As soon as I heard about Mary Karr’s book The Art of Memoir from this interview at NPR, I wanted it, wanted it RIGHT NOW in the way that I often crave books by authors whose work I both like and admire. First with The Liar’s Club and most recently with Lit, Karr has won me over with her ability to tell a good story in a strong voice. If you haven’t read Karr, did you like Jeannette Wall’s The Glass Castle? That book probably couldn’t have found an audience if Karr hadn’t paved the way with Liar’s Club.
Art of Memoir hit a sweet spot for me in that it’s both a memoir plus a book about writing memoirs. I’m attempting, and more often lately failing, to put together a memoir of my own about specific times in life, and rather than sitting down to the do the hard work of writing about hard things, I’m often flitting about the internet on Facebook, Twitter, or hey, even taking time to blog here! So her book is a good reminder for me to stop cussing around and get to work, already:
After a lifetime of hounding authors for advice, I’ve heard three truths from every mouth: (1) Writing is painful — it’s ‘fun’ only for novices, the very young, and hacks; (2) other than a few instances of luck, good work only comes through revision; (3) the best revisers often have reading habits that stretch back before the current age, which lends them a sense of history and raises their standards for quality.
(Distracted aside: I don’t care if the blog is dead. I’ve been doing this for 14 years, and I love it and while I don’t do it as regularly as I did in the years prior to social media, I’m still not gonna quit.)
If you read and liked (enjoyed, loved, admired, what have you) any of Karr’s other books, I think you’ll like this one too. She gives gritty behind-the-scenes insight about what went into the writing of those books. When she does go into details about writing, she sets those sections off for those who are more interested in the memoir part than in the writing craft part. But for those of us nerds who love both? This is like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of books: two great things that go great together.
If you haven’t read Karr, go check out Liar’s Club and Lit first; I wouldn’t recommend this one to start with. Unless you’re a writer, and then this is as good a place as any.