Memoir, Autobiography, or Biography?

Memoir

Recently, the book club I attend was discussing what types of books we like to read.  One member panned memoir.  She prefers autobiography.  Another member didn’t want to read either autobiography or memoir.  She only like biographies. 

To understand why certain readers prefer each, you have to know what they are.

Biography

If I write a book about the life of Billie Jean King, I am writing a biography. It doesn’t matter if it is a 300 word picture book or a 15,000 word book for tween and teens. I am telling her story. That’s biography.

Some biographies for young readers are comprehensive, telling the person’s life from birth until death. Others, especially picture books, are slice of life biographies focuing on only a part of the person’s life. If I wrote about the tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, that would be a slice of life biography.

Autobiography

An autobiography is me writing about myself but it is also comprehensive. If I were, heaven forbid, to write an autobiography, it would be the story of my birth through now.

Memoir

A memoir is also written by the person portrayed. But unlike an autobiography, a memoir is more tightly focuses around an event or a theme. When Vivian Gibson wrote about growing up in a segregated St. Louis neighborhood in The Last Children of Mill Creek, she wrote a memoir.

In case you are curious, I prefer memoir or slice of life biography. Expansive biographies and autobiographies fail to hold my attention. I need the focused theme of a slice of life biography or memoir. Here are a few that I have read in case you are curious:

The Last Children of Mill Creek by Vivian Gibson

Becoming by Michelle Obama. This has been called autobiography but it was focused.

Maid by Stephanie Land

Educated by Tara Westover

Odyssey of Love by Linda Jamsen

The Last Children of Mill Creek was a treat for me because she grew up in St. Louis close to the time that my mother did. Thus I recognized some of what she wrote about although she was writing about a segregated neighborhood. This is definitely a book Mom would have enjoyed.

–SueBE