Bookish Topic Tuesday
This week I’m continuing the genre theme with biographies. A biography is simply a recount or description of someone’s life. But that’s a very simplistic definition. The book could be written by the person themselves, by someone else, collaboratively, with fictional elements, or from a purely nonfictional standpoint. There’s a lot of variety with biographies, so that’s what we’re discussing today.
First of all, to clarify an autobiography is one which is written by the person themselves (similar to a memoir), while a biography is written by someone else. The biography can be written with the support of the author with interviews, access to records, etc. or it can be written with second-hand interviews from family/friends/etc, like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. And the autobiography can be co-authored, as My Lobotomy is. Biographies are more than just details about the person, it’s about their stories, and the stories are really what readers are after.
I was going to write this post after reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, but that was the only biography I had read at the time, excluding a children’s biography about Nelson Mandela which I hardly remember. And apparently The Immortal Life was unusual. Now I’ve also read My Lobotomy which was an autobiography. Still, I’m not very well read here but it’s a start.
Before reading either book I had this idea that I wouldn’t like biographies, cause I usually associated them with politicians or celebrities, and if they’re autobiographical they’re usually self indulgent. Bit I had neglected the fact that it’s not just politicians, celebrities or sports people who are the subject of biographies, but ‘regular’ people too. And now after reading I’ve found I do like biographies because there are some amazing real life stories out there, and it’s not just so and so had an affair and they worked their way up the ladder to become CEO/PM or a rags to riches story. There’s fascinating, moving stories about amazing, diverse people who have lived interesting and sometimes almost unimaginable lives.
Having read one of each type I found reading the autobiography is something I like a bit more. The personal voice and reflection makes things that bit more engaging and emotive. Of course, there’s the issue that autobiographies can be influenced by the person, so they can add bias in and neglect to add things. Certainly, biographers can do that as well, but I think objectivity in autobiographies is a lot harder than in biographies. So the balance between objectivity and the personal voice is what you have to deal with, with the two formats.
So I’m curious to know your thoughts about biographies and autobiographies. Which do you prefer to read? And what are your favourites.