for Nov. 5, 2009: Which do you prefer? Biographies written about someone? Or Autobiographies written by the actual person (and/or ghost-writer)?
I choose books about people by their subject matter and writing style, just like anything else. I like memoirs - i.e., reflecting non-fiction written about the author's experiences - and I like biography of historical figures. But most people in the historical past didn't write about themselves, so usually I have to rely on modern historians writing about them. There are exceptions: one of my favourite books ever is L'Histoire de Guillaume Le Maréchal
, a biography written about 1220 about William Marshal, who was Marshal of England for Henry II, teacher and friend of Richard Lionheart, and Regent of England for Henry III. Written in Anglo-Norman verse by his squire.
Qui ai bon matyre a feireDe Bello Gallico
Deit si porveir son afaire
S'il a bel commencement...
isn't exactly autobiography, but it's odd how many of my favourite people were writers, one way or another. Can I count the poems of Catullus as memoirs in verse?
Probably the most significant biography I have ever read was one called Sir Francis Drake
, which I read when I was eight or nine, when I was falling in love with history.
Favourite biographies: various ones of Shelley and Mary Shelley and their circle, Byron, Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Henry II Plantagenet.
Favourite memoirs: Noel Coward, Bill Bryson, Annie Dillard, Michel de Montaigne. The letters of Byron, Shelley and Lord Nelson might fall into this category, too - not exactly written as memoirs, but serving that purpose.
Favourite autobiographies: John Barrowman and Christopher Plummer are two I recently read and loved.
There's another more rare category of autobiography: autobiography done in comic book form. My favourite of these is The Spiral Cage
by Al Davison, in which a young man with spina bifida describes his life in comic book form. Then there is Melody
, an autobiographical comic about a Montreal stripper. And the brilliant, brilliant Barefoot Gen
is autobiographical - about Keiji Nakazawa's experiences before, during and after the bombing of Hiroshima.