Fans of biography learning about people, history, too

Book club

Howard Live

October 23, 2003

An interview with Rolland Amos, facilitator for the Biography Book Club at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Ellicott City.

What is your club reading? Mr. Capone by Robert J. Schoenberg.

How did this club get started? I saw a flier at the store on the club. They were reading a book on Thomas Jefferson so I decided to go. The facilitator then had to leave so I assumed his duties. That was three years ago. The club is in its fourth year, at least.

Who are some of the people your club has enjoyed reading about most? We've read about John Adams, Harry Truman, Albert Einstein and Howard Hughes. I try to pick people who have made some mark in history, and I research a book online to see how it has been received by readers. I try to choose a current book. We just finished My Day: The Best of Eleanor Roosevelt's Acclaimed Newspaper Columns, 1936-1962 by Eleanor Roosevelt, edited by David Emblidge, which is a revision of three previous books. People come when they're attracted to the person we're reading about that month.

What is different about My Day? It's a compilation of Eleanor Roosevelt's daily newspaper columns, which she wrote for 26 years. The editor also inserts comments, sets the scene for some of the columns and gives insights into what was happening in our country at that time.

Why do biographies capture people's interests? They're a good way to learn history. This was a history book club originally, but the attendance was low so I came up with the idea of a biography club. A biography focuses on a single person's life.

Have you learned anything surprising about your subjects? You're always learning new facts and gaining new insights. We read J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets by Curt Gentry. Much of what Hoover did was underhanded, but he ran a very efficient FBI. We also read American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964 by William Manchester. He was an incredibly complex individual. Another benefit from reading in this category is that you develop a knowledge of the really good biographers, as well.

Does this club attract people more of one age than another? We have few young readers. Young people haven't developed an appreciation for biographies or history. Reading is no longer a universal sport.

Why do you say that? I don't have statistics, but it seems to be declining. Reading is time-consuming, and people have higher priorities in their lives right now. TV is a serious competitor. People think they can get everything they need from TV, and they just sit there and let it wash over them. I think it's regrettable. The benefit of reading is that it really does stimulate your thinking and revives your memories. Reading is impossible to do without thinking.

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