Thursday, November 5, 2009

My Life in Letters

This week's BTT question:

It’s All About Me November 5, 2009
Filed under: Wordpress — --Deb @ 1:36 am

Which do you prefer? Biographies written about someone? Or Autobiographies written by the actual person (and/or ghost-writer)?

I much prefer autobiographies to biographies. There are always holes in biographies. Even though they're more objective, you never feel as if you're getting the entire story.

The biography I just finished is a good example. Nyiregyhazi was allegedly working on an autobiography that has since been lost. I'd love to know how he viewed himself. It's easy to come to conclusions about him and his life. Easy to draw a direct line between his tightly controlled childhood and inability to cope with the demands of a career as a concert pianist, easy to draw similar conclusions about his relationship with his mother and his ten marriages. Did he draw the same conclusions, though? Or did he attribute his troubles to something else?

Another good example of this problem can be found in the biography of Axl Rose: W.A.R by Mick Wall. In this case, Axl wouldn't talk with Mick Wall because Wall had pissed him off over fifteen years ago. So Wall's source material consisted primarily of interviews with the few friends and ex-bandmates that are willing to talk about their time with Axl, and interviews from Guitar World and Rolling Stone, which I myself have yellowing in the closet of my childhood bedroom. What's clear from the book is that Axl was up to something that he was not choosing to share with very many people.

Autobiographies can be more revealing that someone else's perspective ever could. Joan Crawford was widely regarded as an excellent mother until Mommie Dearest came out. In Lillian Gish's outraged and near-tearful defense of her mentor DW Griffith's Birth of a Nation, you learn more about the regard she had for DW Griffith than a thousand biographers could ever say. A biographer might be tempted to psychoanalyze the behvaior of Motley Crue over the years, but he or she probably wouldn't draw the same simple conclusion that the Crue itself did: "We did all this stuff because it was fun. When it quit being fun and nearly killed us, we stopped, but that was the only reason why. If they ever invent a type of drug that won't ruin your life, we are SO THERE."

So, I definitely prefer autobiographies. Even with the ghostwriter, they get at what biographies never really can: the subject's actual experience of his or her life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Our views are similar. You can find my BTT HERE