Tag Archives: Memoir

“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“The first element is integrity of intention.”

Earlier this week, I attempted the impossible: at an evening writing class for adults, I addressed the topic of “telling the truth.” They wondered how much truth should be revealed. I wish now that I had brought along Inventing the … Continue reading

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“My memory is an archipelago.”

Arranging everything in chronological order in memoirs can be, well, boring. The challenge is finding an alternative structural method that doesn’t bewilder readers. The author of this memoir takes a bold approach: she gives us many tiny stories/reflections/anecdotes as stand-alone … Continue reading

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“We understand ourselves, our lives, retrospectively.”

This is an interesting statement, considering it’s from someone who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for her column “Public and Private,” in which she explored different ways to understand her life and the world at large in the heat … Continue reading

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“I had to live on the lip of a waterfall, exhausted.”

You might expect a coming-of-age book to have a plot, to describe the who-what-when-where-how-and-why. But Annie Dillard is not a typical person, nor is her book a typical memoir. She concentrated on describing how she wanted to notice and remember … Continue reading

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“The sort of strenuous reading and writing program I advocate — four to six hours a day, every day — will not seem strenuous if you really enjoy doing these things…”

Not since Charles Dickens has a writer had so many readers “by the throat,” observed a British review of this classic by Stephen King. Having sold more than 350 million books, King could be considered an expert at many things, … Continue reading

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“What is the rudest question you can ask a woman?”

Tina Fey — arguably one of the funniest, most influential comedians today — says that the rudest question you can ask a woman isn’t about weight or age. It’s a question that men are rarely asked, namely, “How do you … Continue reading

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“Memory resides in specific details, not in abstract notions like ‘beautiful’ or ‘angry.'”

Who better to write a book about writing memoirs than Judith Barrington? She can speak from experience as an author and teacher. In this book, which is widely used in college courses and has sold more than 100,000 copies, she … Continue reading

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“That was my mistake.”

Some memoirs resemble novels — they build a story with a beginning, a middle, and an ending. The challenge for the writer is to make it interesting for readers who already know the ending. In the case of Truth & … Continue reading

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“Denial was a talent she greatly admired. She could have been Gentile, except, of course, she wasn’t.”

How does a humorist write about death? This is what I wondered when I opened Delia Ephron‘s memoir, which has a piece called “Losing Nora” about her famous sister. She relies a lot on the formula that we see in … Continue reading

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“A dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it.”

In the tenth anniversary edition of  the memoir The Liar’s Club, Mary Karr writes, “Just as the novel form once took up experiences of urban industrialized society that weren’t being addressed in sermons or epistles or epic poems, so memoir — … Continue reading

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“Don’t begin with an idea: begin with the point of the pen touching paper.”

Uniquely in America, there is “a desire to understand in the heat of living,” says Natalie Goldberg in her book about the practice of writing memoir. Don’t think of memoirs as records of events.  Instead, think of it as a chance to … Continue reading

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