Posted on Aug 5, 2020 in Editorial.
What is a memoir? At LifeTime Memoirs, we’re often asked what the difference is between a memoir, an autobiography and a biography – as the world’s leading autobiography service, we should know.
Put simply, a biography is account of someone’s life written by someone else, not the person whose life is being told. So, for example, a biography might be written about a now-deceased celebrity. An autobiography, on the other hand, is written by someone about their own life. Autobiographies cover one’s whole life, from early years up to the point of writing.
The term memoir is often used interchangeably with autobiography, but there is a distinction. Memoirs are remembering a specific period of one’s life, rather than an account of one’s whole life. Angela’s Ashes, the famous memoir by Frank McCourt, is a great example – it focuses just on his childhood in New York and Ireland, rather than his whole life.
There’s a reason so many people of note choose to have their autobiography, or biography, published. It guarantees that their story is immortalized for people who would never otherwise have a chance to learn about their life. And there’s a reason that autobiographies are almost always printed in books – longevity.
It’s easy to think that every moment of our lives is being recorded – we have Facebook timelines full of memories and photo albums on our phones brimming with holiday snaps and grandchildren playing. Social media can be home to years of conversations and interactions, and it can be a good record of everything you’ve done.
Longevity, though, is perhaps not something we associate with social media. Take MySpace, for example: it was once the largest social media site in the world, with over 100 million users a month. Or Bebo, which became the most widely used social media site in the UK in the mid-2000s. These sites, as Facebook is now, were home to countless precious memories and photos. Now, they’ve faded into obscurity.
When thinking about preserving a life for posterity, the focus has to be on longevity. Everyone would like to know more about their ancestors’ lives, and their ancestors’ ancestors’ lives. What information we do have, though, is often incomplete. A handful of photographs with no names or dates, maybe, or a half-remembered fact that your grandfather owned a shop somewhere that sold something. When social media accounts fade, what will remain for future generations?
That’s where an autobiography, or a memoir, comes in. After all, what has more lasting power than a book?
The Gutenberg Bible was first printed in 1455, making the copy that sits in the New York Public Library 565 years old. That pales in comparison to the Diamond Sūtra, though, which is dated May 868 AD. However, the oldest known book in the world is the Etruscan Gold Book. Made of six sheets of 24-carat gold, the estimate age is 2,675 years old.
We’re not suggesting you write a solid-gold memoir – though we’d be impressed if you did. But books have longevity that eclipses our modern mobile phones or tablets. A book can be physically passed from generation to generation; it can be pored over and is tangible. A memoir gives your family and friends, and many generations to come, the chance to read about your life, to see how different your childhood was, to realize you were once a fun-loving teenager too. In generations to come, when you’re no longer here, your ancestors will have a record of where their family came from and who you were in a way that no other medium can capture.
This is why at LifeTime we take such care in printing books using the highest-quality materials and processes. We print on archival quality paper that’s estimated to last hundreds of years, so your memoir could be the next Gutenberg Bible! Our books are sewn, not just glued, meaning they won’t crack and fall apart over time. The photographs you choose to include are professionally improved, so they will continue to look their best over the years.
When we say we produce ‘autobiographies’, the reality is that your LifeTime Memoirs’ project could be an autobiography or a memoir. Many of our authors want to write a complete history of their life, but others choose to focus just on their childhood, their career or even on another family member.
Although there are differences, a LifeTime can be whatever you want it to be: an autobiography, a memoir, a life story, a record. The beauty is that, however you refer to it, it is your story, captured for generations to come.
By Matt Tomlinson, LifeTime Memoirs’ Editor