Autobiographies – Real or Fluff?

Is it good, or bad, to think that an autobiography is accurate? I mean, if one day you are asked to write an autobiography and you think parts of your life tend to be more on the boring side (most parts, if you are me), would you fluff it up to appear more interesting?

I’m still reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and I’m envious as much as I’m in awe of her experiences she outlined in her book. And while being so, I remember reading somewhere or being told by someone that autobiographies tend to be inaccurate, though I’m not sure to what degree. She tells her story so genuinely that I can almost believe every word she says… And I do want to believe every word she says! When referring to fiction books and novels for guidance or advice, when a life circumstance or incident reminds you of something you read in a fictional tale, and when the outcome of applying it to your life is not the same, or at best similar to the book, you can get away with the saying “It’s just a story!” Fiction is the work of human imagination, after all. There’s a beginning with an end already created in mind. But would you say “It’s just a story!” to an autobiography when you know it is closely based on someone else’s life?

It is easier to remember events as a whole or as a sequence of moments, but it’s harder to remember the tinier details of the moment such as the exact words used in a conversation. I am just wondering if the conversations and dialogues Elizabeth had with the many characters in her book are true-to-life, word by word, or could she only remember the emotion and essence behind the conversation and rebuild it with her fragmented memories? I mean, I find it hard myself recalling a memory to its tiniest detail, retaining its originality and integrity as much as possible. Unless you happen to be autistic or superhuman.

I can imagine also that since her book is about her journey of self-development and discovery and a good portion of its progress involves dialogues with other characters in her book, it is easier to tweak her conversations with them to ensure a smooth delivery of her intended narrative. No, I’m not calling her a liar (I’ll be devastated if she were! Like I said, I want to believe every word she says.) It’s just that something might have been possibly lost through translation and decay of time. And I dislike that because I feel that something is avoided from my knowledge. You know? Like it’s “too good to be true”? And if in knowing that something has been tweaked or lost, doesn’t that warrant the other similar parts of the book further scrutiny, or worst, the entire book itself? I hope I’m articulating this clearly. Smart literary people, help me! I swear someone must have an answer to this.

Then I guess I can also argue that autobiographies are subjective in nature because it only accommodate one person’s perspective. It expresses what the ancient Greeks believe – that there is no ‘absolute truth’. Do you think drawing advice from an autobiography is like listening to a friend’s testimony of an event in his life? It worked for him, but it may not work for you. Can I safely draw my line between autobiographies and novels there?


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