Sunday, January 24, 2016

Why We Write About Ourselves

I read Why We Write about Ourselves between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I meant to write about it then, but somehow it fell through the cracks of Christmas Cheer and New Year thoughts. Tonight I realized I hadn't written about it, so I read it again. It's an easy and enjoyable read.

Meredith Maron is the editor/curator of the collection. I want to say, "This collection just works. It really, really works," but I think that doesn't sound very writerly of me. Worse, the sound bite may not make anyone want to read the book, which would be sad.

Clearly, I like the book. I really appreciate Maron's choice of memoirists for this collection. With each of the authors, Maron includes a relevant quote from one of their books and goes on to tell snippets about the writer. These introductions made me want to get to know the writer about to speak.

These pieces give a fresh glimpse of each writer's motivations and process. The pieces have the advantage of "breaking the fourth wall" with the reader, not unlike a magician sharing a secret.

I'll share with you three pieces/authors that stood out for me. Truly, all of them had something special and unique to say.

Ishmael Beah,  author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, explains that for him, writing was a way to "prove his existence." Beah was rescued from life as a Boy Soldier and was adopted by an American woman. Entering a NYC high school Beah was struck by how incredulous administrators were when he could not produce a report card. The administrators weren't looking at him as an individual with a unique story. They wanted to create the prescribed file with the papers "everyone should have" and move on. They could not have known life Beah has already survived. Beah says that he began writing "to expose people to certain realities and hope to deepen their understanding of the other, of places that may seem far away."

Kelly Corrigan is the author of Glitter and Glue, among other memoirs. Corrigan's reasons for writing her first memoir was an intense and immediate desire to honor her dying father. She said she "wanted to put on paper what it had been like to be his daughter." She had a clear vision of giving her dad the manuscript and saying, "You are the cornerstone of everything. Being your kid is the luckiest thing that ever happened to me."

Anne Lamott wrote the book Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year. Lamott's son was born in 1989, the same year my daughter was born. I read the book when it came out. It was so compelling to read an honest telling of the first year of motherhood. It was not the sugar-coated type of narrative that seemed to be everywhere when I was a young mother. It was real and it was tender and it gutted me. Lamott has written many other books, but this is the one that stays with me.

Lamott says that for her writing memoir is "sort of a missionary thing." She says
I write memoirs because I have a passionate desire to be of even the tiniest bit of help. I like to write about the process of healing, of developing, of growing up, of becoming who we were born to be instead of who we always agreed to be.
She says "I feel like it's a gift I have to offer to people to say, 'This is what it's like for me...We're all like this. We're all ruined. We're all loved.'"
If you read it, I'd love to hear what stood out for you.

Until Next Time,


I received an early copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

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