Biography/Memoir Genre Study

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Memoirs may be more subjective, focused on certain aspect of life or external events of life), biographies are about someone else and  auto-biographies  are self-told full life stories, perhaps how you want to be remembered.

These books have wide appeal and can draw readers based on an interest of the person the book is about as well as a way to learn more about the person’s experience. The writing style is often an important appeal factor for these types of books.


Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal
Memoir by British author who retells her story being adopted by a very religious family.

Thomas Jefferson and the Art of Power
Lengthy biography brings Thomas Jefferson to life.

Blue Nights by Joan Didion
Strong voice, very sad.

Catherine the Great
Explores gender roles, dry, dispels myths, well-researched

Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Memoir of a woman who  hikes the Pacific Crest Trail by herself at a point when her entire life has fallen apart.

Bill Bryson’s Walk in the Woods has a similar story line but is mostly about the travel and the trail with interspersed stories about himself whereas Cheryl Strayed’s book is entirely inwardly focused.


Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Memoir about Hemingway’s time in Paris with his first wife. Series of short stories that hangs well together. Brings in F Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda. Might work for someone who liked Midnight in Paris. Hemingway, Paris, ex-patriot, learning to be a writer.

Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
Memoir of drummer of hip hop band Roots, focusing on his professional career, truthful, inspiration.

Paris a Love Story by Kati Marton
Memoir by journalist who uses Paris as a connecting point in his life. Explores relationship with Peter Jennings and exposes him  personally. Divorces Jennings and has a wonderful marriage with Richard Holbrooke. Story also tells of his sudden death and her move to Paris. Touching, sad, Paris

Works on Paper: The Craft of Biography and Autobiography Writing by Michael Holroyd
Craft of biography and autobiography and collection of short biographies. He has written monumental biographies of George Bernard Shaw. Making of Bernard Shaw – best in book. Funny, illuminating, engaging, wise.

Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlean
Not a memoir. Mostly biography of man who found and trained Rin Tin Tin who was found in a bombed out shelter in Berlin. Not much known so author needs to use conjecture to fill in the blanks. Rise and fall of Rin Tin Tin and his offspring’s legacy. Disjointed. Well researched, clearly presented.

Inside the Kingdom by Carmen Bin Ladin
Author is sister in law of Obama Bin Ladin and she tells the story of the very restrictive life inside strict Muslim community. Gender rolls, . Enlightening, maddening, freedom. Written shortly after 9/11. Very readable. Frank also read Leap of Faith which gives more of the Muslim perspective.

Jane Addams
Biography. Gave internal insights of Addams. Felt subjective. Experience growing up female in a culture and time frame where opportunities were very limited. Called “the mother of social work” by changing the paradigm, first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Sympathetic, idealistic, well-researched.

Tenth Muse by Judith Jones
Judith Jones professional career as a writer and translator mostly in Paris, translated Diary of Anne Frank, edits Julia Child’s work. Quick read, includes annotated recipes. Delicious, persistence.

Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell
Reminiscent of Charles Dickens. Witty dialog. Thorough, fawning and apologetic.

The millionaire and the mummies: Theodore Davis’s Gilded Age in the Valley of the Kings by John M. Adams
Theodore Davis grew up poor and made his fortune as a lawyer involved in the Boss Tweed case. He was unconventional including living openly with a mistress and moving to Egypt. He financed the digging of the Valley of the Kings using professionals which started modern archaeological practices. Historical, Egypt and well written.

Our hearts were young and gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough
About woman from theatrical background who performed monologues. It tells the story of her first trip abroad as a young woman with a friend. Hilarious. Set in 1920s. Humorous and youthful.

Blue plate special : an autobiography of my appetites by Kate Christensen
Memoir by fiction author. Lots about food and writing. Overcoming diversity.

Boy by Roald Dahl
Autobiography of birth through age 20. It gives insight into the inspirations for his books. Includes snippets of letters. Funny, authentic and illuminating.

Next time: Science


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