Monday, December 28, 2015

Muddling Memoir: Greats and Guides

I don't know who coined the phrase "Read 100 books to write 1" or more specifically "Read 100 books in your genre to write 1" but it rings true to me. When I'm writing fiction, I find myself reading fiction. Now, as I return to memoir, I'm reading every memoir I get my hands on. Recommendations? Send them my way!

When asked about favorite books, I usually respond that whatever I'm reading is my favorite. Which is sort of true and sort of an excuse because I never hold names or titles on the tip of my tongue. So for this end of 2015 post, I thought I'd share a few favorite memoirs. I realize Google Knows All and a simple search provides a far more complete list than any I can provide, but still.

The most renown will appear on any list. In no particular order, I've enjoyed Mary Karr, Frank McCourt, Jeannette Walls, Susanna Kaysen, Rick Bragg, Lauren Slater, Alexandra Fuller, and others.

Then there are the novelists like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Amy Tan, Ann Patchett, and Joan Didion who have penned profound memoirs.

Recently a writer friend spoke of the genre of each memoir, what others might refer to as the spine. I remembered how annoyed I was when The Thirty-Ninth Victim was released in 2008 and readers referred to it as true crime or book stores shelved it in the true crime section. And yet that's exactly what it is: true crime memoir. 

I enjoy reading lesser known memoirists, and now I challenge myself to identify the story within the memoir. Here are a few of my favorites:
Robyn Davidson's trekking adventures, Tracks and Desert Places
Mishna Wolff's multicultural childhood, I'm Down
Jane Bernstein's true crime memoir, Bereft
Dani Shapiro's family tragedy, Slow Motion
Loung Ung's memories of genocide, First They Killed My Father

The list could go on and on. And it should. And it does. These are only a few I enjoy enough to keep on my shelves so I can return to them whenever inclined. A quick look at the back of Mary Karr's The Art of Memoir provides a list many of us may never work our way through.

For those of you writing, or thinking about writing, your own memoir, here are a few of my favorite How Tos. Mary Karr's The Art of Memoir is an interesting read, but there are others that I find more instructive. My all time favorite is William Zinsser's Writing About Your Life. I also return to Judith Barrington's Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art and Mary Pipher's Writing to Change the World. And finally, though intended for K-12 teachers, I have found gems in Katherine Bomer's Writing a Life: Teaching Memoir to Sharpen Insight, Shape Meaning--and Triumph Over Tests.

Read 100 to write 1. Or, don't write anything at all. Just curl up in your favorite chair, maybe light a fire, maybe brew a cup of tea or pour a glass of wine, and read. It's a great way to spend an hour, a new year.

Happy 2016!

No comments: