Biographies, Memoirs and Autobiographies Message Board

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Biographies, Memoirs and Autobiographies Message Board

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Jul 29, 2006, 10:05 am

I've already read several biographies earlier this year, a couple of only so-so ones, but also a few completely stunning examples as well, most prominently Francine du Plessix Gray's Them: A Memoir of Parents, T. Harry Williams's Pulitzer-winning landmark Huey Long, and Taylor Branch's At Canaan's Edge, the last volume of his monumental Martin Luther King bio. Each of these was no less than superlative in its own way and highly recommended to one and all.

And just last night I finished Ivan Doig's magnificent memoir This House of Sky, which I'll probably go back and reread sections of today because I really didn't want it to end, just a lovely book.

Jul 29, 2006, 10:38 am

Two that come to mind that I really enjoy:

"Selected Letters of John Keats" (I just love the letters of people ... I think they more than qualify as "Memoirs").

"Dune Boy" by Edwin Way Teale (Teale was Pulitzer winner for series of Naturalist books where he and his wife drove their old Hudson thousands of miles, following each season as it moved across the country). "Dune Boy" is his memoir of growing up in Northern Indiana (where I grew up, too).

Right now, I'm rereading (well, sort of ... my first "reading" was around 1960 as a teenager; thumbing through the book to read just the juicy parts) Frank Harris' "My Life and Loves." It's surprisingly interesting (the "Life" part, that is ... the "Love" part is rather repetitive and nowhere as, uh, arousing(?) as Cleland's "Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure") in that he roamed several continents and knew many noted persons of history during the Fin de Siècle period. Of course, it's fairly obvious that Harris "enlarged" upon his own history, but, still, it makes for a good summer read.

Jul 29, 2006, 11:05 am

OK, I'm going to attempt to put in the links like your original message (here goes):

"Selected Letters of John Keats"

"Dune Boy"

"My Life and Loves"

(Will it work?)

Jul 29, 2006, 11:42 am

So is this group meant to complement or compete with the "Memoirs and autobiographies" group? ;)

Fun autobiographical reads I had way back in the day were those of Ron Popeil and R. David Thomas (that's Dave Thomas the Wendy's founder to you.. but it's too common a name in that form at this point for LT's system).

Jul 29, 2006, 11:50 am

I see a pattern ... the list of groups is getting so long and some of the group names are either whimsical or have the key word later, rather than earlier, in the name, so that you don't notice the group when another (identical) group is created.

I did the same thing earlier. I was aghast that there wasn't a Shakespeare group, so I created "Shakespeare Shindig" only to find out, via a message, that there was already a group called "The Globe" (I was scanning for the Bard's name, not his theater).

I'm sure it will all get sorted out eventually. So, Louis, should we figure out how to combine with the other "Memoirs" group?

(I think I'll copy most of this message to the blog, if it hasn't already been addressed)

Jul 31, 2006, 5:39 am

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Jul 31, 2006, 9:07 am

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Jul 31, 2006, 11:24 am

Laura, is that David Attenborough the same Brit actor/director I'm familiar with?

Jul 31, 2006, 3:40 pm

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Jul 31, 2006, 3:40 pm

Oops, sorry, Laura, got David confused with Richard Attenborough.

Ago 1, 2006, 5:21 pm

Everyone seems to be posting really heavy stuff so I'll start to lighten up by claiming Running with Scissors, Devil in the Details, Me Talk Pretty One Day although it's a series of essays rather than a memoir per se but still true life stuff. I have to stand by James Frey and Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard.

Ago 2, 2006, 12:00 pm

I finished The Tender Bar byJ.R. Moehringer last week on audio. I cannot stop saying good things about this memoir!! Last night, I had the opportunity of seeing J.R. Moehringer starting his paperback book tour in Milwaukee, WI (I drove from La Crosse, WI--more than 3 hours). It was such a treat to listen to him and hear more stories from his life and even hear him read from the book. If he is coming to a city near you--GO!! It was well worth the trip and the sleep deprivation I am suffering today.

This is a genre I have not always frequented. I am primarily a fiction reader, but in the last year I am making an effort to read more non-fiction and this seems to where I have landed for my favorite non-fiction books. I suppose it is because it is reading someone's real story. Other memoirs, biographies, autobiographies I have read include Lucky Man, Hole in My Life, Behind rebel lines, Night and A Million Little Pieces (before it the controversy. I look forward to ideas for what to read next in this genre!

Ago 2, 2006, 3:18 pm

I agree. The Tender Bar was very good. Try The Color of Water by James McBride. It is a totally unforgettable story. Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller is also excellent.

Ago 2, 2006, 3:20 pm

Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight was a cracking read, although I heard it abridged on the radio not long before and found it a bit disjointed to read as a result. I should have waited a bit longer to read it.

I'm quite a big fan of 'showbiz' memoirs and biographies - the best one I've read lately was Round Mr. Horne, about Kenneth Horne, a fascinating but ill-remembered figure in British radio comedy.

15santiago Primeira Mensagem
Ago 2, 2006, 3:34 pm

Am currently reading Hemingway by Kenneth Lynn. Pretty good by my standards. Perhaps the best bio I've ever read was Dickens by Peter Ackroyd.

Ago 2, 2006, 7:04 pm

I especially liked Alexandra Fuller's book too, and have recommended Don't Let's Go To the Dogs Tonight to many folks since it came out, but her follow-up to it Scribbling the Cat wasn't nearly so good and was, for my money anyway, a major disappointment.

Ago 2, 2006, 9:16 pm

Since I just finished it, I thought I should recommend Debby Applegate's new biography of Henry Ward Beecher, The Most Famous Man in America. I have posted a review on the LT page so I won't go into details here, but I thought it quite well done.

Ago 4, 2006, 8:37 am

Read yesterday, and enjoyed: A Young Man's Passage by Julian Clary. TMI in places, brutally honest, but funny, fascinating, and occasionally sad.

Ago 4, 2006, 2:14 pm

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Ago 4, 2006, 2:15 pm

Try to find "Heart Earth," a wonderful portrait of Ivan Doig's mother (who died when he was six). Forty-one years after her death an uncle gave Doig letters his mother had written in 1945. Ivan Doig wove them together with a narrative (you hear his voice as you read). Esta 1923

Ago 4, 2006, 3:46 pm

Thanks so much for that rec, Esta. Having become such an Ivan Doig fan in the last few months, I'll add Heart Earth to my list today, and thanks again.

Ago 8, 2006, 12:55 am

Further Doig=Heart Earth. This letters that his mother had written to her brother during the war. (As you know she died when Doig was 6 years old. These letters had been held by his uncle. . . ) Esta1923

Editado: Ago 15, 2006, 8:51 pm

my comments regarding Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India,and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert are here


anyone reading Marley and Me? can't wait til i get my paws on that one :)

Set 18, 2006, 9:27 pm

We recently finished Marley and Me. We took turns reading chapters to each other in bed at night. I would inevitably end up in stitches, laughing until I lost my breath! I'm happy that it had staying power on the bestseller is a delightful read for animal lovers. Go for it, monicabrandywine -- you won't regret it!

Set 19, 2006, 11:30 am

Just finished Two Lives by Vikram Seth - a wonderful and very moving combination of memoir, dual biography, and insight into some of the terrible events of the 20th century that history books alone can't provide.

Set 19, 2006, 1:44 pm

Two Lives was an absolutely wonderful book and I'll read anything Seth writes.

Set 19, 2006, 3:09 pm

I read A Suitable Boy as soon as it came out in paperback, and loved it, but now I'm inclined to go back and reread it -- and of course will look for Vikram Seth's other works too.

Out 17, 2006, 10:35 am

American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson was great. Ellis has another one on Adams I want to read, Passionate Sage.

Editado: Out 18, 2006, 8:52 pm

I felt terrible that I hadn't read Sally Morgan's My Place, so finally did this year. It's a very moving autobiography about her search for her origins, and discovery of her indigenous Australian heritage. There are many lifestories by Aboriginal Australians, and one that I want to read very soon is by Audrey Evans, Many Lifetimes: a memoir. I was priviliged to share a writing class with her during a Masters degree, and saw how her story developed. She was a determined woman who faced down great hardship to achieve a tertiary education. Sadly, she died before she saw her memoir published, but she will never be forgotten.

Other memoirs I've read this year are Raimond Gaita's Romulus, My Father and John McGahern's Memoir, both simply written but beautiful.

Out 20, 2006, 9:29 am

I recently read Running with Scissors for my book group and didn't care for it at all.

This week I finished American Prometheus about J. Robert Oppenheimer and really enjoyed it.

One of my all-time favorites is Uncle Tungsten:Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks.

Out 20, 2006, 11:45 am

I've read a few more memoirs since August - John Simpson's Days From A Different World, Michael Palin's Diaries, Adam Ant'sStand And Deliver, and And It's Goodnight From Him by Ronnie Corbett and David Nobbs. Somewhat UK-centric, but I think they stand up as interesting reading even if you don't know the people concerned.

Nov 10, 2006, 12:10 am

Two of my all-time favorites are Where White Men Fear to Tread by Russell Means and Moving Violations by John Hockenberry. Hole in My Life is excellent, too. I'll have to scan my catalog and think of some more. My favorite genre.

Nov 16, 2006, 2:11 am

doogiewray, since you grew up in the dune country of Indiana (like Teale) can you tell me the name of another autobiography of a duneboy? As I recall, he talks about his mother as a great outdoors person--gardening, painting, chores. Perhaps there was a housekeeping grandmother? I wish I could remember more, but title and author are completely gone from my memory.

Nov 16, 2006, 4:40 am

If you enjoy the works of P.G. Wodehouse, and aren't afraid that knowing a whole lot more about him personally might take away some of the inimitable lightness you get from reading his stories, I highly recommend Robert McCrum's Wodehouse: A Life. McCrum has researched essentially everything that is known about Wodehouse's life, including some (perhaps many) illuminating details not previously reported by anyone. For example, McCrum found and interviewed (still living, retired in the south of Spain) a then-young German journalist (and pre-war Wodehouse fan) who in 1942 dissuaded an interned Wodehouse from trying to hire a German attorney to commence a legal action in England against English newspapers for libel over their attacks on him for the broadcasts he made on German radio in 1941. If all that sounds as implausible to you as one of Wodehouse's stories, well, that's just why you will enjoy the real story of his life.

A couple of caveats:

Wodehouse in real life was an intensely private person, so there is much that can never be known about what he really thought and felt at key points in his life. That, however, doesn't always stop McCrum from speculating from insufficient evidence. You can enjoy the wealth of facts presented without always accepting McCrum's inferences, of course.

In a similar vein, McCrum aspires to psychobiography, and here too the lack of sufficient evidence doesn't always stop him. These passages stand out easily, though, and again you don't always have to accept his speculations.

The 100 page section on the period of Wodehouse's internment by the Germans reads almost like a thriller. You will find yourself turning the pages to find out what strange twist of fate comes next.

For me, the bio has deepened my appreciation for Wodehouse's immense literary achievement.

Nov 21, 2006, 12:49 am

I enjoyed Running With Scissors, though in some parts it became a little unbelievable and even grotesque. For the most part, it was entertaining, and I think that was the intention. As for other memoirs, the most disjointed, inspired tragicomedy I've read lately is Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Also a few months ago I read Naked Lunch, which I loved almost despite itself-- it was hard to get through and dense for someone unfamiliar with much of the drug names and random street terminology.

As for biographies, I'm currently reading Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood, and earlier this year I read Athenais by Lisa Hilton. An incredibly engaging book, and the cover wasn't half bad either. :)

I think that's enough for now.

36overthemoon929 Primeira Mensagem
Dez 15, 2006, 5:47 pm

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Editado: Fev 28, 2007, 5:36 pm

Here are a few I've read over the past year that are worth commenting upon. I've classified the second group under "memoir" as per the specific, indicated aspects of the author's life.


Speedbumps: Flooring it Through Hollywood by Teri Garr. Her battle with MS comes near the end, otherwise nothing spectacular.
Lessons in Becoming Myself by Ellen Burstyn. Interesting story, though some have complained it comes off as too "new age-y".
Microthrills: True Stories from a Life of Small Highs by Wendy Spero. Quirky, but a fun read.


The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee. Memoir with a self-admitted focus on author's book-related career. Very highly recommended for anyone interested enough in reading to join LT in the first place!
Fat Girl by Judith Moore and Food and Loathing by Betsy Lerner. Both are autobiographical from childhood to adult, keeping the focus on the weight issue, rather than general autobios.
Devil in the Details by Jennifer Traig. Focuses on author's story of a childhood struggling with religious OCD.
All the fishes come home to roost : an American misfit in India by Rachel Manija Brown. Author's childhood living at a ashram in India, and being the only caucasian in her entire school there, etc.

I've read a few others in the past year, but these are the ones that stood out for me.

38kinnerc Primeira Mensagem
Mar 4, 2007, 12:58 pm

Oddly enough, I find as I grow older I'm reading more biographies. A couple of friends have mentioned this as a sign of growing more mature in that, as a kid, you think you know everything, but as you grow older you move out of that opinion and want to know how others have figured out life.

Currently, I'm on a scientist bio kick. The last bio I completed was for Sir Isaac Newton called The Last Sorcerer. I'm currently reading Conflict in the Cosmos: Fred Hoyle's Life in Science.

Indeed, this biography thing threatens to get out of control. I have started the process or writing my first book which will be a biography! I guess they can be addicting. :-)

Mar 16, 2007, 6:36 pm

One of the advantages(?) of starting to catalog my books on LT has been discovering (and re-discovering) a lot of books that have gotten buried in the stacks.
The autobiography I am currently reading is The Honeycomb by Adela Rogers St. John. Her perspective on the events she covered as one of the first female reporters and the stars she hobnobbed with in early Hollywood make for interesting reading.
She doesn't write chronologically, almost stream-of-consciousness. Considering she wrote it in her seventies, it is probably like the conversations I will be having with my grandchildren in a few years about our family history :-)

Mar 17, 2007, 4:56 am

I just started 'Born on a blue day : a memoir of Asperger's and an extraordinary mind' and like it a lot.

41kkingttut Primeira Mensagem
Abr 8, 2007, 2:42 pm

I just finished Into the Wild and have begin the JRR Tolkien CS Lewis book about their friendship. I'd love some thoughts on a next great bio to read. I have been thinking about the John Adams biography by David McCollough.

Editado: Abr 8, 2007, 4:20 pm

Just finished (and thoroughly enjoyed) Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman.

At many points, I was laughing out loud, even though I was all by myself. That's always a good thing in Life.

Also, his unfettered way of looking at Life and cutting through all the bullshit was very refreshing and inspiring.


"In the end, only kindness matters."

Maio 4, 2007, 11:41 pm

Not all that long ago, I read Failure Is Impossible. It's not strictly a biography (in this case, of Susan B. Anthony), but not really a collected works either, but sort of a mutt, so I guess it fits. Very interesting, especially for those who are into the American woman-suffrage movement.

The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn is a thorough and up-to-date account. Author Eric Ives wrote an earlier biography of Anne Boleyn which seems to show up in the bibliographies of a lot of the intervening books on Boleyn, Henry VIII, and collective biographies of his wives.

Editado: Maio 16, 2007, 9:57 pm

I'm part way through Autobiography of My Mother by Meg Stewart, and it is wonderfully written. Stewart writes in the voice of her mother, so it is in the first person. Her mother, for those of you who don't know, was an Australian artist called Margaret Coen. The details of childhood, of behaviour, of dress, of her aunts becoming nuns, of school life, are written with a storyteller's eye. Margaret Coen was married to the poet Douglas Stewart, but the author discovered that her mother had an affair with Norman Lindsay.

Meg Stewart has also written a biography of Margaret Olley, Far from a Still Life, which I am looking forward to.

Maio 16, 2007, 10:21 pm

I recently read Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She is a Somali who fled an arranged marriage and ended up (after a number of experiences) becoming a member of the Dutch parliament. She renounced Islam (her religion) and is now, I believe, working for a think-tank in Washington. Brave woman and great story.

Editado: Jul 31, 2007, 8:53 pm

I have just ordered Infidel after seeing it recommended elsewhere. Truly looking forward to reading it!

Update: It was a quite remarkable story!

Jul 8, 2007, 9:53 am


I just started a new group called Biographies of Eccentrics and Outsiders, if you are interested in those sorts of people. For any lover of biography, strange or otherwise, my favourite has to be The Orientalist by Tom Reiss. An incredible piece of biographical detective work, revealing how a Jewish boy of German parentage, raised in Baku, Azerbaijan, spent his early adult life in literary Berlin (at the same time as Nabokov), wrote prolifically, and ended up being buried - as a Muslim - in Positano, Italy. Extraordinary.

Jul 24, 2007, 10:00 pm

I'm surprised it hasn't been mentioned before, but The Glass Castle was absolutely heart-wrenching and poignantly wonderful.

49snugglyginger Primeira Mensagem
Editado: Dez 24, 2007, 8:35 pm

I am in the middle of Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and I am completely captured by it. It captures my attention every time I open the book. An amazing story and a must read for anyone that finds religion and other cultures as fascinating as I do.

Mar 31, 2008, 10:41 am

I started reading Pat Conroy's My Losing Season while on a Easter beach trip. Even though I'm not a basketball fan and have been team sport adverse all my life, I found it quite a compelling read. It's about his 1966-67 season playing basketball for the Citadel. I think I picked it up because everyone around me has been obsessing about the Sweet 16. Even I got into the Davidson/Kansas game last night.

Jan 8, 2010, 8:45 am

Here's the Wall St. Journal review of Ben Yagoda's history of memoirs called, rightly enough, Memoir: A History. Takes a look at the development of memoirs and how utter nobodies can manage to get a memoir, full of not quite factual information, published these days.