{06/02/2013}   Reading autobiographies

Over the years, lots of well known people have written autobiographies and occasionally, seeing a book written by and about someone I find interesting, I have bought their autobiography.  However, I would say that most autobiographies I have ever bought are languishing unread on my book shelves.  The reality is that other people’s life stories can be dull, poorly written and riddled with questionably accurate anecdotes and events.

I went through a phase of thinking about how I would write my autobiography and I realised there are so, so many things that I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to write about, despite their significance to my life up to now.  For example, I don’t think you should reveal other people’s secrets, at least not without their permission, and a lot of things that you do might be publishable to you but not to anyone else involved.  I don’t believe you can write a truly accurate autobiography unless you can include everything and everyone you feel is of significance and I just think there are too many potential revelations or upsets for anyone to be able to be completely honest and open.

I did, however, read one autobiography that I both enjoyed and felt was suitably raw for an autobiography and that was Janet Street-Porter’s “Baggage: My Childhood”.  I wouldn’t say I’m a particular fan of Janet Street-Porter, though I do like her, but for a while I lived a few doors away from one of her homes and often used to see her and on seeing the book my interest was piqued.  I think enough people would have been offended for it to have come across as being a genuine autobiography.  I also really respected the fact she didn’t paint herself in a particularly flattering light, which made me like her more.  Very interesting and I might even read her next instalment.

Admittedly, some of my biographical books are biographies but these are different.  An autobiography should give off the voice of the person the book is about, genuine first person narrative.  I would love to be brave (or perhaps stupid) enough to write my autobiography, it being one about a relatively normal upbringing, but every time I think about it I realise I wouldn’t want to put anything in it that was remotely rude about my parents or friends and there are events or thoughts, I believe, in everyone’s lives that should never be shared.  If you’re going to do it, it should be completely open and I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to do that.  And anyway, it’s not like my stories would be littered with the stuff of weekly celebrity gossip magazines; I would be potentially offending or upsetting real people whose lives are not in the limelight.  I say all this but it’s not like I have a double life or anything in particular that would cause offence/distress/embarrassment, it’s just … well, it’s not necessary to divulge all your innermost thoughts and experiences.  There is also the fact it could make for a very dull read, which far too many autobiographies do.

I like to think I usually end posts with a sort of moral to the story.  I’m flailing a bit here but I think it’s safe to say that the simple moral of this post is that I won’t be writing an autobiography and that an autobiography, in my eyes, is unlikely to be accurate if it doesn’t offend, embarrass or upset people mentioned within it, if the author comes across as perfection personified and/or if their life seems purely about fun and excitement, which is just rose-tinting/creating a false impression.


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