• Nancy

Memoirs & the People Who Love (or Do Not Love) Them

A good friend shows her feelings about the insane rise in the number of memoirs coming out each month by calling them “me mores.”

I can’t say that I disagree with her, either. Every day, it seems, another new memoir arrives in the mail for review. I am both very dutiful and respectful of the amount of time and effort that goes into writing a book) and begin most of them but very soon I give up because I just can’t take one more book where “I” is the word that appears most often on the page. What can be said except that some people object to four-letter words in the books they read; I object to the overuse of the one-letter word.

However, there are some memoirs that I absolutely love. When I look over the list below, I’m hard pressed to see what, exactly, they have in common besides the fact that

I think the writer succeeds in looking outward as well as inward. Here they are:

Mary Cantwell’s Manhattan, When I Was Young

Brendan Gill. A New York Life

Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club

Haven Kimmel. A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Moreland, Indiana

Caroline Knapp. Drinking: A Love Story

J. R. Moehringer. The Tender Bar

Kate Moses. Cakewalk: A Memoir

Jason Schmidt. A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me: A Memoir

Vivian Swift. When Wanderers Cease to Roam: A Traveler’s Journal of Staying Home

Moritz Thomsen. The Saddest Pleasure: A Journey on Two Rivers

Tobias Wolff. This Boy’s Life (Another friend believes that book of Wolff’s is a novel masquerading as a memoir, while Old School, the book he published three years after This Boy’s Life, is a memoir pretending to be a novel. I was quite taken with this observation when I first heard it, and remain so today.)