary when people can’t see the truth or facts past their beliefs.

  • “The truth is, American politics tend to incite a more passionate
    response from me. Our government is not perfect, but rarely do we have
    controversial contention in our Parliament.” Lol, so true especially when thinking about the current U.S. election.

    • Right? Am I right? At a time when Americans are arguing over bathroom rights, our Parliament was discussing Euthanasia.

  • I don’t read biographies (or at least I still haven’t acquired the interest to try them) but I’m trying to get into non-fiction history. I got myself two non-fiction history books. I like that they don’t really require me to sit down and devour them at one go because there aren’t exactly thrills in it or so much mystery — just hard facts and maybe a few interesting things.

    • Yes. Biographies are not really for everyone because they tend to be sterile. Some day, I’d like to get back to these.

  • I think biographies are great, especially if you genuinely want to know the person. Ugh, American politics have always sucked since this land was taken from the Natives and slaves were brought over, etc…. I have no words for this year’s election. None.

  • ChristinaBookAddict

    Love this new feature! It’s so fun! I lean left as well and I love that you are interested in American politics. Lately, politics has been such a disappointment though…scary actually. I am really into biographies and memoirs. I have Hlilary Clinton’s that I still need to read (half way through it!) and I like all of my Kennedy biographies. Fascinating stuff! I have a few biographies on Queens/Kings of England as well. Great post! Looking forward to your next one on English lit.

    • Oh yes! The Kennedys. Have you read American Son? I bought HRC last year but haven’t read it yet. With all the books we have been amassing as of late, I can’t find the time to read any of the new biographies I’ve been stockpiling.

  • I don’t often read biographies or autobiographies. As a child my parents would make me read them to balance out my fiction reading. Even after 20 years, I still retain a strong abhorrence, haha. I find that I prefer documentaries instead of books. I will say that I did recently read I am Malala, which I really enjoyed. And as someone currently living in America, I wish our politics was more like Canada’s. I mean I could just gif about Justin Trudeau instead of worrying about America being represented by hateful orange man.

    • Your reading choices has been brilliant, Sierra. I’m actually quite jealous how varied it is. I love watching documentaries, too. Anything that pertains to space, environment, and some History are ones that I tend to seek out.

  • I don’t read biographies but sister has been reading Malala’s one this past week and she’s been talking to me about it and it got me really interested too. I would like to read that Princess Diana one too. She wasn’t a part of my life growing up, but I know my mother holds her in very high view even today.
    And politics! I was never one for politics, but the state of the current world has gotten me really interested in it though it’s so stressful too. Once I’m interested in something, I get very intense about it.

    • I have her book. I really need to take the time to read it. I hope your sister’s loving it. πŸ™‚

  • I honestly don’t read that many biographies, mainly because I find them a bit dry. Bill Clinton’s biography would probably be interesting though.

    • An audiobook copy would probably be better since it’s so massive.

  • I used to read a lot of biographies and political books (from both sides). I think the last biography (auto?) was I Am Malala. It’s a very insightful and moving story. I read Bill’s book when it came out. Whether you agree with his politics or not, it’s an interesting read.

    • Yesterday, I found a copy of Rudy Giuliani’s on my shelf. I was like, WTF? Lol.

  • I only read sad ones πŸ˜‰ , like Wild Swans, the Malika Oufkir one