BTT: Biography or Autobiography?

btt2Which do you prefer? Biographies written about someone? Or Autobiographies written by the actual person (and/or ghost-writer)?

I think it depends on the person, but because this is a book blog, after all, I’ll stick with author biographies/autobiographies and go with the totally lame answer of both. I like the scholarly distance of biographies, but I enjoy the first-hand account of “what really happened” (or, more aptly, “what I was really thinking, or at least what I am going to tell you I was thinking”). Reading both, we get a complete picture, even of the inconsistencies that make people so interesting.

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10 comments

  1. Novroz, I listened to the unabridged audio of On Writing–he reads it himself, and it’s terrific. I’ve read several of his books, but I wouldn’t classify myself as a huge fan, and I had a whole new appreciation for him after listening to that book.

  2. I think the only author’s autobiographical work I’ve read was A Moveable Feast by Hemingway, it was a very good read though.

  3. I find biographies too cold and I usually prefer autobios if they’re available particularly if they’re written by writers, you know you’re in for a ride.

  4. The best biographers include autobiographies in their research. I find those to be the most reliable as far as historical accuracy goes. They may not be the most entertaining, though.

    I’ll second the recommendation for On Writing. I found it very useful as a blogger, too. A Moveable Feast is also a very good book, though, I understand it can’t be altogether trusted as an account of what really happened.

  5. Pete, I also enjoyed A Moveable Feast. Others I’ve particularly enjoyed were Out of Africa, by Isak Denison, and Tender Mercies, by Anne Lamott. I suppose, though, that one is autobiography and the other a memoir…I’m trying to develop a criteria for the distinction (see below).

    Mae, I do tend to like the scholarly stuff, but I see your point. I actually like autobiographies of celebrities, I admit, because they are so larger-than-life, and I like to hear the Hollywood stories. I haven’t read one in a long while, but I remember liking Me, by Katherine Hepburn, especially.

    cbjames, I agree: I think On Writing is useful for anyone who writes. And on the reliability of Hemingway and A Moveable Feast–well, I frankly don’t trust any writer to tell a reliable story! They will embellish and edit more so than the average person…but I’m not saying they don’t tell the truth.

    Amy, I almost included that as a sub-question in my post: Is there a difference between autobiography and memoir? For me, I think the difference can be based on two things: the subject’s fame (famous people write autobiographies; people who want to be famous write memoirs); and the topic (memoirs often deal with life through a particular lens, like drinking or illness or what-have-you, where autobiography tells a general tale starting at the beginning and on through to the present).

  6. Priscilla, yeah I know he wrote it by himself 🙂 that’s why I wanna read it.

    I have heard a lot of people saying it is a good book (tho I don’t really need anyone telling me it’s good coz I have never found bad books by SK)…You, as someone who is not a fan, also said the same thing gives high value to On Writing 🙂

    I’m still searching for the book, SK is not too famous here, and I dont reading e-book

  7. Novroz, yes, I know that you know he wrote the book himself. What I was telling you was that on the audio book, he READS it himself! So you are hearing him read his own work, and that was quite fun! 🙂

  8. ow I see… Maybe I should start searching for a free download hehe…I couldn’t buy it online coz I don’t have credit card 😉

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