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Author Biographies In Books

A photograph of four books: Shan Sa's Empress, Kieran Shield's The Truth Of All Things, Nichole Bernier's The Unfinished Work Of Elizabeth D, and Sarah Pekkanen's Skipping A Beat

Many hardbacks nowadays have dedicated biographies on the jacket cover, providing brief information about the author and often a photograph. Education details, social media links, family. When paperbacks sport biographies they’re generally more limited, on the front pages, less information, and photographs don’t tend to be included. Biographies are something I consider often because I’ve a default primary action, particularly in the case of hardbacks, whereupon if I’m browsing shop shelves or about to pick up a book I already own to read, one of the first things I do is decide whether or not to read the biography.

If I’m wanting to stay in the dark about the plot of the story I’ll generally skip the biography just in case, especially if I don’t already know anything about the author; in reading the biography first you are unable to read the book without those slight threads of influence the biography may supply.

But because a biography often provides details that enable you to roughly gauge how informed the book might be, for example Kit de Waal’s work history shows that My Name Is Leon will most likely be trustworthy and full of knowledge (she’s worked in the social care system for years and has adopted children) it sometimes pays to read it if you’re undecided about the book.

Sometimes I do want to know more about a book and so I will read the biography to get a better sense of it when the blurb on the back is lacking (think hardbacks and the favouring of praises over summaries – I know in those cases summaries can be found on the jacket flap but they tend to give too much away). Sometimes I want to know as much as the book will tell me through all the various snippets provided.

Meaty biographies have spoiled brief ones for me. The short ‘X lives in location with her X family members and dog, this is her first novel’ disappoints me even though it means there’s little to influence you, not much to make you consider the author whilst reading. They often do not include photographs.

Photographs – good or bad idea? Seeing a smiley face can influence your decision to buy or borrow, just as a poker face might. I sometimes wonder about those poker faces – presumably they help keep away bias but they can bring a feeling of negativity. A biography without a photograph, whilst it keeps the mystery, often makes me want to look the author up to complete the picture – having seen so many biographies include them, those that lack them are surely… lacking.

Can biographies sway opinion? I think so. A person whose biography does not suggest any links to the content of the book might cause pause for thought, especially in non-fiction – why would something, anything, related, not have been included? For example (and made up), ‘Shelley has lived her life on the south coast where she works on a farm’, as a biography in a book about the city of Manchester – Shelley’s likely, hopefully, spent some time there or read a lot about it, so it should be included. It’s not absolutely necessary but, again, consider Kit de Waal, whose biography that shows very clearly why her book deals with all the subjects it does and why you can trust her.

I’m a fan of the biography when it isn’t too brief. A line or two just makes me wonder why it’s so short.

What do you think of biographies in books?

 
 

Kelly

June 16, 2017, 7:50 pm

I do like a biography, especially with a photo. I read a lot of historical fiction, so it’s always an added bonus if the bio includes their educational qualifications. (I want my HF to be accurate!)

Jenny @ Reading the End

June 17, 2017, 12:18 am

Oh, gosh, what DO I think about biographies in books? I don’t think I give them much thought! I’m always pleased when an author bio tells me that the person is a psychologist or social worker because tbh they just tend to write weird, interesting, excellent books. But apart from that I don’t think I pay a lot of attention.

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