Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Art of Memoir

At a gathering last week I was asked if I write memoir. It was a congenial group of bird-watchers at the Ramsey Canyon, and the discussion had veered from the black-crested titmouse to medicine and writing and the screen habits of young children.

No, I said. I'm a private person, and we live in a confessional age. What I didn't say was that I devour memoirs, I share memoir-ish details in this blog — and right now I'm reading Mary Karr's book The Art of Memoir.

Karr, the author of bestselling memoirs The Liar's Club and Lit, has mastered the form and has much to share. Here she is on voice:
Voice grows from the nature of a writer's talent, which stems from innate character. Just as a memoirist's nature bestows her magic powers on the page, we also wind up seeing how selfish or mean-spirited or divisive she is or was. ... So the best voices include a writer's insides.
And here she is on sharing internal agonies:
Unless you confess your own emotional stakes in a project, why should a reader have any? A writer sets personal reasons for the text at hand, and her struggling psyche fuels the tale.  
These wise observations plus a list of titles I now want to read — Nabokov's Speak Memory, Maxine Hong Kingston's Woman Warrior and Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life — have made this book worth chalking up a few days worth of late fees from the library.


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