Long Live Memoir/Writers or Their Writing

April 15, 2006

Long Live the Memoir
There was speculation earlier this year that James Frey busted the memoir market into a million little pieces when he confessed—not to contritely—that he basically wrote fiction. His blatant violation of readers' trust raised an old flag—at least for me. I have heard memoirists—in front of classroom of graduate students—command them to combine events and create composite characters for the essence of the memoir is not the reality but the essence of the reality. It makes sense. Whose life is as dramatic as most people write in memoirs? How many individuals go home at night and write down what happened to them that day—attempting to recall dialogue and facts as best they can? (Few.) Has psychology shown that recollection becomes increasingly tainted by rationalization within minutes of the event? Therefore memoirists have no choice. They have to fudge it. Well Jimmity Crickets, isn't that fiction? Yes it's fiction by any sane definition of fiction. Today fiction does not sell as well as memoir. Readers find it more appealing to read about the redemption of a real individual, rather than a fictitious one. If there was hope for that man or woman, and God knows that they were wrecked individuals, then there's hope for me. There's also the there-go-I-but-for-the-grace-of-God voyeur reader who wants to live in the gutter for a while without getting dirty. Two pitiful positions therefore could not be shaken by Frey's follies. One wonders if Frey actually played out a memoir in reality, igniting curiosity about the genre. This year publishers will publish twice as many memoirs as they did last year, according to the book-tracking company Simba International. In a
Wall Street Journal article, Robert Hughes notes that bookstores have a choice of more than 500 memoirs and a score how-to write memoirs. Heck I'm working on a memoir—draft stage. There are memoirs from essayists/journalists such as Joan Didion, Augusten Burroughs, and Anderson Cooper who have made careers in recording facts, and any reader should trust their words. Then there's just plain crappy fiction being passed off by the writer as memoir.

Writers or Their Writing from the Guardian, Where Else?
The
Guardian is offering two extracts of a story by Haruki Murakama. A Japanese woman visits Hawaii after a shark kills her teenage son. She is drawn to the site of his death. Dervla Murphy cycled from Ireland to India more than 40 years ago, and now she writes about her winter Siberian ride. “Perhaps the best Sunday morning of my life happened in June 1970, when I walked across Hampstead Heath from an interview with Harold Evans, which closed with his saying that I'd got a job on his newspaper.” That's the start of Granta Editor Ian Jack's Guardian essay about a different London. Then there's Poet John Burnside reading about the avian flu unfold in his former home town. While reviewing Hey Yeah Right Get a Life by Jelen Simpson, John Mullan analyzes why the writing works—from a writer's point of view.

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