Before The Title Past

By Jeff Shelby



     “Don’t you think my life would make a good biography?” I asked my wife recently.

     She gave me one of those You-are-a-funny-guy-when-you’re-trying-to-be-serious looks that I get fairly frequently from her direction.

     Apparently, attending seven colleges in eight and a half years before finally graduating is not what she is looking for when she checks out the biography aisle at the bookstore.

     Biographies make up a large component of the non-fiction marketplace. Currently, Bobby Knight’s “My Story” sits at number two on the hardcover non-fiction list.  The only book above it?  Michael J. Fox’s “Lucky Man” which rests atop the bestseller list after less than a week in bookstores.

     And why shouldn’t it?  Fox’s is a compelling story.  A hardworking, successful actor who, for the most part was able to avoid the trappings of Hollywood, is stricken by a debilitating disease, the beginnings of which took place in the public eye.  Fox is a likeable guy who played likeable characters in two highly successful sitcoms – Alex P. Keaton is still one of the smartest, most irreverent sitcom characters ever created – and managed to retain a sense of everyday affability.

     So why does a quality book like his have to sit next to “The Troubled Life and Times of Some Famous Popstar Who Just Received Her Driver’s License”?

     When I think of biographies, I think of books about presidents, humanitarians, actors and everyday people.  People that have made an impact on the world and help to shape our current society through of variety of outlets.

     I do not think of bare midriffs, lip-synching or the WWF.

     As a favor to the publishing industry, here are two types of biographies that should never take up space in a bookstore again:

1. Anything about or by a wrestler.

     Hey, I know the books are selling, but I am frightened by the sight of Mick Foley and The Rock greeting me at Barnes and Noble.  These books are basically about big guys who couldn’t make it in football and got incredibly lucky in the age of dumb-downed television.  You tell me – is it more amazing that people watch wrestling or that they will buy books about wrestling?  (Insert your own joke about wrestling fans being unable to read here.)

2. Anything about or by someone in a boy band.

     Yeah, I know.  They want to be called “vocalists” now.  Whatever.  I am fine with them taking money from the Hello Kitty purses of pre-teenage girls.  Nothing wrong with that.  We all do silly things when we’re young.  I do have a problem, though, with slapping a pretty face on a book, listing his favorite colors and foods over ninety pages and calling that a “biography.”  That’s not a biography – that’s a singles ad.

     Biographies should make an impact on us, make us question what we are doing on a daily basis with our lives.  They should provide us with stories about role models and people who can provide us with a point of view rarely seen.   They should tell us the stories out there about people who have made a contribution to society, not just a contribution to their own ego.  The biographies of today should be looked at as the textbooks of tomorrow.

     Now my wife’s giving me that I-knew-you-weren’t-serious look.

     I hate it when she’s right... 

Jeff Shelby earned a Bachelor's degree in English from the University of California, Irvine. His first mystery, Dead Week, was released in December 2001. He and his wife live in Castle Rock, CO. His website is .

2002 Past Columns - Nancy Marie / Jeff Shelby

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