December 30, 2011

Book 101 - (Auto)biograhy

Not everybody likes to read biographies or autobiographies, but sometimes it will lure in even those who would otherwise never touch non fiction books. Some might go straight for the bare-all tales of 20 year old so-called Hollywood stars while others tend to grab the memoirs of a real oh-the-good-old-days personality who shares memories of a fascinating life. I'm certainly not for book burning, but in case I should ever run out of fire wood I'd gladly use some wanna-be stars memoirs to warm my feet. Yes, I confess, I don't really see the necessity of [insert name of wannabe starlet with slight drug abuse problem]'s memoirs. Of course [insert name of wannabe starlet with slight drug abuse problem] probably did not write them herself anyway, but some poor sap was paid to do so - yep, I'm awfully prejudiced, but who could blame me? And then, of course, there's this whole thing about authorized and unauthorized aka juicy biographies ...

But some facts first.

The biography is an account of a person's life written down by another. Sometimes biographies are written as biographical novels providing a fictional and usually entertaining account of a person's life. In both cases the author will focus on the experiences a person had during their lifetime, though in the latter case the combination of fact and fiction lends the biography the appearance of a novel. In both cases names and accounts may or may not be changed when necessary.

An autobiography or memoir is a retrospective prose narrative produced by a person concerning his or her own existence, focusing on their individual life. Sometimes an author will opt for a autobiographical novel instead, the story still bearing a close resemblance to that of the author's life, yet names and locations are often changed, and events are recreated to make them more dramatic. While the events of the author's life are recounted, there is no pretense of exact truth. Events may be exaggerated or altered for artistic or thematic purposes.
To be considered an autobiographical, there must be a protagonist modeled after the author and a central plotline that mirrors events in his or her life. Novels that do not fully meet these requirements or are further distanced from true events are sometimes called semi-autobiographical novels.

So, now that we've brought the dry part of what (auto)biographies are behind us, let's focus on my personal preferences in that genre. I guess by now we've established that I don't care about [insert name of wannabe starlet with slight drug abuse problem]'s life. Equally I'm really more of a want-to-hear-it-from-the-source-itself kind of person when it comes to reading about other people's lives. I've recently read Doris Day: Her Own Story (as told to A.E. Hotchner) which I truely loved. Of course there are some parts were her biographer recounts his meetings with Doris and his impressions of her, but mostly you will read her story in her own words which have been transcribed from tapes. Honest, funny, serious, touching - the whole range without the whole flashy I-need-to-make-some-extra-bucks-so-I-can-buy-myself-a-joint-after-being-released-from-jail kind of crap.

Do you like to read (auto)biographies? If so, any recommendations for me? Please share!


  1. I like to read biographies, but only historical ones, nothing contemporary. The one about Catharine the Great was really good, but it was all over the place anyway since it only came out. I also read a really good one of Sulla (in German) whom I find very interesting. Plus there are a couple of really good books about Cicero and Augustus out there, but I would have to look up their titles and author.

  2. I think perhaps you liked the Doris Day book because you like Doris Day. Whereas, you're not too interested in the starlet du jour, so her book is unappealing. So you were a bit biased before you read the book. But then again, that's probably what caused you to pick that biography in the first place.

  3. You're right, I am biased, Amy! Then again, Doris has a whole life to look back on, and that "starlet du jour" maybe five years tops. You could say, just like some people like their wine old, I like the writers of memoirs old ;-) !