So Many Memoirs, So Little Time…

img_0098Like most people who love to read, it seems that everyone in my close circle of friends and family also loves to read.  Maybe it’s as simple as “like attracting like” – we just naturally gravitate toward those people who share our same basic overall interests and world view.  I find this especially true when it comes to books and reading.  I was brought up in a family of readers, so that circle is already a given.  My mother and sisters and I are frequenters of libraries and bookstores, and always have been. But friends are a bit different – we don’t ask friends, in the beginning of a friendship – if they are readers, or what their reading tastes are like.  But mostly, in my life, my closest loved ones and friends have been great readers.

Lately, because I have been working on a memoir about being a sister, I have been reading a lot of memoirs.  And I mean A LOT.  And I’m not just reading them to see how other writers have tackled the writing of memoir, but because I love them.  I love reading them.  However, when I correspond with agents, they are often likely to say “the memoir market is really a tough sell.” Or, “I’m just not looking at (or selling) memoirs right now.”  And yet there are, indeed, really great memoirs being published regularly.

And, since whenever a friend or family member asks me if I can recommend a good memoir (and I can never remember off the top of my head what I have just read) I decided to write down a list (of course it will never be complete) of memoirs I have read and thoroughly enjoyed, either recently or in the not-too-distant past.  I hope you read them all too…

(P. S.  This list doesn’t even include some of my favorite memoirs of all time, which I will re-visit some other day.  Although This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff would likely top that list, and the movie also – with heartbreaking, brilliant performances by a very young Leonardo DiCaprio, and Robert De Niro.)

These are all pretty recent, and in no way a complete list: Inheritance (and all her books) by Dani Shapiro, Educated by Tara Westover, Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, Rough Beauty by Karen Auvinen, After the Eclipse by Sarah Perry, Becoming by Michelle Obama, Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood, The Hot One by Carolyn Murnick, The Recovering by Leslie Jamison, A Girl’s Guide to Missiles by Karen Piper, Home Before Dark by Susan Cheever, Heartland by Sarah Smarsh, Old in Art School by Nell Painter, Beauty in the Broken Places by Allison Pataki, Unforgettable by Scott Simon, Jello Girls by Allie Rowbottom, Where the Past Begins by Amy Tan, The Best of Us by Joyce Maynard, Coming to My Senses by Alice Waters, A Beautiful. Terrible Thing by Jen Waite, My Life With Bob by Pamela Paul, Once We Were Sisters by Sheila Kohler, The Way We Weren’t by Jill Talbot, The Bridge Ladies by Betsy Lerner, Welcome to Shirley by Kelly McMasters, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen, Beer Money by Frances Stroh

A Bird’s-Eye View

A Bird’s-Eye View (a new essay about the writing life)

“Maybe you just need some distance.” Words often offered as a gentle suggestion when perhaps your writing isn’t going as planned. Maybe you’ve even said these words to yourself. You keep re-reading the same pages, changing a word or a sentence. Then putting the original word back in. Looking at other drafts and deciding you should have stayed with Draft #3. Or maybe Draft #5 is better. Or maybe…

Therein madness lies. Or at the very least, frustration.

But you have to stick with it, don’t you? Persevere. Now’s not the time to wimp out. You always knew that Draft #2 was your best. Maybe the ending from #4 could be tacked onto Draft #2 somehow. That ending was really good. Some of your best work. Continue reading

Stick the Knife In: Then Twist

Stick the Knife In: Then Twist (a new essay about writing)

I’ve been thinking a lot about vulnerability lately. It’s no mystery why my thoughts keep going there – I’ve been writing a memoir about being a sister for the past two years. Naturally I would feel vulnerable writing about family, right? After all, the funny/but not funny joke in nonfiction and memoir writing classes is: “I want to write about my family, but I have to wait for them all to die first.”

That’s a bit extreme. But it does show the depth of vulnerability many writers experience when even considering writing about personal topics. And family is often one of the most personal. Of course there are many other subjects that are also personal, and require a writer to be vulnerable. Illness, physical or mental trauma, experiencing some event (either painful or joyful) out of the ordinary – all of these have their place on the vulnerability spectrum. Writing about any of them requires the writer to go inward, excavate, examine, and then turn that into engaging prose.

So much easier not to even go there. So much easier not to probe.

Continue reading