Thursday, November 5, 2009

Booking Through Thursday--It’s All About Me

This week's Booking Through Thursday question is:

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

And it's actually a tough question for me. I guess I don't have a general preference. It all depends on the writing. There are some biographers I always like, like Judith Thurman and Hermione Lee. But if someone writing their own story has a unique voice, then that may be the best way to read about that person. Of course, reading an autobiography is a completely different thing. The writer is less likely to be objective, obviously, and may have an axe to grind that you don't know about ahead of time. It's also hard to know, if there's a ghost-writer, whose voice is whose.

One of my favorite things to do is read an autobiography or memoir back-to-back with a good biography of the person. For example, I read Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa, and then I read Judith Thurman's biography, Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller.

And on a similar adventurous African theme, I read and enjoyed Beryl Markham's memoir, West with the Night, and then read Straight on Till Morning: A Biography of Beryl Markham, by Mary S. Lovell.

Some of my favorite biographies and autobiographies:

Mary Queen of Scots, by Antonia Fraser
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, by Gertrude Stein
The Brontes, by Juliet Barker
Cross Creek, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

On my shelf, but haven't read yet:

Dawn Powell: A Biography, by Tim Page
Edith Wharton, by Hermione Lee
Marie Antoinette: The Journey, by Antonia Fraser
Oleander, Jacaranda: A Childhood Perceived, by Penelope Lively

So, which do you like better, autobiography or biography? And do you have any good biographies or autobiographies to recommend?


BooksPlease said...

It was a difficult question for me, I like both.

I'm interested in Isak Dineson's Out of Africa and Judith Thurman's biography - I like the idea of reading an autobio back-to-back with a biography.

I like Claire Tomalin's biographies - Jane Austen and Samuel Pepys are good examples. Also good is Margaret Forster's biography of Daphne du Maurier.

litlove said...

I really like both, too. I'll be checking out your suggestions there as there are several books I haven't read that look intriguing. Good thing Christmas is coming! :-)

Gentle Reader said...

Booksplease--I have heard good things about Claire Tomalin's work, and I'd love to read about both Jane Austen and Samuel Pepys--I'll put those on my wish list--thanks! Also, in case you haven't seen it, there's an ongoing online Pepys' diary that's fun to check out:

litlove--hard to choose between autobiographies and biographies, really--strangely, they're so different from one another!

Dorothy W. said...

I agree with you that it depends on the writing. I suppose I'd lean toward autobiography, because there's room for experimentation there and for doing something different than charting a life in the usual way. Sometimes biographies get a bit dull and dutiful. I'd never thought of reading a biography and a memoir hand in hand; that sounds interesting.

Gentle Reader said...

Dorothy--I have to agree about biographies sometimes being dull and dutiful--a great description :)