Friday, July 4, 2014

Biography Year

Ludwig van Beethoven
It's no surprise if you've looked at this blog that I use Mind Maps to organize information. I learned about this technique from a member of my book club, and for a long time used it only for books. My Mind Maps helped me find connections, threads, and hierarchies in the books I had read, and thus equipped I was confident about entering into book discussions. Eventually, I was using Mind Maps to organize my writing and speaking.

Reading, writing, and speaking with Mind Maps came together this April when I presented my Biography Year project on a panel at the Popular Culture Association conference in Chicago. For the year of 2013, I read one biography per month and Mind Mapped each.

Marco Polo

I'm a librarian, so I was simultaneously looking for trends and questions to use as the basis of a Biography Selection Criteria Checklist. (I'll post that at the end of this post.) Mind Mapping each biography helped me determine what the books had in-common and what interested me about the craft of biography. What were the connections between the biographies and their subjects? There were many. A Meta Mind Map helped me put all this together.

The Meta Mind Map pulls it all together.

For example, I began to include similar branches on my biography Mind Maps to show places and people important to the subject, surprises, and notes about the format of the biography. These Mind Map branches became items in my selection criteria.

In retrospect, I'm not sure how the conference presentation was received or if it inspired anyone listening, but I enjoyed preparing it and describing my project. Mind Maps were essential to making a coherent presentation, and it has been a research method-altering experience!

Margaret "Molly" Brown

Biography Selection Criteria Checklist

1.      Is the biography scholarly, and therefore useful for research, or is it conversational and more likely intended for entertainment? If it is to be used for research, does it have a useful index or detailed table of contents?
·         The Bonaparte, Beethoven, Springsteen, Polo, Brown, and Champlain biographies are scholarly.
·         Tina Fey’s and Malala Yousafzai’s are informal and conversational, known as Essay biographies. These books are portraits intended for entertainment.
2.      Was the book written by the subject themselves, and thus an autobiography or memoir?
·         Tina Fey’s and Malala Yousafzai’s are autobiographies.
3.      If the biography was written by another party, what kind of access did the biographer have to the subject, people in the subject’s life (for interviews), or primary sources in libraries and archives?
·         In the case of Jane Franklin, there is very little written on the subject, but an infinite amount on her brother.
4.      Does the biography cover the whole life of the subject (Narrative biography) or just a part?
·         Springsteen’s biography starts before his birth with his grandparents and parents and brings the reader up to the present day.
5.      Does the biography split the subject’s life into parts or facets (Topical biography)?
·         For example, Beethoven as a man and Beethoven as a musician.

6.      Is the biography actually about two people, such as the Jane Franklin/Benjamin Franklin work? (This is called an “And” biography by Milton Lomask.)

     Biography Bibliography (The books I read) 

Bergreen, Laurence. Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu. NY: Vintage, 2007.
Carlin, Peter Ames. Bruce. NY: Touchstone, 2012.
Croke, Vicki Constantine. The Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China’s Most Exotic Animal. NY: Random House, 2005.
Fischer, David Hackett. Champlain’s Dream: The European Founding of North America. NY: Simon & Schuster, 2008.
Fey, Tina. Bossypants. NY: Reagan Arthur Books, 2011. Kindle File.
Gottlieb, Robert. Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt. Jewish Lives. New Haven: Yale University, 2010.
Iverson, Kristen. Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth: The True Life Story of the Titanic’s Most Famous Survivor. Boulder, CO: Johnson Books, 1999.
Lepore, Jill. Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013.
Lockwood, Lewis. Beethoven: The Music and the Life. NY: W.W. Norton, 2003.
Stroud, Patricia Tyson. The Man Who Had Been King: The American Exile of Napoleon’s Brother Joseph. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2005.
Teachout, Terry. Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington. NY: Gotham, 2013.
Yousafzai, Malala. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban. NY: Little Brown, 2013.

1 comment:

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