Tag Archives: autobiography

Autobiography or Memoir?

One of my favorite go-to genres is autobiographies and memoirs. These days there are tons—is it just me, or does everyone seem to write a book about their life?

TypingSnoopy

Snoopy is busy writing his memoirs. Click through for source.

What’s the correct term for this popular genre? Autobiography or memoir? I’ve heard both used interchangeably, but further research shows that there are slight differences between the two. Autobiographies usually chronicle someone’s entire life, from childhood until present day while memoirs focus on a specific time period or event (and often jump around in time). Autobiographies also usually include a lot of facts. Memoirs care more about the story and are less concerned with fact-checking and getting every detail right.

Another difference between autobiography and memoir is when the book happened to be written. Autobiographies were once the preferred style, written by celebrities or politicians. Now memoirs dominate with an intimate, conversational style and more room for embellishment or “stretching the truth” of personal history. Because of their more approachable style, anyone can write a memoir (and they do!).

I’ve already read quite a few autobiographies/memoirs this year; I’ve tried to classify them below!

 

malcolmx

Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
Autobiography

This one is pretty straightforward. The word “autobiography” is actually in the title! Told to Alex Haley, Malcolm X recounts his life chronologically starting with his childhood and Haley finishes the story with Malcom’s untimely death.

 

 

 

wild

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Memoir

Strayed writes about a specific time in her life—hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Flashing back and forth in time from the trail to memories of her mother, Strayed’s struggle to hike the PCT mirrors her quest to move on after her mother’s death. Focused on her experience, not facts, this book clearly falls into the memoir category.

 

 

AnneFrank

Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Autobiography

Less straightforward to categorize is Anne Frank’s account of her time spent in hiding during WWII. While her diary mainly focuses on a specific time period, you can’t get a more accurate account than a diary. Readers get to experience Frank’s thoughts, emotions, and observations day-by-day, which is why I’ve chosen to label this book an autobiography.

 

 

 

Cover of My Life on The Road
My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
Autobiography

I really struggled to categorize this one, especially since it was recently published and probably branded by publishers as a memoir. Following the criteria I laid out previously, Steinem’s book falls closer to autobiographies in a couple ways. Steinem begins the book in her childhood and (for the most part) continues chronologically through her life. Even though her theme is “my life on the road,” there isn’t one event or time that she emphasizes more than others. People, places, dates and other facts are also important to the story taking place.

 

bookcover

Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures by Phoebe Gloeckner
Memoir

This book combines text, illustrations, and comic strips into a truly unique story of a teenager growing up in San Francisco during the 1970s. Though the author will not directly say how closely the book follows her own life, she highly implies most of the story is based in truth. This book’s focus on Minnie’s teenage years and its questionable veracity leads me to label this book as a memoir.

 

Disagree with my classifications? Any good autobiographies/memoirs you’ve read recently? Let us know in the comments below!

-Adina

Take a look at some of the autobiographies/memoirs that the library has to offer!

9 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Breathing, Smiling, Walking, Talking Books.

Last week, I was forwarded this article about a library in London where patrons can borrow people for one-half hour chats.  Borrow people, you say?  Yes, borrow people.  Several Londoners volunteered to participate in Living Library program where, as a patron, you can “check out your prejudice.” 

The idea is beautifully simple:  volunteers are cataloged as “books” and tagged with various stereotypical descriptions related to that volunteer’s identity.  Patrons ask a librarian to borrow one of the “books” and then the patron and “book” have a 30-minute conversation with the goals of breaking down barriers and of increasing tolerance.  When the thirty minutes are up, the patron returns the “book” to the librarian.

After I read the article, I just couldn’t stop thinking about this concept and wondering, could we have a program like this here at Main?  I invite you to comment here and let us know what your thoughts are.  If we had a program like this, what living book might you volunteer to be?  What living book would you want to check out?

In the meantime, check out one of our non-breathing books.  We have many autobiographies and memoirs on our shelves.  Read about someone who is Black, White and Jewish or read about the experience of a Person with a Transgender Spouse.  Perhaps you have questions for a Christian Voter or an African-American Single Mom.  Or maybe you just feel like “hassling” a Celebrity.

Comments and thoughts?

 –Laura.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Mingus, Mingus, Mingus!

Charles Mingus is one of a handful of the most important jazz composers of the 20th century.  He  was a giant of jazz, an innovator whose music blends classical, bop, and free jazz to create something else again.  In addition, in the volatile time that he lived, he was an unapologetic advocate of civil rights in the United States. 

Today we celebrate the anniversary of his birth, April 22, 1922.

Two distinctive documentaries have been made of his life: Mingus: Charlie  Mingus, 1968 and Charles Mingus: Triumph of the Underdog.  The former is currently out of print, but was issued in both VHS and DVD formats (maybe you’d like to try to interlibrary loan it). Shown by many PBS stations across the country, Mingus 1968 chronicles a harrowing eviction  from his East Village apartment, during a particularly troubling period of his life, as well as some perfomance highlights.  Some of this footage was used in the later Triumph video, which presents a good, balanced view of his career with some fine performance footage.  If you’re jonesing for a more complete live performance on DVD, check out  Charlie Mingus: Live in ’64 (with the incomparable Eric Dolphy) for concerts in Belgium, Norway, and Sweden.

Mingus was no stranger to the written word: his Beneath the Underdog: His World as Composed by Mingus is an excellent autobiography, well worth the read.  Also on the personal level, there is Sue Graham Mingus’s Tonight at Noon: a Love Story by wife and keeper of his legacy.  For perhaps more objective points of view, there are Myself When I am Real: the Life and Music of Charles Mingus by Gene Santoro (2000), Mingus/Mingus: Two Memoirs by Janet Coleman and Al Young (1989), and Mingus, A Critical Biography by Brian Priestly (1982).

Ultimately, it is the music that matters; there is plenty to be had in library collections throughout the county and more performances seem to be discovered every year.   In the last year and a half, three excellent concerts have been released: Charles Mingus in Paris: October 1970, the Complete American Session, Cornell 1964  (perhaps his finest live set ever) and Music written for Monterey, 1965: not heard – played in its entirely at UCLA, September 25th, 1965Music written for Monterey was originally issued on vinyl on Mingus’s own label, one of the first independent releases of its kind and a precursor of today’s thriving indie music movement.  The breadth and depth of Charles Mingus the man and Charles Mingus the musician are immeasurable; in an era of giants, such as John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis, Mingus stood very tall, indeed. 

And, oh, yeah, let’s not forget Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus: “Better get hit in yo’ soul!”

– Don

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized