Age-bRanding biography

This month's issue of the Literary Review has a rather sweeping 'From the Pulpit' by Carole Angier. Entitled 'Age-Banding Biography', it would perhaps be rather more apt to say it was 'age-branding...' because it claims that, whenever she has asked people when, in their lives, they were more inclined to read biography, they always reply that it's when they got older. 'When I was young, I never read biography - it was fiction, fiction, fiction.' Of course I'm not denying that the people that Angier has asked are all lying, but that I suppose I find it just to be totally at odds with my own experience and many of the people I know, many of whom I grew up with, and it was the opposite - we read biography voraciously, some fiction, but it was only as I got a bit older did I begin to consume fiction as much and, strangely, biography less! I have a theory for this. Of course I do! Growing up in very difficult circumstances may have made me more inclined towards biography because I know I was always, always, always looking for identification. I was always looking for someone else living, if not my life, then something similar to it, so at a young age I read a glut of gritty memoirs. My younger brothers, nowhere near as book-loving as me, even now go for biographies of their heroes - footballers, notorious villains... but hardly ever fiction. Perhaps it's not about age, but about identity, and the need to find some and, once one is a little more relaxed about oneself, they are a little happier to read those we know have been invented? Also, another important point is that a lot of the biography I read as a younger person, and the biography my brothers currently read, in attempting to find inspiration or identification (and possibility - it happened to them, therefore I can dream too!) offered more reality on a social level - many of the footballers biographies and the gritty memoirs often have as their subjects those who have had difficult beginnings in life - council estates, jumping hurdles, working harder to get to where one wanted/needed to be? In short, biography as a genre is more socially inclusive and therefore offers more identification, whereas fiction still woefully under-represents the working-class experience.

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