As children, we were always familiar with fairy tales and fantastical tales of gargantuan ventures. From Jack and the Giant Bean Stalk to Cinderella, the aspect of magic captured our hearts with possibilities of greater possibilities and worlds apart from our own that seemed familiar enough to relate to, but just distant enough to engender awe and rapt attention. The interaction between characters, the internal striving of the protagonist – it was all rather enthralling, and we stepped into those worlds bright-eyed, eagerly absorbing the new adventures that people before us had encountered, waiting as our own adventures began.
Speaking personally, my tryst with fantasy novels and adventure stories has long ended, laying slain by the wayside. Its murderer is reality, and the effect of becoming enamored of what the present, tangible world has in store for me. Clashing swords no longer ignite excitement quite like tragedies inflame the soul, and the latter does wonders to make one feel like a true participant in the misery of the world. The things that preoccupy me, my peers, and my generation are the things that I have become attached to, and the appetite for frivolous compositions found in whimsical narratives no longer exists. This is not to say that those stories have become irrelevant all over the world; I am, after all, just speaking for myself.
So if yesterday’s narratives of princes and rescues are now replaced by stories of anguish and modern trauma, what kind of reading material shall I seek? The news, perhaps, with all its photography and subtly masked bias? Non-fictive fiction, which details the lives of people walking the sidewalks of modernity? Or perhaps I might subscribe to the notion of cinema becoming the modern novel, and live my life vicariously through onscreen adaptations of modern living.
All of the above are accurate, but my opinion as of late is that they are not the best answer. It’s true that the news is jarringly realistic, as it is (supposed to be) a presentation of the actual events unfolding around the world. Non-fictive fiction, like The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, is fascinating because of its inherent proximity to life as it truly is. Movies are brilliant because it removes the necessity to even imagine what characters look like, and it places you right in the thick of things. However, I would say that as of now, the aforementioned “best answer” is biographies. I have recently picked up “Heavier Than Heaven” by Charles R. Cross, and it chronicles the life of Kurt Cobain. Now, although I haven’t listened to much Nirvana (which some people might find offensive), the story of Cobain’s life coupled with the Cross’s writing style have made the experience of reading the story comparable to hearing Cobain dictate a third-person view of his own life. This sentiment also applies to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s autobiography (I think?) entitled “I am Zlatan.”
What sets biographies apart from the three previously mentioned genres is that biographies (and autobiographies) are about people who lived out this story of life until their own individual ends. Excluding author bias (which is excluding quite a bit in some cases), this is the chronicling of someone who has finished their race, and the re-telling of things that they encountered all along the way. Because biographies are centered on people, the emotional encounters and mental travails are all, one way or another, familiar to us in our own daily lives. We may never reach their level of fame or reputation – though this should not discourage us from trying. However, at their core, they were also participants in this eternal pool of humanity, and their stories flow alongside stories of other people, people who may very well be going through the same circumstances in a different class. These narratives become enveloping in their reality, and I believe that they have replaced fairy tales and fantasy novels for me at this point in life. Anyhow, enough with writing – it’s time to learn about someone else’s life and experience what they might have experienced. The stories are seemingly endless in their complexity, but truly infinite in their contribution to a greater understanding of humans and the people around us.