2024 Reading Challenge – May

Memoirs, autobiographies, biographies! Why are there so many versions of the same thing? Aren’t they all books about famous people? Why can’t we just have one word? The truth is, they are all slightly different but also the same. Come with me as I explain.

How they are written, the level of connection to the reader, and the way in which they expand on the various levels of emotions and emphases on certain experiences are how they differ. Let me explain it a bit more in detail. 

Memoir comes from the French word mémoire, which means memory.  A memoir is typically written in the first person, and is often emotional and subjective, based on the authors’ experience. It is seen as a sub-genre of autobiographies because they focus mainly on one experience, or a series of similar experiences in the life of the author, and often have a specific message they hope to convey to the reader.  Memoirs are emotional accounts of people’s lives written by the person sharing their story. 

Here are a few examples of memoirs you may enjoy:

Angela's Ashes

I Am Malala

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

The Glass Castle

Rebel Rising

The etymology of the word autobiography is made up of three Greek root words: “auto,” meaning self; “bio,” meaning life; and “graph,” meaning write. An Autobiography is a non-fiction account of the life story and factual experiences of the narrator, written by oneself. These can include the intimate writings of letters, diaries, and journals, offering a deep appreciation and connection between the reader and the narrator. The work covers the entirety of the subject’s life so far, in chronological order, and is typically drafted in the later years of life. All the events mentioned are factual and fact-checked. Many autobiographical works are written by people who have claimed fame, and the written work covers their journey to becoming famous.

Here are a few examples of popular autobiographies:

Johnny Cash

Long Walk to Freedom

I Am Ozzy

Our Fight


So, let’s stir up the pot, or should I say plot? And talk a bit about biographies! While a biography is a comprehensive account of someone’s life, and can include some aspects of a memoir, it is often written by a third person, and is based on facts and documented events.  Biographies are typically written about famous, historical figures; they chronologically follow the entire life and experiences of that individual. The narrator compiles factual content and creates a story that does not include emotional context or suggestive thoughts. As a side note, an authorized biography is written with permission and sometimes direct input, by the subject or the subject’s heir. While an unauthorized biography is created without the permission of the subject.

Here are some examples of biographies from our collections:

Ian Fleming

Audrey Hepburn in Paris

A Good Bad Boy


Now that all that has been explained, I hope that I have helped clarify a few of the differences between the types of works that can be written about an individual, by the individual or by a third party. Perhaps you are now intrigued to explore a bit deeper into the genre of biographies, memories, and autobiographies. I always enjoy the idea of meeting someone new, but I love it even more from the comfort of my own home in between the pages of a book! Check out more titles here:

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Keep the momentum going this month with May's SDG Reading Challenge - Biographies and Memoirs!

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