Thursday, August 2, 2012


One of my biggest pet peeves as a reader and as a librarian is the general jumbling together of memoir and biography. Yes, the two genres obviously relate, but you cannot carry the same expectations from one genre to the next. Biographies are a recitation of events, a sometimes emotionless rendering of a human life (yes, I generalize). However, a memoir is a vignette of a person’s life in their own words, a glimpse into the private thoughts, feelings, and events that helped to create the essence of the person. Sound good? Maybe you should jot these down…

Take for example, Townie, by Andre Dubus, III. Many of you may be familiar with Dubus’ novel, House of Sand and Fog, or maybe you’ve heard of his father, Andre Dubus, who was a short story writer and essayist. Regardless of how you know Dubus’ name, or if you don’t, I guarantee the life you’d assume he led as the son of a successful writer is far from accurate. Growing up in some of the roughest areas of Massachusetts, Dubus beautifully details his reconciliation of brawn, brains, and what it means to be a townie while he looks for the purpose of his life.
Across the pond, Jeannette Winterson delicately weaves humor into the strands of a confusing and desperate childhood in Why be happy when you could be normal?. Her honesty is brutal, her story is unique, and she is nothing less than a force of nature. It would be regrettable for anyone to miss out on her memoir. Seriously, slip her shoes on for a while and see how your life feels afterward.
The last author I’ll mention is dedicated memoirist, Mary Karr. Karr has written three memoirs over the years : The Liar’s Club, Cherry, and Lit. Each memoir details a different segment of her life beginning with her childhood in The Liar’s Club. Karr’s childhood memoir is character heavy and rich in detail. She is able to successfully show that love can still exist in chaotic, unpredictable families.
The vague descriptions of each memoir are in reverence to the writers' unique voices. Part of the enjoyment of reading memoirs is getting to experience the movement of the text as the story unfurls. All of these memoirs will leave you inspired and pondering your own journey. Perhaps you’ll even feel motivated to pen your own memoir. Besides, hiring a biographer can be expensive.

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