What Is It? Genre Part II

Hopefully you enjoyed What Is It? Genre Part I, it’s now time to delve a little deeper.

Let’s take a look at the differences between: biography, autobiography and memoir? Often confusing, are they all the same?

A biography is the life story of a person written by someone else.

An autobiography is the life story of a person written by themselves.

A memoir is a collection of memories from a person’s life, told in the first person. It’s different from an autobiography, because it does not tell the entire life story.

Now that we’ve got that straight, what is the difference between an authorised or unauthorised biography?  An authorised biography is a biography written about a person with the subject or family’s permission.

An unauthorised biography is just that.  A biography that has no approval from the subject, which naturally means the subject has not contributed information or personal material to the biography.  A well known unauthorised biography is Oprah: A Biography by Kitty Kelley.

Just when you thought that was the end, I bring you fictional autobiography.  Essentially, it’s when an author creates a fictional character and writes a book as if it were a first person autobiography.  Sound confusing? A popular example of a fictional autobiography is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. This also brings us to the controversy of autobiographical fiction.  This is when an author will write a book and claim it is their autobiography, although it contains falsehoods and may not be true at all.  A great example of this is A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, originally sold as a memoir but later found to contain much fiction.

Many readers will suspend disbelief in order to enjoy a good fantasy or fairytale, but if an autobiography is found to contain false claims or fiction, is it any less enjoyable?  I like to know what I’m reading beforehand and resent it if I find out later that a book was not all I thought it was.  What about you?

Let’s look at a few more genres before I close off this What Is It? article on genre.

The Hunter by Julia Leigh is an example of Tasmanian gothic literature

Gothic literature is very popular and includes such novels as Dracula by Bram Stoker and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.  Gothic novels contain some of the following elements: horror, secrets, romance, madness, death, ghosts, supernatural and gothic architecture including haunted houses and castles.  Characters in a gothic novel will often include: women in distress, tyrannical males, maniacs, heroes, magicians, angels, ghosts and much more.

Gothic horror or gothic literature is a great genre, but what about Tasmanian gothic literature?  Yes, you read right, there are a number of novels now classified as Tasmanian gothic literature and if this tickles your fancy, you may want to check some of them out: The Roving Party by Rohan WilsonThe Hunter by Julia Leigh and Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan.

Whatever your reading tastes may be, you are bound to enjoy some genres more than others and at some point in your reading life, continue to read from your favourites.  Just remember to keep exploring and venturing into new reading territories because you never know what you’ll find.

Mid-month round-up – the health and long life edition

As winter draws in and the evenings get colder I find cooking more alluring. Slaving over a hot stove – so very unappealing in Sydney’s sticky-hot summers – becomes much more enticing as a way both to keep warm and to get a good meal in. And, having just discovered the farmer’s markets up the road, I’ve decided to try my hand at making the best of the autumn harvest produce. Unfortunately I’m not really sure what naturally peaks down under in the Autumn (Easter eggs?) so I’ve picked up a copy of Belinda Jeffery’s Country Cookbook to inform me and inspire me on how to whip up that seasonal fruit and veg.

Before you think I have gone all Nigella on you, I have to admit that I have being taking inspiration from the sumptuous pictures (if Belinda decides to stop cooking, she’ll easily be able to make a living as a photographer) and the suggested monthly highlighted produce more than whipping up a 3 course dinner to spec nightly. Much like fashion trends, cookery tends to work better for me as a concept than in actual practice, especially baking – I did once, accidentally, managed to make a pretty convincing replica of the Discworld’s dwarven battle muffins. But while some of the recipes will certainly suit those with sweet teeth, it’s also inspired me to whip up more than a few stews, soups and casseroles from scratch, which has to be a little healthier than my normal method if warming myself through the winter with hot ports and chocolate.

The Country Cookbook: Seasonal Jottings and Recipes

Keeping with the theme of eating plenty of good food and living well, Good Health in the 21st Century by Carole Hungerford has also been prodding me to overhaul a diet that had become a bit over-reliant on grabbing pre-prepared and fast food. Carole is a family doctor and in this book she applies her years of learning and practise to give readers her perspective on how we can stay healthier for longer. We’re always interested in their opinions as soon as we become ill but doctors don’t get to interact much with what is the ideal outcome of their profession – healthy people.

It pretty much boils down to one simple point – eat better food, and more variety of it. The book meld recent studies and research on diet and nutrition with a no-nonsense approach to getting your hands on it easily through eating well and heartily.  An organic apple a day is unlikely, by itself, to keep the doctor away but Dr Hungerford suggests that diet rich in the minerals, vitamins, and essential fatty acids that normally occur in a wide-ranging diet will do a lot of work needed to keep us out of the doctor’s waiting room and in good health.  She addresses subjects including asthma, arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and mental health and neurological disorders, and – while I am not suggesting that every single thing in it is correct as I am, of course, not a doctor – it’s an engaging read that provides a good prod to those of us with good intentions regarding food often ruined by having the local takeaway on speed-dial.

Good Health in the 21st Century

Speaking of good health and a long life, I’ve also been enjoying Joanna Lumley’s photo-scrapbook and memoir, Absolutely. Much like Country Cookbook, Absolutely is a visual feast of photographs as well as words. Joanna describers herself as a hoarder of all things personal and memorabilia and thanks to this habit she has pictures of her family and herself in her every incarnation, from growing up in Kashmir and Kent, to her time as a model in the Swinging Sixties and her many memorable roles. She’s been a Bond girl, fought crime as Purdey in the New Avengers and, along with Jennifer Saunders, re-defined the phrase sweetie-darling as the unforgettable Patsy Stone, and looked absolutely fabulous throughout.

While it’s tempting to just flick through the pictures, it would be a shame to miss the linking text; Joanna’s writing is – much like her – stylish, welcoming, whimsical and possessed of a self-deprecatory sense of humour and perspective normally absent in celebrity memoirs. I’d quite like to be Joanna Lumley when I grow up, although I occasionally worry with my current diet and hobbies, I am more likely to end up resembling Patsy Stone. Well, whatever of the healthy eating and sylph-like figures at least we have the hoarding in common – I bet she can’t throw out books either.

From A to the Z list – celeb autobiographies

I read a lot of non-fiction but, I have to admit, I’ve love to occasionally dip into low down and salacious celebrity gossip. I don’t usually bother with gossip magazines but go straight for the concentrated form and hit their  autobiographies.

And the best bit is, you never run out of reading material. A complete lack of anything to say has never stopped them. Miley Cyrus started work on her autobiography at the age of 15, Katie Price (aka page 3 model Jordan) has managed to cobble together the material for three separate autobiographies by the age of 32. Titled Being Jordan, Jordan: A Whole New World, and Jordan: Pushed to the Limit, you can only assume that last title describes the process of trying to come up with more content on a life already so well-chronicled.

Eager not to be left out, her ex-beau Peter Andre then managed to squeeze out his offering, All About Us, hopefully imbued with more originality than you would expect of a man who decided to call his child Junior. You might not expect Peter Andre to be the type to pick up a pen (or, lets be honest here, a crayon and a ghostwriter) but the most unlikely people suddenly demonstrate interest in scrawling an autobiography if given a chance – after all, how many other activities both allows you total control of your image and a chance to make money?

A total lack of public interest has never stopped them; Alec Baldwin’s A Promise to Ourselves was  published on 22 October and sold just 12 copies within that month, according to the  UK Telegraph. Walk into any bookstore and you’ll find the bargain bin full of the worst examples of celebrities writing into the void. A complete lack of truth is no roadblock. You might remember the fuss when James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, which sold two million copies in the US after it was recommended by Oprah Winfrey, turned out not so much to be a memoir about Frey’s battle with alcohol and drugs but a big pile of porkie pies carefully seasoned with lies to be deliciously edible. (A note from Frey will be included in future editions: “I embellished many details about my past experiences, and altered others in order to serve what I felt was the great purpose of the book.”)

In fact, a lack of truth can be the chief selling point. Dustin Diamond’s “Behind the Bell” was a wonderfully lurid but slightly unbelievable litany sex (and drug) scandals; Dustin claims to have had sex with more than 2,000 women, most of whom he picked up at Disneyland, and that the entire “SBTB” era was pretty much one giant pick-up joint and everyone was invited except Mr. Belding (no, really).

We’re no in danger of running out of celebrities desperate to get their own version of events out there and some of them have given us the most terribly titled books out there, including Tori Spelling — sTori Telling and R Kelly’s Soula Coaster: The Diary of Me. The jury is still out on whether David Hasselhoff’s Don’t Hassle The Hoff is the worst title of all time or just manages to squeeze over the line into so bad it’s actually good.

If you don’t have time (or value your own brain too much) to read every celebrity memoir out there you can take in the very worst of their excesses at “Celebrity Autobiography”, when a cast of comics present excerpts from celebrity memoirs at the Sydney Opera House at the end of this month. From the sublime to the ridiculous, from the banal to the most insanely boastful, from Sylvester Stallone’s pecs to how the lascivious details of  how Tiger likes to set up his holes in one, it’s all here.

Just how entertaining can celebrity autobiographies be? Well, this show sold out for three years in New York City so it’s clearly doing better than poor Alec Baldwin’s memoirs. (Just in case you hadn’t guessed, this one is not suited to kids, so leave the littlies at home if you plan to go and see it.)