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Biography, Autobiography, Memoir

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Jan 21, 2009, 12:57pm Top

Can't these three be lumped together? I'm not quite clear as to why biography and autobiography are one classification, and memoir is in its own.

Jan 21, 2009, 12:58pm Top

Or at least lumped differently, i.e. Biography and Autobiography/Memoir. Biography and Autobiography seem much more different to me than Autobiography and Memoir do.

Jan 21, 2009, 1:05pm Top

If you look at the main discussion you will see that this has already been agreed to. Tim just wants to wait before updating the interface until he gets a fair chunk of changes.

Jan 21, 2009, 4:41pm Top

>3 jjwilson61:: Sorry late to this OSC thingy and can't seem to find the answer. What to do with other "ego documents" such as diaries and (collections of) letters?

Jan 21, 2009, 4:59pm Top

I think we could expand the definition of the Biography, Autobiography, and Memoirs category to include diaries and letters as well. Might have to come up with a new name though.

Jan 21, 2009, 5:29pm Top

"Biography, Autobiography, and Memoirs category"??? Okay, I admit I haven't been following this discussion earlier. But it seems to me that biographies - things written about somebody, maybe centuries later - are a very different category from things written by persons concerning themselves.

As for a name, how about "ego documents" - as far as I know that's fairly well established.

Jan 21, 2009, 5:46pm Top

4: Or speeches? Someone classified a book of Winston Churchill's speeches as "history", which is another troublespot that I'm not touching on here.

Jan 21, 2009, 6:32pm Top

I was thinking all three together would be good as they're all about someone. However, come to think of it, pairing autobiography/memoir together and having biographies separate actually makes a lot more sense.

Jan 21, 2009, 9:09pm Top

Yes--I'm hitting the same problem in filling out the LT poll to classify the books I've read in my library. Are diaries and letters autobiography or memoir? They don't really intuitively fall under either term you give for selection.

Jan 21, 2009, 9:23pm Top

What about correspondence? Right now the closest is autobiography/biography but I think these need a separate category.

Edited: Jan 22, 2009, 11:33am Top

I think that all three should go under the same top category. Remember that all these categories will have subcategories, which in my opinion is where you split them up to biography, autobiography and memoir.

Of course, there's room for correspondence and diaries under the top category as well, if we want to go that way.

Jan 22, 2009, 12:01pm Top

I would also say have Biography separate from Autobiography/Memoirs (which could include speeches and diaries, being that they're all written by the subject). As to the difference between Autobiography and Memoirs, I would say an autobiography is the picture of a whole life, birth to present, whereas a memoir is a picture of a specific part of their life, whether it be a certain time period or a certain topic.

Jan 22, 2009, 12:45pm Top

A "memoir" isn't always autobiographical. One definition is:

"A historical account or biography written from personal knowledge or special sources."

Jan 22, 2009, 1:35pm Top

12: As to the difference between Autobiography and Memoirs, I would say an autobiography is the picture of a whole life, birth to present, whereas a memoir is a picture of a specific part of their life, whether it be a certain time period or a certain topic.

I agree in principle, but it's a little fuzzier in practice. Some people write their self-described autobiographies considerably before their own deaths. and other people call their autobiographies memoirs, or their memoirs autobiographies.

... Regardless, I think autobiography & memoir should be together; and I think it makes good sense to put correspondence & diaries here as well.

I was initially inclined to put biography with autobiography & memoir, but actually I think "history" is better. Biography is a type of history, and it may be subject to certain, hmm, biases and issues that other histories aren't. But still it is fundamentally a historical enterprise.

Jan 22, 2009, 10:41pm Top

I would like to see all three lumped together and add orrespondence & diaries as well. At the very list autobiography and memoir should be together.

Jan 22, 2009, 10:46pm Top

I do not want biographies with history, by default. Of course, I'd also like subdivision for biography, if they had a specific career.

Jan 23, 2009, 4:43pm Top


I like the idea of correspondence and diaries being included, and would want all three together.

Biggest cusp issue is with autobiographical fiction. I am currently reading Rouse up o young men of the new age by Kenzaburo Oe. I would leave this in fiction, as I think the author intended it to be read as fiction, and I would shelve with other fiction.

Jan 23, 2009, 4:46pm Top

>17 vpfluke: I hit the same question with Elizabeth and her German garden.

Jan 24, 2009, 12:57pm Top

At the risk of sounding like a Trivial Pursuit category, what about grouping biography, autobiography, memoirs, diaries and personal correspondence, without distinction, under something like People & Personalities. As simplicity in cataloguing goes, it makes sense to me, as a frequent browser of the section, to have these all lumped together and then sorted alphabetically by subject. If I enjoyed the Walter Issacson biography of Einstein, I should be able to go back to the same shelf and find the Born-Einsten Letters rather than searching for a separate correspondence section.

Or perhaps the division by type could occur after the organization by subject.
ex. (People > Albert Einstein > biography) and (People > Albert Einstein > correspondence)

Jan 24, 2009, 2:07pm Top

I agree with the distinction in #12 about autobiography, biography, and memoir. I also agree with 14 that there are exceptions.

I think of autobiography and memoir separately. Whether they should be included with biography, I don't know. I wouldn't include biography with history.

Jan 25, 2009, 7:37am Top

And what about essays ? Where do essays belong ? With speaches and letters ?

Jan 25, 2009, 7:42am Top

>21 IaaS:: Whenever possible I would classify essays on their subject matter.

Jan 25, 2009, 8:12am Top

That is impossible because a lot of essays I own is about all and everything. So what are they ?

Jan 25, 2009, 11:46am Top

>23 IaaS:
Do you mean you have collections of essays, and that the collection as a whole doesn't have a single unifying subject?

Edited: Jan 25, 2009, 12:30pm Top

>24 AnnaClaire:: In fact I also have a couple of those - interdisciplinary collections of essays on say "perception" - written from the perspective of art historian, biologist, anthropologist, physiologist... Stuff like that. They're a nightmare to classify whatever you do.

p.s.: I certainly wouldn't put any of them under autobiography/memoir though.

Jan 25, 2009, 12:34pm Top

As for biography - that's simply not a category for me. A biography of Napoleon would go under history, one about Mozart under music, one about Michelangelo under art, etc.

Jan 25, 2009, 4:50pm Top

I agree that essays are a problem. Most of mine are literary essays but some of them are all over the place.

Jan 25, 2009, 6:30pm Top

DDC has a separate place for essays. I think someone proposed 'reference' as a catchall for difficult to classify things like encyclopedias. Maybe essays should go there to. Where would Montaigne's Essays go? Philosophy?

Jan 25, 2009, 6:59pm Top

That's probably where I'd put Montaigne, in philosophy.

Jan 26, 2009, 2:17am Top

I wouldn't call Essays reference either. And while Montaigne can fit quite well into philosophy, other essayists won't. Maybe a category "Belles lettres" is needed?

Jan 26, 2009, 2:31am Top

>30 andejons: Maybe a category "Belles lettres" is needed?

Unfortunately the average library patron in my town would see that category and say "WTF? --- must be books in French."

Jan 28, 2009, 7:13pm Top

>14 lquilter:
Some people write their self-described autobiographies considerably before their own deaths.

And some people write them in installments; so if you looked at all their books about their life, it would be an autobiography, but if you looked at each separately, each would fall in the memoir category, under the "memories of a specific period in the subject's life" definition.

Feb 2, 2009, 1:45pm Top

Greetings! David and I have been busy compiling and analyzing all your comments, and a post with new top levels is forthcoming!

In the interim, take a look on Thingology (http://www.librarything.com/thingology) at the summary of the OSC meeting we had in Denver last weekend.

To clear up some confusion, take a look at how facets/formats and categories/call numbers will be organized (this was debated & decided months ago):

The first letter is audience (A, adult, Y, young adult, C, children's) The second letter is format (B, book, A, audio, G, graphic-novel, etc.) Other facets could be for whatever else needs to be called out—language, special collection, etc.

And so you have

AB 123.321 - Lost Moon
AA 123.321 - Lost Moon in an audio format
AG 123.321 - Lost Moon the graphic-novel
CB 123.321 - Goodnight Moon (children's book)

A library that had no childrens' books would ignore the first facet. A library entirely of Braille books would ignore the second. A library that wants to put all graphic novels together in one area may do so if they wish, or interfile them. Same with CDs, Audio books, etc. Facets allow for this flexibility.

Feb 2, 2009, 10:41pm Top

Even though laena more or less just temporarily closed the discussion, I would like to respond to something BarkingMatt said in 26.
"A biography of Napoleon would go under history, one about Mozart under music, one about Michelangelo under art, etc."
Why shouldn't Mozart or Michelangelo be included in history (and/or, why don't we put them all together)? I understand that Mozart influenced the world primarily through music, but when we discuss polymaths like Michelangelo or Isaac Asimov, we can't just stick them in one "category". A book about their contributions to a specific category is (generally) easily categorized, but a book about their lives should not be placed under a non-fiction heading which only sometimes applies.

Feb 3, 2009, 10:44am Top

>34 yue:
I agree. If a book is about someone's life, it's a biography -- hence the bio- part of biography.

On a related note, my local bookstore and library both have separate sections for history and biography.

Feb 3, 2009, 11:19am Top

I could also say a biography of a musician goes under music, hence the music in musician. Face it, not many people get biographies if they haven't been active in an identifiable subject (or if they haven't at least been historical figures, > history). To me "biography" is a format, not a subject.

But I do understand, and I admit polymaths could get problematic.

Feb 3, 2009, 2:27pm Top

My local bookstores also have separate sections for history and biography, but biographies of people before the 20th century tend to get shelved in both, and bios of people who are not "tagged" with a particular arena (like musicians or actors) tend to be shelved only in the history section. It's hard on the patrons, I think. I'd rather just have all the biographies under biography, myself.

Feb 3, 2009, 3:21pm Top

Ditto. If I want to read a biography of Mozart, I'd rather go to the Biography section and look under M, than go to the Music section and trying to figure out just how this particular store/library organizes the section.

And I don't think biography can be called a 'format' in nearly the same way other formats (audiobook, CD, DVD, and so on) can be called such.

Feb 3, 2009, 3:25pm Top

#38trying to figure out just how this particular store/library organizes the section.

Especially since most stores file books by the author's name, so I'm drifting around the music section hoping a biography of Mozart has his name in the title ...

On the other hand, they mostly shelve biographies by the name of the biographee, so all the books on Mozart would sit together.

Feb 3, 2009, 3:40pm Top

Edited: Feb 23, 2009, 12:15pm Top

This topic is closed! Please continue discussions on the new topic BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY


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