Last week I asked for recommendations of good memoirs for me to read…since I’m writing another one which I desire to be good. Who knows if my new memoir will turn out to be good, but recently my wife Channa gave me excellent critiques, on two levels.
So there’s hope!
One level of Channa’s advice was structural. That is the easier critique to address. The other level posed a greater challenge. Her advice was conceptual. Here's the advice. Take out anything—and she pointed to some things—take out anything that is, in the end, self-indulgent.
Hoist with my own petard!
When I mentor writers who struggle to produce their own memoirs, the first exercise I assign to them is to tell me what their memoir is about--in a single, short, snappy sentence. I don’t want their story at this point; that’s not what I want to hear. I want a billboard, not a book report.
In my experience, this is the single hardest piece of writing for many of them undertake. Me, too. However, when successfully undertaken, that single, short, snappy sentence becomes the memoirist’s lodestar. ANY writing that DOES NOT fall under its direction—however delightfully personal and engaging to the taste of the writer—is SELF-INDULGENT.
It must be taken out!
And here I was writing happily along while being guilty of that same fault! Bah!
Good on Channa!
You readers answered with suggestions—in Comments and on FB, or when we ran into one another during the past week—for which generosity, I thank you! Last night, one reader expressed curiosity about the list of books, so I said I’d present it in this next post. I’ve edited it a bit. Several of you listed one book among your lists…some strange book whose title begins with The Time Mom Met Hitler.
I’ve excluded that one. I wasn’t looking for lurid histories about discreditable social events!
What I also received were delightful statements from you among your suggested titles. For example, here’s a favorite--
Regarding the list of suggestions, one person characterized them as “All non-whiny memoirs of challenging childhoods with deeply flawed but not cruel parents.”
How enticing a blurb is that!
So here’s the list. (So far: you’re welcome to send more suggestions, anytime!)
Jesus, my Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir of Sorts – Ian Morgan Cron
All Over but the Shoutin’ – Rick Bragg (mentioned twice)
Through the Eyes of a Lion – Levi Lusko
The Fire of Delayed Answers – Bob Sorge
As Soon As I Fell – Kay Bruner
A Man Called Ove – Fredrick Backman
Educated – Tara Westover
Don’t Let’s Go the to Dogs Tonight – Alexandra Fuller
Glass Castle – Jeanette Wall
Liar’s Club – Mary Karr
Just Mercy – Bryan Stevenson
…and add one historical fiction – Becoming Mrs. Lewis – Patty Callaghan.