Category Archives: memoir

“There are many of us who need to reprocess our garbage, but who can’t bear the idea of writing memoir . . .”

Jessica Lourey continues: “. . . whether it’s because we are too close to the trauma, don’t want to hurt or be hurt by those we’re writing about, or simply prefer the vehicle of fiction.” Students in my classes on … Continue reading

Posted in memoir | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

“When I was younger, anxiety sometimes flat-out crippled my ability to work.”

In every class I teach, there is at least one student who will talk with me at some point about how high levels of anxiety are preventing him or her from completing assignments. This memoir by Andrea Petersen provides a … Continue reading

Posted in memoir, non-fiction | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

“We have to keep making choices, keep transforming.”

Some memoirists see themselves as products of their times.  Others see themselves in terms of the obstacles they surmounted or movements they created. Samantha Ellis measures herself against the strongest women who live between the covers of novels.  Her approach … Continue reading

Posted in memoir | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“While most children are proof of their parents’ love, I was the proof of their criminality.”

Trevor Noah’s mother was black and his father was white, which was a problem in South Africa in 1984.  The Immorality Act of 1927 prohibited “illicit carnal intercourse between Europeans and natives” and said that such acts could result in … Continue reading

Posted in memoir | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“Every work of literature has both a situation and a story.”

The situation, Vivian Gornick explains in this book about the art of personal narrative, is the context or circumstances, while the story is “the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has come to say” (13). Gornick argues that the most … Continue reading

Posted in memoir, non-fiction | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What was consciousness other than the surface of the soul’s ocean?”

In a Paris Review interview, Jesse Barron observes that Karl Ove Knausgaard’s work is “so aesthetically forceful as to be revolutionary.” What makes it revolutionary is Knausgaard’s goal to write “as close to life as possible” even if it means … Continue reading

Posted in fiction, memoir | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Children rarely want to know who their parents were before they were parents, and when age finally stirs their curiosity there is no parent left to tell them.”

This memoir by Russell Baker encourages readers to write their stories for the generation that hasn’t yet asked for them.  He shows us why he believes this: he will always regret not knowing better the person who told him how … Continue reading

Posted in memoir | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“But we did not feel as if anything we said was a lie. We both believed that the real lie was told by our present unworthy circumstances.”

The “truth” looms large in Tobias Wolff’s memoir A Boy’s Life. He tells us, for example, how he hijacked the school application process by creating fake transcripts and letters of recommendations when he applied to schools out East. He describes … Continue reading

Posted in memoir | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“I often watched the Southern Cross in the night sky, but it was not just a compass bearing I needed now, it was a judgment about what would be the moral path to choose.”

More than an account of her journey from a sheep-farm in Australia to graduate school at Harvard, this memoir explores the reasons for her decisions with frankness, even-handedness, and intellectual rigor.  Jill Ker Conway left her country “. . . … Continue reading

Posted in memoir | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

“I had had a dream, and that dream was a warning of what might happen to me if I rejected what I’d been and who I was.”

Philip Levine’s essay “Entering Poetry,” describes the day he began writing about the people he had worked with in Detroit auto factories.  “When I closed my eyes and looked into the past, I did not see the blazing color of … Continue reading

Posted in memoir | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“A blog post, a personal essay, even a full-length memoir, is not about stuffing in as much as you can; rather, it’s about illustrating something correctly.”

Just because it happened, doesn’t make it interesting, Marion Roach Smith bluntly observes in this short book on writing memoir.  What makes it interesting? Roach Smith’s answer to this question sets her book apart from other textbooks on this topic. … Continue reading

Posted in memoir | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

“It’s interesting, the secrets you decide to reveal at the end of your life.”

Until Randy Pausch got on stage at Carnegie Mellon University to deliver his now-famous “Last Lecture,” he hadn’t told students or colleagues that Carnegie Mellon had initially rejected his application to go to graduate school there; it was only after … Continue reading

Posted in memoir | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“Looking for goshawks is like looking for grace: it comes, but not often, and you don’t get to say when or how. “

Simultaneously a “breathtaking memoir” and a “small instant classic of nature writing,” this book juggles multiple themes and techniques. One often-used technique is metaphor: we meet a fellow who is as “serene as a mid-ocean wave” and see the deer … Continue reading

Posted in memoir, non-fiction | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Unless you’re a doubter and a worrier, a nail-biter, an apologizer, a rethinker, then memoir may not be your playpen.”

When the Paris Review interviewer ask Mary Karr – author of the wild memoir The Liars’ Club — what the biggest problems were with memoirs today, she said, “They’re not reflective enough. They lack self-awareness.” The importance of developing a … Continue reading

Posted in memoir | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Best of 2015 Books

2015 has been a wonderful year for publishers and readers. My “Best of 2015” list consists of the books that I am most likely to read again. In the memoir category, Norway’s Karl Ove Knausgaard’s fourth volume of My Struggle … Continue reading

Posted in fiction, memoir, non-fiction, Pedagogy, poetry | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment