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oct. 6, 2015, 2:15pm

I'll just mention a couple that I love.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin may have been my first exposure to this 'genre.' I recently listened to an audio version by Fredd Wayne and he brought old Ben to life.

Beverley Nichols wrote several books about restoring an old country property. A Thatched Roof is the lovliest so far.

Calvin Trillin wrote a very short book About Alice that was brilliantly sweet.

Editat: oct. 6, 2015, 2:30pm

Favourites I can think of in this category would be:
The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
Black Like Me by Howard Griffin
and of course Anne Frank

The Last Lecture was pretty good and still in my collection.

Curiosity demanded I read Augustine's Confessions and I just about choked on it. Recommend a pass there, unless early Christian theology is your thing.

I recently picked up Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals, but think I'd like to read something by his father first before getting this portrait of him. Another Nabokov, Speak, Memory is kicking around the house but I haven't even sampled his fiction yet so that has to wait. Samuel Pepys is on the bucket list, and Benvenuto Cellini, and 84 Charing Cross Road. Next year is Roald Dahl's 100th anniversary, which I'm going to do something about.

Right now I'm reading the first volume of Goethe's autobiography, and finding that a bit frustrating.

oct. 6, 2015, 2:42pm

>2 Cecrow: I recently picked up Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals, but think I'd like to read something by his father first before getting this portrait of him.

What did his father write?

There's a nice little book by his brother, Bitter Lemons. I don't know if it counts as "memoir" because it is a snapshot of a short period in his life.

I have a kind of love-hate relationship with Hemingway, but I thought A Moveable Feast was wonderful.

oct. 6, 2015, 4:27pm

According to Wikipedia, his father, Lawrence Samuel Durrell was a British railroad engineer in India. Gerald Durrell's brother, Lawrence, was a novelist famous for The Alexandria Quartet.

oct. 6, 2015, 5:12pm

Cecrow, I'd been thinking recently about having another go at Augustine's Confessions so thanks for reminding me why I'd be sorry to.

I think of a memoir as being different to an autobiography but amn't sure what the difference is--when I first put tags on books here I didn't hesitate over when to use 'biography' for autobiographies but did over when to use a laughably nebulous 'musings & memoirs' tag. I suppose I think an autobiography follows a time-line throughout a life whereas something like the Bitter Lemons southernbooklady mentions would be to me a memoir. Most likely the distinction is fogeyish & quite possibly it's unnecessary, though. Having said that, then perhaps Venices by Morand, Bitter Blue by Jeremy Reed, Mobile by Butor, Take-Off by Giudice and especially The Lost Library are amongst the most er memorable memoirs I've read. (But even so, one of these might have had a 'fiction' tag as well, another does have a lit crit tag', and one might be classified as travel.)

oct. 6, 2015, 5:42pm

I think the worst I've read (of not so many) is Carlos Fuentes' thing about his fling with Jean Seberg.

oct. 6, 2015, 5:59pm

Memoirs worth reading have, for me, been the diaries of certain authors like Woolf and Nin. But probably the most interesting published diaries I ever read were by a politician, Harold Nicolson, husband of Vita Sackville-West. The diaries are edited by his son, Nigel Nicolson who wrote a brilliant memoir about his parents' marriage, Portrait of a Marriage. The writing tradition continues unto the third generation. Adam Nicolson whose most recent book is The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters is a biographer/memoirist as well.

I haven't read this next person's memoirs yet but I did read his ultimate work, a novella of looking forward at age 90 written after the author spent the previous 10 years looking backward into his own life.

The novella is that perfect little gem of a book, Memories of My Melancholy Whores.

The multi-volume memoirs of this writer are titled Living to Tell the Tale.

And the memoirist is, of course, Gabriel García Márquez.

oct. 6, 2015, 8:51pm

I don't read memoirs very often. I've found celebrity memoirs typically self-serving and boring (and none more so than Sidney Poitier's), and of those that speak for people otherwise unknown to me, I tend not to see the attraction. Why pick this one over that one when there's so much else that I know I do want to read?

But every now and then I take an excursion into memoir territory just for a complete change of scenery. The last time I did that, I really enjoyed the trip. It was Judi Dench's And Furthermore, which I liked not just because I admire her acting but because she sounds like a real person with an interesting history.

Editat: oct. 6, 2015, 9:45pm

>2 Cecrow: Helen Keller's is a wonderful story.

When I was growing up I read Runaway : Diary of a Street Kid which is a difficult read for its harrowing content but beautifully written.

More recently, Confessions of a sociopath : a life spent hiding in plain sight was a very interesting read into the mind of a self-confessed sociopath. My husband was worried I was reading it to see if he was one! I had to assure him it wasn't, it was good to try to understand human behavior I could never identify with. It must be nice to live without guilt.

Tiny Fey's Bossy pants was a fun read. I listened to the audiobook she read.

Editat: oct. 7, 2015, 8:02am

>3 southernbooklady:, >4 geneg:, that's funny, the whole time I thought author Larry was his father, not his brother. At least it wasn't his sixth cousin twice removed.

I'm totally lost on the distinction between memoirs and autobiographies too. Any experts in the house?

oct. 7, 2015, 8:08am

My notion is that biography covers their life, while memoirs are a snapshot. Like someone who was sent to the gulag gets out and writes a memoir about the experience.

oct. 7, 2015, 8:24am

My favorites are Christopher Isherwood's. His stories are often very close to life, so you can read the fiction, then the reworked memoir of the same time period, then the "unworked" journals where there's more a listing of events and emotions rather than a narrative.

Editat: oct. 7, 2015, 8:45am

If memoirs are specific episodes, does the fun work of country veterinarian James Herriot count as an entire series of them? Just trying to clarify.

Edit: maybe not. As one LT reviewer of his most popular work says, "These are not memoirs, strictly speaking, but rather stories based on his experiences as a veterinary surgeon's assistant."

oct. 7, 2015, 9:08am

Yeah I wouldn't look at them as memoirs. They're autobiographical in nature but are fictionalized stories inspired by things he experienced in his work. And they're really about that work, and life in the country, as opposed to about him.

Editat: oct. 7, 2015, 3:21pm

I was looking at the Independent Publisher Book Awards, and their categories are:

Autobiography / Memoir I (Celebrity / Political / Romance)
Autobiography / Memoir II (Coming of Age / Family Legacy / Travel)
Autobiography / Memoir III (Personal Struggle / Health Issues)

I think there can't be clear distinctions sometimes. It's a continuous line, not two seperate boxes. Though I like >11 .Monkey.:'s short definition.

I mis-spelled separate. Do I get a chocolate?

oct. 7, 2015, 3:30pm

I think the word "autobiography" implies "my whole life" but "memoir" could go either way.

oct. 7, 2015, 5:08pm

Maybe memoir could be said to be a specific period, or, to have a specific focus. For instance, someone writing about being an activist starting out with some childhood thing that resonated with them, and so it's a memoir of their activism but also a bio since it covers such a large period.

oct. 7, 2015, 5:10pm

I side with those who say autobiography is the story of one's own life, sometimes co-written or written with the help of a ghost writer.

I believe memoir is a "snapshot" form of autobiography, and can be concerned with the people in one's life, or with years spent in a place of interest, or with one's occupation.

I'm thinking of Nigel Nicolson's Portrait of a Marriage -- his recollections (and those of his mother) of his parents, Harold and Vita Sackville-West's, years together and his life at Sissinghurst.

Another example is Between You and Me by Mary Norris who was the "comma queen" at the New Yorker.

Finally, a thid example of memoir is by Gerald Durrell who, remindful of the style Annie Dillard writes about nature and herself, wrote the Corfu trilogy about his childhood on the island, its fauna, and his oddball family (including oldest brother and famous novelist Lawrence Durrell), the first volume of which is My Family and Other Animals.

oct. 7, 2015, 6:16pm

Agatha Christie's autobiography is by far my favourite memoir. It's not just a memoir, it's a particularly detailed account of late Victorian and early 20th century life, and taught me so many things about day to day life in tha t period of upper middle-class England.

When it comes to biography, I highly recommend Douglas Botting's biography of Gerald Durrell. For any fan of Durrell's animal stories, and tales of his crazy family, it is an absolute joy. There are photos, which made the Durrell family suddenly real, and not just the mythic characters in Durrell's writing.

oct. 7, 2015, 7:58pm

I don't distinguish between biography, autobiography, and memoir in my LT catalog -- they all fall under "biography" which is how I would have shelved them when I worked in a bookstore. I do seem to gravitate towards biographies, etc of writers and artists (and scientists). I have several cases' worth of those. But the thing I do pull out as deserving its own section are collections of correspondence. I am mad for these--especially between writers and artists (and scientists).

I love these because they are so much "in the moment" -- without the benefit of hindsight that comes from looking backwards into the far past. But letter-writing is (or at least was) still an art form, and writers who are in the business of turning thought into language are often conscious of crafting a careful sentence. So the correspondence is often a pleasure to read.

oct. 8, 2015, 7:51am

>19 ahef1963:, but where did Agatha go for those missing ten days? She never tells.

oct. 8, 2015, 6:13pm

I really liked McBride's The Color of Water. And more recently, H is for Hawk.

oct. 9, 2015, 4:03am

I loved The Color of Water, and his novels are excellent as well. Black Boy I'm in the middle of but it had to go back to the library. >.<
Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom was excellent, as is The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and Michael J Fox's Lucky Man. Wil Wheaton's Just a Geek is also a great read. There's plenty of others, but those stand out in memory.

oct. 9, 2015, 11:50am

>22 artturnerjr:

I wouldn't call Nickeled and Dimed a memoir. I would distinguish between new journalism reportage, which often involves participant observer narration but makes a point about something bigger in society and memoir. New journalism reportage is often planned, where memoir is what happens to you by fate/circumstances/whatever.

oct. 9, 2015, 1:04pm

I would want to add Personal Memoirs by U.S. Grant to the list. I still think it is the best memoir of war experiences I've ever read.

Editat: oct. 9, 2015, 2:04pm

>25 aulsmith:, in that case Black Like Me is not a memoir either, contrary to my claim at #2.

Here's books most often tagged as memoir on LT:

oct. 11, 2015, 12:18pm

Memoir is exactly a specific period, as short a few moments but it is that those moments organized the entire life. In that way a memoir can be about everything and only a short time all at once. So I prefer the memoir.

oct. 11, 2015, 12:55pm

>25 aulsmith:

I take your point. Nickeled and Dimed is perhaps closer to something like Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (which is pretty great, if you haven't read it) than the other books I listed.

oct. 11, 2015, 1:51pm

I thoroughly enjoyed the recently published It's a Long Story: My Life by Willie Nelson and his co-writer, whose name I cannot remember right now. It's light but great entertainment. Of course, it helps if you already have some appreciation of Willie Nelson. If you dislike him, it might just irritate you.

And it is more of an autobiography than a memoir.

oct. 12, 2015, 10:06am

From a Willie song: "If I'd known I was going to live this long I'd a taken better care of myself."

Roll me up and smoke me when I die.

Editat: oct. 15, 2015, 4:04pm

Great thread. My personal distinction between "memoir" and "autobiography" dwells within those words themselves. To me "memoir" implies memory, as in, "This is how I remember it." But autobiography is a biography written about oneself (obviously). To me this implies a more scholarly approach, the interviewing of sources and other research to make sure all the facts are correct. Also, as others have said, the autobiography would likely be more comprehensive in scope. Of course, as I think we'd all agree, it's often a blurry line.

So, for example, I will chime in to agree about the high quality of The Color of Water. I consider that a memoir, although the author certainly does a whole lot of research. But at its heart, I think the book is the author's memoir about his journey of discovery about his mother and about, thereby his own identity.

Another memoir along these lines I found quite gripping was Blood-Dark Track by Joseph O'Neill, in which the author goes in search of information about not just one, but both of his grandfathers, one raised in Ireland and the other in Turkey. Both of them had been imprisoned by the English during WW2, and neither were ever spoken of within family circles, so the author had grown up with a pair of mysteries to solve.

One more that quickly comes to mind for me is Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

oct. 15, 2015, 4:58pm

My just received LTER book is a self described memoir, titled Without You, There Is No Us. Suki Kim's story of the six months she spent teaching English to the son's of North Korea's elite.

I'm beginning to believe that memoirs are mostly about the most formative episodes of a person's life, or about a time where they felt most important or the opposite -- some kind of zenith or nadir in life that has always affected them. That suggests they may be more interesting and absorbing than an entire autobiography, parts of which, when I read some of them, I feel no guilt about skipping.

oct. 16, 2015, 1:31pm

I just started a new topic on war, which of course suggests an entire field full of memoirs. One I read earlier this year was Thirty Seconds over Tokyo, which was a little bit about the Doolittle Raid and a whole lot about survival in China afterward.

Editat: oct. 23, 2015, 6:42pm

Another memoir that I highly recommend: Wild by Cheryl Strayed, which is an excellent story of a woman coming to terms with her mother's grief. I also recommend the movie; it was very well done.

oct. 26, 2015, 10:06am

Re: memoir/biography/autob, I group everything in my library under 'lives'.

Editat: nov. 24, 2015, 2:52pm

Two more that have returned to my attention recently:

Shake Hands with the Devil (memoir) - Romeo Dallaire's story of the UN mission he was in charge of, in Rwanda at the time of the massacre. I've read it and highly recommend it. This former general later became a high-profile member of Canada's senate.

Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life (biography) - probably the best one about this controversial revolutionary figure. Still aiming to read it.

nov. 24, 2015, 6:39pm

I love reading letters and journals/diaries of famous people or interesting characters, too.

I'd like to read The Liar's Club, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, and Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. I have William Styron's memoir of his bout with depression but haven't read it yet. One memoir that really etched itself into my memory is not easy to read but is beautifully written. That's Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life. If you haven't given My Life in France by Julia Child a go, it's a great read!

I dunno that I'd be mentally prepared to read anything about the Rwanda genocide. Some subjects are too terrible. Che Guevera. . .I read The Motorcycle Diaries and that's enough about him for me.

nov. 25, 2015, 8:15am

The Rwanda story is certainly disturbing, which is exactly why anyone who reads his book can empathize with his post-traumatic stress disorder that he still wrestles with to this day. Romeo Dallaire became something of a household name and national hero in Canada after publishing his story. He was chosen as one of the eight Olympic flag bearers for the opening ceremony in Vancouver.

Speaking of letters, I keep meaning to read 84 Charing Cross Road. I only vaguely understand what it's about, but I know it's letters back and forth between an author and publisher that start acrimoniously and then become friendly.

nov. 28, 2015, 5:30am

>39 Cecrow:

84 Charing Cross Road has just been reissued in a lovely red cloth-bound pocket edition by Slightly Foxed, London. It's no. 32 of a series of mostly memoirs from this publisher.

One of my favourite memoirs - and it's a genre I love - is Journey from Obscurity by Harold Owen. It tells the story of his childhood and of his famous brother, the poet Wilfred Owen, although it's been criticised for glossing over some of the facts, e.g., Wilfred's homosexuality (it was published in the 1960s before homosexuality was legalised in the England). It remains, though, a vivid account of the Owen family growing up in Edwardian England and the terrible impact of World War One on all members of the family.

nov. 28, 2015, 4:18pm

>40 boldface:

Can I blame you (another enabler) if I purchase Journey from Obscurity, as if I needed to add to my TBR pile? Sounds exactly like a memoir I'd enjoy reading.

nov. 28, 2015, 10:15pm

I just finished reading A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout. It's a memoir of her captivity by an extremist group in Somalia, who held her for nearly 500 days. In the process, Lindhout was brutally and repeatedly raped, beaten, tortured, and kept alone in the darkness for months. It was a really gruelling read, but worth the tears (there were many), and the anguish of reading her story. Highly recommended, but not for those who can't handle very grim scenes.