Biographies & Autobiographies

It’s a very timely question for me this week in three ways with Booking Through Thursdays as it is all about Biographies and Autobiographies. The question is “Which do you prefer? Biographies written about someone? Or Autobiographies written by the actual person (and/or ghost-writer)?” Now my instant and simple answer is that I like autobiographies that are written by the person whose memoirs they are. I am not a fan of ghost written books and even the idea of someone telling the story as another person types it all up for them seems wrong to me. Biographies I haven’t tried really, maybe I should after all certain people from the past can’t write their own autobiographies now can they.

The first reason that this is a timely question is that I have actually been mulling over my biography and autobiography shelf over the last few days as I think I want to read one but am just not sure who by. Is it time for another book about The Mitford’s or maybe one of Nancy Mitford’s biographies of French royalty? Do I want to read about someone political or a celeb? As you can see (there are more books than could get in this picture) there is a range to choose from, will I like a book that isn’t written by the person who it’s about?

The Biog & Autobiog Shelves

I won’t lie to you that I love a good celebrity autobiography. If anyone out there thinks that I am a book snob the next line is sure to make you think twice and possibly make you ponder on how good my choices of reading are. I have read and own every Spice Girl autobiography there is to get, even the books about weight loss and the one about Victoria’s wardrobe. I know its wrong but it’s a complete and utter guilty pleasure and I did actually by them when they came which is almost ten years ago. I also had the Appleton sister’s one, wow telling you all this makes me feel much better. I haven’t read them again though.

I do still have a few celebrity memoirs on the shelves, randomly though yesterday I bought another one. The book that I am not sure I would have admitted to buying if today’s BTT question hadn’t been so apt was ‘Send Yourself Roses’ by Kathleen Turner. Now I am quite picky about these books (I didn’t use to be) these days and it has to actually be someone that I admire and I think Kathleen is a wonderful actress and has been in some of my favourite films plus she has had a very interesting life and so this is going to be an utter guilty pleasure (without any guilt at all) to read. In fact I still have some from last Christmas as though Alan Carr and Dawn French were read speedily I still haven’t read Julie Walters and that’s another one I might dig out now.

Christmas is of course coming, I don’t know if you have noticed but the moment it becomes November 1st in the UK the adverts suddenly have Christmas all over them. It’s still weeks away! However in my other work Christmas is right now if not almost over as we close the issue next week, and being in charge of the book pages now (hoorah) I am hunting down the big Christmas sellers and what have started to creep up? You guessed it autobiographies; as yet though I haven’t seen many I want to read apart from one I must, must read and that is Notes to my Mother in Law by Phyllida Law (Emma Thompsons mum) it looks a hoot. I am sure I will get some rogue ones though, does anyone else’s relatives by them autobiographies at Christmas that are so not them, I got a Katie Price one once, what’s been your worst?

So what are you more a fan of biographies or autobiographies? Who do you like to read about? Which ones have you got? Which ones are on your wish list? What’s been the worst one you have read and what’s been the best?


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31 responses to “Biographies & Autobiographies

  1. Pam

    Ah, this is great. I’m not a big fan of the memoire nor the biography. I’m not sure why but I’m just not. I love people who love them though!

    • Maybe you should try people that really, really interest you as it is the way I am going in with biographies.

      • Pam

        I think that might have to be my tactic. I was a big bio-junkie when I was younger. I read these 1000 page books on Gandhi and Maddie Albright but for some reason it just don’t interest me anymore…I guess I need to find “that one special person”. :O)

  2. I enjoy a good biography once in a while. The Mitfords are always good and I see you have Jung Chang’s the Wild Swans on your shelf. Have you read it? It’s excellent!

  3. I definitely enjoy biographies more than autobiographies. My fave would have to be a book about Marie Antionette called “Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antionette Wore To the Revolution”. I read it a few years ago and absolutely loved it – your post has reminded me about it actually – I might just have to read it again!

  4. I love ’em both! For instance I have 3 books on/of Katherine Hepburn – 1 autobiog, 2 biog. All have a different take on an interesting life.

    Autobiogs I’ve enjoyed include: Stewart Copeland’s – it was quirkily brilliant; Julie Andrew’s of her life up to Mary Poppins, it was lovely, and interesting – but I’m not in a rush to read a biog about her. Last autumn I read Raymond Blanc’s assisted autobiog – the hand of the ghost-writer was very light indeed, it was effectively Raymond’s voice all the way through – and was a fabulous read. Amongst the best of all are Alan Bennett’s, and Alan Clark’s diaries are fascinatingly compulsive! (Diaries … hmm – another variation on the autobiog/memoir …)

    As I write this I’m realising that most of the books I enjoy in this field are actually Autobiog/Memoir rather than Biogs, but for those who are dead – there’s often no other option.

    The key thing for me is that the subject of the book has had an interesting life in a field that I am also interested in. So personally this means I don’t really read historical biographies (fictionalised ones are different!), but I do read Hollywood and media ones, some political ones, and of course bookish ones.

    Sorry to be so rambling, but once I got started I found it hard to stop!

    • Hahahaha no worried Annabel. Reading biogs and auto biogs like you are with Katherine Hepburn can be really good as you get a more rounded view the more opinions you get and more facts.

      Alan Bennett’s books are ones that I have to admit I really want to read but think I gave them to my Gran which was somewhat foolish.

  5. Like you, I’ll take the autobiographies any day. I loved Eric Clapton’s, that came out a few years ago.

    I just had to share this with you…every time I see a post come up on my reader that has a picture of a big stack of books, I know it is yours! I would not want to see your shelves!

    • Hahahaha those are my shelves hahahaha. They are just my TBR shelves theres only the 8 and the 6 boxes throughout the house… lets ignore the TBR piles randomly placed around the house hahahaha.

  6. I think I’ve actually heard good things about ‘Send Yourself Roses’ from people I trust. I much prefer biographies of historical people, but some auto-biographies do sound tempting (how was the Dawn French, it’s written in letters to people she knows isn’t it?). The only one I have right now is the first volume of Michael Palin’s three parter (2nd part out this year I think) because Palin is a legend. Gerald Durrel’s books about his travels are always a good read, though they’re not quite auto-biographies. I absolutely want David Attenborough to write a memoir, with lots of pictures!

    • Dawn Frenchs was possibly one of the best autobiogs that I have read its very touching funny and moving all at once which is quite an accomplishment! Its less about the celebrityness of her life and more just about her interesting past and the journey to get where she got to.

  7. Schatzi

    I can definitely understand the appeal of a really good memoir, but so many of the people I’m most interested in didn’t write any. I do love Robert Evans’ The Kid Stays in the Picture. And I’d love to read the Jackie Susann bio, Lovely Me.

  8. novelinsights

    I don’t usually get round to reading autos & biogs but I am keen on reading new Muriel Spark one. It really depends on if there’s a compelling personality for me and then if they’re alive or dead!

    • Oooooh interesting! I thought of you when I saw the Muriel Spark one but its a small fortune in hardback, a whapping £25 I think… maybe £20!!! Maybe add it to your Santa list this year.

  9. I love a good memoir, preferably written by a writer/novelist/journalist because they know how to write a good narrative. I actually have a “memoirs” section on my blog, which you might like to check out. I recently read the first volume of Nuala O’Faolain’s memoir (she wrote two), which I’ve yet to review, and it was brilliant — she was an Irish journo/writer who died last year.

    I also have a soft spot for memoirs/biographies by rock singers/bands, and, showing my Aussie heritage, very much enjoyed the one about Midnight Oil and the one about Hunters & Collectors, both reviewed on my blog in recent years.

    • I like books by writers about their lives it has to be said. I am in fact now eyeing up a copy of Daphne Du Mauriers memoirs which I think may have to be read very soon.

      Oooh there is too much choice!

  10. This really made me want to read the Kathleen Turner memoir.

    I absolutely adore her. I always have.

  11. For me what makes one worth reading is whether the person has a tale to tell – I like celeb ones but only when the celeb has really done something worth writing about; Kathleen Turner is a very good example of that!

  12. Actually, I just remembered, you should read Hilary Mantel’s memoir Giving up the Ghost. It is absolutely brilliant and really conveys what an interesting and somewhat troubled life she has lead.

    • Now that is one memoir I would absolutely love, love, love to read. I will have to look it up on Amazon! Thanks for the copy of Legend of a Suicide will read that before next BG and give it back then, is one am desperate to read.

  13. I think I much prefer an autobiography, but biographies of authors I really love would still be great!

  14. I am a fan of the quirky memoir. You can see some of my recent memoirs on my answer.

  15. Rhian

    I tend to read historical biographies, but I do enjoy autobiographies too . I went through a phase of reading political autobiographies for some reason which was interesting but a bit too much back to back!

    I agree with Mrs B – Wild Swans is very good. The David Starkey 6 Wives is also good – and you can always break it into 6 chunks, one for each wife.

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