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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why I Love Memoir

I was understandably intrigued by the cover line on this week's New York magazine that reads "James Frey's Fiction Factory". Turns out the piece wasn't about Frey's own venture into fictionalized memoir (which he continues to defend), but it once more reminded me that I've been telling people for at least a couple of years that, for me, memoir seems to have become the new fiction.

I don't mean that I consider all memoir fiction, and I certainly don't condone making stuff up, but if one reads fiction to be transported into a world different from the one in which one lives, then memoir has been doing that for me on a fairly regular basis--with the added fillip of knowing (or at least assuming) that it's true. And no, I don't expect memoir to provide the same level of fact as biography (that's why they're two different genres), but, to me, there's an added level of emotional content that derives from the writer's having actually lived what he or she is writing about. Maybe that's why fiction writers are advised to write about what they know.

In fact, many years ago, I edited a wonderful collection of loosely linked short stories only to discover purely by chance and well into the editorial process that there was a lot of fact to this fiction, and the names of the characters were actually the names of the author's living relatives! Luckily we were able to change those names before it was too late.

1 comment:

  1. One of the reasons I love memoir is that without exception, as far as I can recall, every memoir that I've read or edited has taught me something about how I want to live -- or not live. I look to memoir for courage, strength, and inspiration. Humor is great, but it's not what I look to memoir first for. I look to it for role models (if she can do it, maybe I can, too) and anti-role models (please don't let me ever make that particular parenting mistake). I look to it for lessons I might learn from paths or situations that I'm never going to experience directly myself. And I'm with you, Judy, on the "added level of emotional content that derives from the writer's actually having lived what he or she is writing about." And I have to imagine that plenty of other people are, too, which would explain the sustained popularity of the category.