Memoirs: Love Them or Hate Them? Why We Write About Ourselves.

Memoirs. Love them or hate them?

If you love them you’ll definitely want to check out this book. If you hate them…you  also may want to check this one out as it might help you appreciate memoirs (or, I suppose, it may solidify your hatred. Que sera, sera).

From the publisher: Everything an aspiring memoirist needs to know, in one readable volume, a follow-up to the acclaimed writers’ handbook Why We Write

For the many amateurs and professionals who write about themselves—bloggers, journal-keepers, aspiring essayists, and memoirists—this book offers inspiration, encouragement, and pithy, practical advice. Twenty of America’s bestselling memoirists share their innermost thoughts and hard-earned tips with veteran author Meredith Maran, revealing what drives them to tell their personal stories, and the nuts and bolts of how they do it. Speaking frankly about issues ranging from turning oneself into an authentic, compelling character to exposing hard truths, these successful authors disclose what keeps them going, what gets in their way, and what they love most—and least—about writing about themselves.

Although the publisher’s blurb above is aimed toward writers, this book will also be of interest to readers of memoirs and an excellent resource for book groups that read memoirs.

When looking at a collection of essays featuring various writers, I tend to focus in on and enjoy those chapters by (or about) authors I already know and love. What was exciting for me about this book is that I was turned on to writers I haven’t read or, in some cases, hadn’t yet heard of.

There are twenty writers featured:

  1. Ishmael Beah
  2. Kate Christensen
  3. Pearl Cleage
  4. Pat Conroy
  5. Kelly Corrigan
  6. Edwidge Danticat
  7. Meghan Daum
  8. Nick Flynn
  9. A. M. Homes
  10. Sue Monk Kidd
  11. Anne Lamott
  12. Sandra Tsing Loh
  13. James McBride
  14. Dani Shapiro
  15. David Sheff
  16. Darin Strauss
  17. Cheryl Strayed
  18. Ayelet Waldman
  19. Jesmyn Ward
  20. Edmund White

Each chapter follows this format:

  • An opening quote from the writer’s work
  • A short intro to the writer
  • A text box listing the writer’s vitals (birthday, home, family, social media, etc)
  • A text box listing his or her collected works
  • Then comes the meat: the writer starts off by answering the question, “Why I write about myself”and takes of from there for a few or more pages, writing about their writing experience
  • The chapter ends with a bullet pointed list of advice for memoir writers

I really dig this format. It gives the reader a well-rounded and consistent introduction to each writer and then lets the writer say what he or she wants to say. I now want to read everything that all twenty writers wrote (Been there, done that only in the case of Pat Conroy). I must admit that there are some popular memoirs written by a few of these writers that I avoided because they were so popular. (Yes, I’m one of those readers who sometimes avoids popular books. When I eventually read them I tend to enjoy the hell out of them.) I will keep this book in my reference section. It will be helpful to re-read a writer’s chapter either before or after I read their memoir. It certainly encouraged me to press on with my own memoir writing.

In a book filled with helpful advice and great insights on just about every page, here are two that resonated with me:

  • Favorite quote from an writer I’m familiar with: “Memoirs hurt people. Secrets hurt people. The question to ask yourself is, if you tell your story, will it do enough good to make it worth hurting people?” ~ Pat Conroy
  • Favorite quote from a writer I haven’t yet read: “I firmly believe that there are things we already know and spend a lot of time resisting. You can try, but the amount of energy you spend trying not to know what you already know will be exhausting.” ~ A.M. Homes

Title: Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature
Author: Meredith Maran (ed)
Publisher: Plume/Penguin Random House
Release date: January 26, 2016
Source: Advance reader copy from the publisher


  1. This does make me want to look at it. I'm not the biggest fan of memoirs, but our book group chose that as the theme this year. I know I'll need motivation later in the year so I'll definitely keep this one in mind.

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