Saturday, November 14, 2015

"The Art of Memoir," by Mary Karr

Mary Karr is the author of three shocking, painful, heartbreaking, beautifully written memoirs (“The Liars’ Club,” “Cherry,” and “Lit”). I have read and admired all three. She has also taught memoir writing for thirty years. These facts, along with my increasing interest in memoir over the past 15 years or so (yes, I know, along with many other readers), drew me to her new book, “The Art of Memoir” (Harper, 2015). I have to say that although I am not sorry to have read it, I found it a bit disappointing. It seems a bit cobbled together (consisting of many short and mostly freestanding chapters). Much of it, especially the instructional elements, seems a bit stale. The parts I liked best were her discussions of others’ memoirs, many of which she has taught and clearly knows inside out. Some of her favorite memoirists discussed in this book include Maxine Hong Kingston, Mary McCarthy, George Orwell, Frank McCourt, Maya Angelou, Vladimir Nabokov, Michael Herr, Frank Conroy, Cheryl Strayed, Geoffrey Wolff, and Tobias Wolf, most of whose memoirs I too have read and valued. There is also a generous list of memoirs at the end of the book. Despite my less-than-completely-enthusiastic comments at the beginning of this post, I do feel this book could be of interest and useful to aspiring memoirists and to those of us readers who seek out literary memoirs.

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