Don Messerschmidt (Nepal 1963-65) dropped me a note to say that in the January 2011 issue of the Smithsonian Magazine, “there’s an informative article by Paul Theroux entitled: ‘The Trouble with Autobiography.’ Don found it “quite informative and insightful.” And recommended it to all Peace Corps writers!
The piece is long and full of details on books by famous writers. And then Theroux sums up, with a typical Therouxism:
“The more I reflect on my life, the greater the appeal of the autobiographical novel. The immediate family is typically the first subject an American writer contemplates. I never felt that my life was substantial enough to qualify for the anecdotal narrative that enriches autobiography. I had never thought of writing about the sort of big talkative family I grew up in, and very early on I developed the fiction writer’s useful habit of taking liberties. I think I would find it impossible to write an autobiography without invoking the traits I seem to deplore in the ones I’ve described-exaggeration, embroidery, reticence, invention, heroics, mythomania, compulsive revisionism, and all the rest that are so valuable to fiction. ”