Friday, March 6, 2009

FAVORITE AUTOBIOGRAPHIES LIST

…and memoirs. The difference to my mind being autobiographies tell the whole life story, memoirs tell part of it, or only one aspect of it.

After my last post about Larry Rivers’ and Carrie Fisher’s autobiographies, when I needed to make a list to help me fall back to sleep last night after the bug I’ve had for a few days woke me, I thought of autobiographies and memoirs I dig (not included are obviously autobiographical novels or “nonfiction novels”—sounds like a future list!).

Anyway, here’s what I came up with (with apologies to any friends whose books I didn’t recall in the middle of last night):

AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF ALICE B. TOKLAS, THE by Gertrude Stein, THE AIR-CONDITIONED NIGHTMARE by Henry Miller and THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS
BORSTAL BOY by Brendan Behan
[THE CONFESSIONS OF ST. AUGUSTINE (the first autobiography, maybe, and one of the first I ever read and was insired by)] CONFESSIONS OF AN IRISH REBEL by Brendan Behan, BIG SUR AND THE ORANGES OF HIERONYMOUS BOSCH by Henry Miller, CHANCE MEETINGS by William Saroyan, CHRISTOPHER AND HIS KIND by Christopher Isherwood, CHRONICLES by Bob Dylan and CROSSING THREE WILDERNESSES by U Sam Oeur (a compelling and unique story which, full disclosure, mentions me briefly)
DAWN by Theodore Dresier, DANCEHALL DAYS by George O’Brien and DIGRESSIONS ON SOME POEMS BY FRANK O’HARA by Joe LeSueur (some people mentioned in this one didn’t like it, but Joe was an old friend with a unique perspective that I always enjoyed)
EVERYBODY’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY by Gertrude Stein and ETHIOPIA by Eric Torgersen
FRIENDS IN THE WORLD by Aram Saroyan and A FREEWHEELIN’ TIME by Suze Rotolo
GREEN SUEDE SHOES by Larry Kirwin
HERE COMES, THERE GOES, YOU KNOW WHO by William Saroyan and HEART BEAT by Carolyn Cassady [and HARMATAN by Paul Violi (another poetic memoir, this one of a Peace Corps stint in Nigeria c. 1966-67)]
[I REMEMBER by Joe Brainard (can't believe I left this off initially, one of the all time best and most original autobiographies)] THE INVENTION OF SOLITUDE by Paul Auster
J?
K?
[LOUIS ARMSTRONG IN HIS OWN WORDS (can't believe I left this off, one of the great self-told stories of the rituals and routines of genius] LAST NIGHT’S FUN by Ciaran Carson
A MOVEABLE FEAST by Ernest Hemingway, MINOR CHARACTERS by Joyce Johnson, MILES by Miles Davis with Quincey Troupe (despite some disappointing self revelations from Davis) and THE MEMORY OF ALL THAT by Betsy Blair
NEWSPAPER DAYS by Theodore Dreiser
OUT OF OUR MINDS by George O’Brien and OFF THE ROAD by Carolyn Cassady
PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG DOG by Dylan Thomas and PLACES WHERE I’VE DONE TIME by William Saroyan
QUITE EARLY ONE MORNING by Dylan Thomas and A QUINCY HISTORY by James Haining (I’m mentioned a lot in this, but even if I wasn’t it would still be one of my all time favorite books just for Jim’s unique voice and perspective—a small press publisher and poet c. 1970, and his way of laconically revealing some deep human truths)
RECOLLECTIONS OF MY LIFE AS A WOMAN by Diane di Prima
SEVEN STORY MOUNTAIN, THE by Thomas Merton, SKY by Blaise Cendrars, SMILE PLEASE by Jean Rhys, THE SOUTH ORANGE SONNETS by me (what can I say, it’s one of my favorite little books and autobiographies, intentionally written as that when I was in my twenties), SONS COME & GO, MOTHERS HANG IN FOREVER by William Saroyan, THE STREET by Aram Saroyan, SCRATCHING THE BEAT SURFACE by Michael McClure, SONGS MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME by Marlon Brando with Robert Lindsey (disappointingly unrevealing about too many things but still fascinating because he was), SLEEPING WHERE I FALL by Peter Coyote (a great take on what it meant to be at the heart of “the ‘sixties”) and THE STAR FACTORY by Ciaran Carson
TRAVELS WITH MYSELF AND ANOTHER by Martha Gellhorn, THE THEIF’S JOURNAL by Jean Genet and THAT SPECIAL PLACE by Terence Winch
UP FRONT by Bill Mauldin
[LA VITA NUOVA by Dante (the memoir of a love affair and the poems it inspired and one of my all time favorite books)] VERONICA by Veronica Lake with Donald Bain and VILLAGE OF LONGING by George O’Brien
WARS I HAVE SEEN by Gertrude Stein, WHAT DID I DO? THE UNAUTHORIZED AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF LARRY RIVERS with Arnold Weinstein and WISHFUL DRINKING by Carrie Fisher
X?
YOU’LL BE OKAY by Edie Kerouac-Parker
Z?

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13 Comments:

Blogger -K- said...

Wow - unlike all your other lists, I haven't read and in most cases am not even familiar with, any of these titles.

March 6, 2009 at 11:10:00 AM EST  
Blogger Curtis Faville said...

I don't know that it qualifies, but I'd nominate Brainard's I Remember. It's an autobiography in every sense except style and name. You learn as much or more about Brainard's true character, by reading these discrete memories, than you would from any prosaic recounting.

March 6, 2009 at 2:41:00 PM EST  
Blogger Lally said...

-K- I left off a few I think you do know, like Curtis' sggestion (I can't believe I forgot it) I REMEMBER! I'll stick a few more in in brackets as I usually do addendums.

March 6, 2009 at 2:51:00 PM EST  
Blogger Curtis Faville said...

Most of the last half of Saroyan's writing career was devoted to autobiographical excursions. There had always been a strong biographical strain, even in his earliest books, but as time went on, he became increasingly the subject of his own art. Peter Howard once hauled out a secret stash of Saroyan's earliest stories from the early Thirties, all written in those little blue test notebooks we used to take tests in when I went to college. Those stories, written in his careful longhand script, were fascinating early examples of the kind of pieces that would eventually become The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.

Hemingway's Feast is a very peculiar book. Pot-shots and grim get-even pieces. You'd have thought he was famous and distinguished enough to be free of the sort of rancor and bitterness they exhibit, but apparently not. Poor Ford and Stein and Fitzgerald!

Miller's another free-wheeling personal anecdote storyteller. Nearly all his books--those which aren't frankly fairy-tales--are personal experiences, embellished for aesthetic effect.

I very much enjoyed Isherwood's memoirs. Christopher's Kind, the diaries. And at least four of his novels are thinly disguised non-fictions.

Williams's Autobiography seemed very quaint and phony, somehow. I never had the feeling that Williams was ever being truthful--a true poet, in every sense of the word, almost to the extent of not being able to tell--or even perceive--anything completely straight. Ditto with Stein--not a true word in anything she ever wrote.

March 6, 2009 at 2:52:00 PM EST  
Blogger Curtis Faville said...

Capote did a number of nice pieces too. A House on the Heights. The Local Color Pieces, some of the essays in Music for Chameleons. Edmund Wilson's Literary Chronicles. James Merrill's book about his youth in Europe. Gore Vidal's Memoirs--a gas! Many of John McPhee's books are fleshed out travel and research accounts, which suppress the "I" narrative but are filled with anecdote. Edward Hoagland too. And Calvin Trillin. S.N. Behrman's Portrait of Max is like a long elaborated interview of Beerbohm.

March 6, 2009 at 2:59:00 PM EST  
Blogger douglang said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

March 6, 2009 at 5:25:00 PM EST  
Blogger douglang said...

Great list, Michael -- a bunch of books I love, and a bunch of books with which I am not familiar (or, with which I am am on;y vaguely familiar.)

I agree with Curtis about the Hemingway memoir -- and I do admire Hemingway very much. What stuck with me most in the rancor department was his depiction of Wyndham Lewis as having "the eyes of an unsuccessful rapist." Way to go Ernest -- you like successful rapists better?

Sorry about the deletion -- too many typos and I hit publish instead of preview,

March 6, 2009 at 5:30:00 PM EST  
Blogger Lally said...

Yeah, I agree about MOVEABLE FEAST, I always hated Hemingway's macho posturing and angry slights at all kinds of people and groups of people. Like the way he treated Fitzgerald and Ford Madox Ford in this memoir, as well as others. And yet, something about the writing of it and the obviousness of his insecurities and ego blustering makes it one of his most accessible books, as well as one of his most honest, in the sense that his prejudices and spitefulness and all that are on full display, as well as his commitment to writing great sentences, at least according to the standards he was so successful at propagating.

March 6, 2009 at 7:34:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear M:

I second your nominations, esp. of South Orange Sonnets, George O'B, Last Night's Fun, Green Suede Shoes, and Saroyan's The Street. I have to add a few more suggestions: your own Poor Moth Boy, which I realize does not yet have a wide readership, but which I think is a major American memoir. Ted Greenwald's also not-yet-published autobiography Clearview Lie is a terrific piece of writing---a memoir in verse. Doug Lang's far too abridged account of his (mostly) early life, The Family Picnic Down by the Riverside (originally in an exhibition at the Corcoran, accompanied with photos by Sandra Rottman), is brilliant & riveting. Frank Conroy's Stop-Time. Robert Graves's Good-Bye to All That. Geoffrey Wolff's The Duke of Deception. Ed White's A Boy's Own Story. And (I don't care what anyone says) Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes.
---TPW

March 7, 2009 at 7:46:00 PM EST  
Blogger Lally said...

Can't believe I left off ANGELA'S ASHES, but maybe I'll include it in the autobiographical novels list, or nonfiction novels or whatever we call novels that are thinly disguised autobios, or autobios that are a little more like novels, ala ANGELA'S ASHES. (and thanks for the kind words for my endless memoir project), plus I can't wait to see Ted Greenwald's and wish I'd seen Doug Lang's).

March 7, 2009 at 10:13:00 PM EST  
Blogger -K- said...

I remember, more than 25 years ago, holding Joe Brainard's "I Remember" book in my hands and the deciding not to buy it (to economize).

March 7, 2009 at 11:17:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lal--Here are some additions, most of which could be classified either as memoirs or autobiography:
Peter Kropotkin's Memoirs Of A Revolutionist; George Orwell's Homage To Catalonia and The Road To Wigan Pier; Maxim Gorky's My Universities; and Giacomo Casanova's History Of My Life.

March 8, 2009 at 10:52:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Curtis Faville said...

I was going to include the Orwell books too, but thought perhaps they'd be regarded more as political tracts than bios.

Then there's Boswell's own memoirs, which go to I think 8 or 9 volumes. And Pepys!

March 8, 2009 at 3:01:00 PM EDT  

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