Sunday, January 28, 2007

Serial Memoirs

I'll read pretty much any memoir, because I find it interesting to see how people take the raw and meaningless material of their lives and slap into narrative shape. However, I think we should call a moratorium on serial memoirizing. Too often a writer puts out a really excellent, juicy memoir (like Kathryn Harrison's The Kiss, which is about her affair with her father (!)), and then, once she's established herself as a memoirist, follows it up with one or more lesser books that cover very similar ground (Harrison's The Mother Knot). These follow-up memoirs tend to toss together lots of unrelated material in a fragmented fashion, and almost always include therapy scenes, in which we are forced to watch the writer healing from the traumas of the other books. Okay, I'm banning therapy scenes, too.

How about this: from now on everyone (even those of us with nice parents and no drug problems) gets exactly one memoir. After that, you have to move on to other people.

7 comments:

5 Red Pandas said...

Good point, but how do you feel about Mary Karr's two memoirs?

rmellis said...

I've only read The Liar's Club, which is fantastic. Some people are such good writers, they can turn a trip to the dentist into a poignant investigation of memory and suffering... but that doesn't mean they should. ;)

Zoe said...

I am in complete agreement with you and think you should contact Augusten Burroughs immediately and make him stop.
However, does this mean an end to any David Sedaris stuff? I hope not. Maybe he could be an exception.

rmellis said...

So funny!! My original draft DID include an exemption for David Sedaris. But then I decided that hilarious essays based on real experiences are a whole other genre.

5 Red Pandas said...

I thought "Cherry" was good, but it has been a long while since I read it. I do remember not feeling like she was re-treading old material. At the very least it's saucy, as I'm told Karr is in real life.

Sometimes when I read Sedaris's essays I can't help thinking, "poor Hugh."

zoe said...

What about James Frey? Does the first one count?

Burl Veneer said...

Memorandoir: all of one's memos sent in the course of one's career, collected into a book for a unique perspective on the subject's life.