Autobiographies: Tell all or self censor?

Reply Sun 5 May, 2013 11:42 am
Jimmy Connors is about to release his autobiography including some very personal details about his engagement to Chris Evert. So what are the rules for autobiographies? Do you let it all hang out there and to hell with the collateral damage or do you do some self censoring, making your story more boring but sparing the privacy of others? The Connors situation is particularly tough. It's a big revelation and invasion of Evert's privacy but it is also a very key event in Connors' life.
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Reply Sun 5 May, 2013 11:46 am
The ones that "tell all," in my opinion, figure their book is not particularly interesting or profitable. By throwing in "juicy tidbits" they hope someone will notice and buy.
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Reply Sun 5 May, 2013 11:53 am
I doubt that anyone ever "tells the truth" in a memoir or an autobiography. It's almost constitutionally impossible. That is both because you're only being told one side of the story, and because people are often (usually?) incapable of seeing themselves objectively. Additionally, people seem to edit their memories in the face of unsettling facts. So, for example, in his memoirs, Grant makes little of the fact that when in direct tactical command, he had a habit of wandering off. In recounting the battle of Belmont, he tells how he rode off on h is own, how he was almost captured by Confederate horsemen, and made it back to the riverside just as the transports were about to depart. It doesn't occur to him to see that behavior as irresponsible. (He was not present at the battle at Fort Donelson when Pillow's attack nearly routed the Federal troops; he was not present for most of the first day of the battle of Shiloh.) More than that, he edits his memories of more important failures. At the end of May, 1864, Grant arrived near Cold Harbor, Virginia just after Lee had brought his army there to block Grant's advance on Richmond. Grant waited four days, and then attacked the Confederate position on June 3. It was an unmitigated disaster--Federal casualties were nearly 25,000. Confederate casualties were fewer than 10,000. Lee then stayed in position for more than a week after the battle until Grant finally decided to again attempt to move around his flank. Grant dispenses with the entire episode with a few sentences, although it was one of the most lopsided defeats of Federal forces in the war.

I suspect that Connors' account will be warped by his inability to see himself as others see him. I suspect that his account will lack objectivity. Finally, i suspect that he will have edited his memories as almost everyone in that situation typically does.
Reply Mon 6 May, 2013 06:34 am
I agree that everyone's memories are a bit self serving. In the particular case I linked to, I think Connors had to discuss his and Evert's relationship and the abortion becaues it had a fundamental impact on his life, but it certainly brings up something for her that I'm sure she wishes had remained private. I remember in Agassi's autobiography (yes, another tennis autobiography) he was butually honest and it became a best seller, but he also took a very cheap, gratuitous shot at Pete Sampras. Do you think adding this stuff in to make things more sensational is a plus or is there value in respecting others' privacy when you are foregoing yours? I'm in the latter camp. You can write about yourself all day long but if you want to drag others through the mud you need to put some forethought into it.
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Reply Mon 6 May, 2013 07:39 am
I suppose the question would be whether or not those others got down in the mud with you, and whether or not they can defend themselves.
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