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Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir

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An indispensable book by writers who have experienced firsthand the rewards and challenges of crafting a memoir   Anyone undertaking the project of writing a memoir knows that the events, memories, and emotions of the past often resist the orderly structure of a book. Inventing the Truth offers wisdom from nine notable memoirists about their process (Ian Frazier searched th An indispensable book by writers who have experienced firsthand the rewards and challenges of crafting a memoir   Anyone undertaking the project of writing a memoir knows that the events, memories, and emotions of the past often resist the orderly structure of a book. Inventing the Truth offers wisdom from nine notable memoirists about their process (Ian Frazier searched through generations of family papers to understand his parents' lives), the hurdles they faced (Annie Dillard tackles the central dilemma of memoir: what to put in and what to leave out), and the unexpected joys of bringing their pasts to the page. Featured authors include Russell Baker on Growing Up; Jill Ker Conway on The Road from Coorain; Annie Dillard on An American Childhood; Ian Frazier on Family; Henry Louis Gates Jr. on Colored People; Alfred Kazin on A Walker in the City; Frank McCourt on Angela's Ashes; Toni Morrison on Beloved; and Eileen Simpson on Poets in Their Youth.


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An indispensable book by writers who have experienced firsthand the rewards and challenges of crafting a memoir   Anyone undertaking the project of writing a memoir knows that the events, memories, and emotions of the past often resist the orderly structure of a book. Inventing the Truth offers wisdom from nine notable memoirists about their process (Ian Frazier searched th An indispensable book by writers who have experienced firsthand the rewards and challenges of crafting a memoir   Anyone undertaking the project of writing a memoir knows that the events, memories, and emotions of the past often resist the orderly structure of a book. Inventing the Truth offers wisdom from nine notable memoirists about their process (Ian Frazier searched through generations of family papers to understand his parents' lives), the hurdles they faced (Annie Dillard tackles the central dilemma of memoir: what to put in and what to leave out), and the unexpected joys of bringing their pasts to the page. Featured authors include Russell Baker on Growing Up; Jill Ker Conway on The Road from Coorain; Annie Dillard on An American Childhood; Ian Frazier on Family; Henry Louis Gates Jr. on Colored People; Alfred Kazin on A Walker in the City; Frank McCourt on Angela's Ashes; Toni Morrison on Beloved; and Eileen Simpson on Poets in Their Youth.

30 review for Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    julieta

    If you're looking for tips on writing a memoir, or just enjoy memoirs in general and want to read what may be behind some, this is the book! I really enjoyed all of the essays here included, I am always reading about memoir writing, its really one of my pastimes, and this will be included in my recommendations if anyone asks me over dinner for a good book on memoirs.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Barrow Wilfong

    In this anthology of writers' memoirs, we meet many different sort of writers, journalists, novelists, professors at universities who teach all sorts of things not necessarily related to writing but have all written a memoir of some type or other. Each writer discusses why they wrote from the angle they chose. Russell Bake decided to narrow his memoir to his relationship with his mother and her impact on his life. This meant leaving out most of his life, but allowed a straight line to take the re In this anthology of writers' memoirs, we meet many different sort of writers, journalists, novelists, professors at universities who teach all sorts of things not necessarily related to writing but have all written a memoir of some type or other. Each writer discusses why they wrote from the angle they chose. Russell Bake decided to narrow his memoir to his relationship with his mother and her impact on his life. This meant leaving out most of his life, but allowed a straight line to take the reader from A to B without getting side tracked. Some writers had interesting childhoods. Jill Ker Conway, a professor, wrote about growing up in Australia. She shares what motivated her to write about her complicated, personal relationships and the challenges of rising through the echelons of a University as a woman. Alfred Kazin writes of growing up inside the Jewish culture in Brooklyn. His objective is to get the reader to see every stoop, traffic sign and the smells coming from the restaurants and see the people brushing by on the crowded streets. Toni Morrison believes everyone should look at their historical self, the actual history and the perceptual as a minority. She believes black writers have two objectives: to say this is my personal history, but also the history of my race. Annie Dillard doesn't believe in memoirs but rather that we should use our personal experiences to write our stories, so, according to her, it follows that every story a writer pens is really a memoir on some level. Each writer offers their own perspective and insight in how to write about one's life or at least aspects of it. Ironically, when I read samples of some of these writers' books on commercial sites, I didn't find their writing very interesting. Which goes to show that one can write well about a topic without necessarily living up to another person's expectations of that topic. This book however will be of interest to anyone interested in writing and receiving the ideas and thoughts of successful, published writers.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    There are a few gems here -- the latter part of Annie Dillard's "To Fashion a Text" and Toni Morrison's excellent guide to the history of African American memoir: "The Site of Memory." The bibliography is also fascinating, to see what writers were reading as they wrote their memoirs. Otherwise, this book hasn't quite made the transition from spoken presentations to published essays, and the product is neither solid craft advice nor strong personal essay. There are a few gems here -- the latter part of Annie Dillard's "To Fashion a Text" and Toni Morrison's excellent guide to the history of African American memoir: "The Site of Memory." The bibliography is also fascinating, to see what writers were reading as they wrote their memoirs. Otherwise, this book hasn't quite made the transition from spoken presentations to published essays, and the product is neither solid craft advice nor strong personal essay.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    The sensationalism of TV talk show in the late 1980's brought a shift in autobiography that would create a new "memoir genre". The national fascination for featured topics relating to alcohol/drug dependency, depression/emotional disorders, attempted suicide, abuse/co-dependency, obesity/eating disorders, etc. Many authors of these memoirs bashed their parents, and/or centered on themes of further negativity, shame, victimhood, self-indulgence. Many of these memoirs would become international be The sensationalism of TV talk show in the late 1980's brought a shift in autobiography that would create a new "memoir genre". The national fascination for featured topics relating to alcohol/drug dependency, depression/emotional disorders, attempted suicide, abuse/co-dependency, obesity/eating disorders, etc. Many authors of these memoirs bashed their parents, and/or centered on themes of further negativity, shame, victimhood, self-indulgence. Many of these memoirs would become international bestsellers. "Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir" (1998), William Zinsser takes a close look at the positive art of memoir expression by bestselling authors of that time: Russell Baker, Mary Karr, Jill Ker Conway, Frank McCourt, Eileen Simpson, Alfred Kazin, Anne Dillard, Ian Frazer, Henry Lois Gates Jr., and Toni Morrison. The authors discuss what makes the genre particularly successful. Readers feel a connection, find inspiration and even nourishment. The writers reflect on the past, sometimes in pain, but offer compassion/forgiveness. There is no self-pity, whining, judgment, or hunger for revenge. A good memoir is carefully crafted and constructed, it simply doesn't fall into place. The writer of any form must determine what to add and what to leave out, and has absolute control over the writing. There are both good memoirs and bad ones, they must be above all interesting, revelatory, and truthful. Russell Baker stated: "Talking too much for a writer is death". Jill Ker Conway avoided the re-creation of the "male myth", and stressed the impossibility of getting the unspoken truth from brief edited TV version of memoir. Frank McCourt stressed the value and redeeming quality of writing to educate while using entertainment/humor. Anne Dillard emphasized that memoir is not the place to air grievance, or for real/imagined attacks. Dillard doesn't believe in authors "kicking people around", or writing about those unable to defend themselves. As a writing teacher her input was strong and on task. Ian Frazer discussed the first person narrative of family history, and "fake boring books" often associated with this theme, and how to make it more interesting for the reader. Toni Morrison wrote about the biographical slave narratives important in African American (Black) History. Also, the differences of self-reflection and the craft of fiction where the two genre's "embrace". The authors provide additional insights on the titled books/memoirs they wrote, also an excellent resource that reviews books written in this time period. Memoir remains a popular best selling genre, this book is a highly recommended must read classic for all authors/readers. This title was available in e-book format at our public library.

  5. 4 out of 5

    John

    More inspiring than actually helpful, INVENTING THE TRUTH is a collection of memoirs on writing memoirs. This INCEPTION-like premise works, not because it's a particularly interesting concept, but because the book's editor, William Zinsser, chose a group of extremely articulate and engaging writers for this compilation, writers who could discuss the gradual dehydration of paint and still make it sound compelling. The book is a collection of interviews, essays and speeches; most of the material i More inspiring than actually helpful, INVENTING THE TRUTH is a collection of memoirs on writing memoirs. This INCEPTION-like premise works, not because it's a particularly interesting concept, but because the book's editor, William Zinsser, chose a group of extremely articulate and engaging writers for this compilation, writers who could discuss the gradual dehydration of paint and still make it sound compelling. The book is a collection of interviews, essays and speeches; most of the material is biographical or historical in nature, with just a small portion dedicated to giving tips as to HOW the writing of a great memoir is actually done. I can't really say I learned much from reading this, but it certainly imbues one with an overall infectious enthusiasm for the subject material--as well as for that of writing in general. Considering how little interest I usually have in reading memoirs as compared to other kinds of writing, it's impressive how well this book held my attention.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Terry

    I was enticed by the title, Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, because I have been skeptical about the veracity of many of the memoirs I have read and felt that they contained considerable “invention”. As I read Zinsser on the unreliability of memory and Baker on the possibility that accuracy does not equal truth and even Dillard on the danger of using memories in a memoir, I have come to accept and embrace the proposition that memoir has to do with truth which is not synonymous w I was enticed by the title, Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, because I have been skeptical about the veracity of many of the memoirs I have read and felt that they contained considerable “invention”. As I read Zinsser on the unreliability of memory and Baker on the possibility that accuracy does not equal truth and even Dillard on the danger of using memories in a memoir, I have come to accept and embrace the proposition that memoir has to do with truth which is not synonymous with fact. I even found support in Morrison's intimation that it might take fiction to get at truth. So, this fine, slim volume has given me a way to appreciate memoir, while still preferring to find truth in novels.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lise

    Lots of wonderful insight on the process of writing memoirs. My favourite excerpt below from Toni Morrison: "You know, they straightened out the Mississippi in places, to make room for houses and liveable acreage. Occasionally the river floods these places. "Floods" is the word they use, but in fact it is not flooding, but remembering. Remembering where it used to be. All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was. Writers are like that: remembering where we were Lots of wonderful insight on the process of writing memoirs. My favourite excerpt below from Toni Morrison: "You know, they straightened out the Mississippi in places, to make room for houses and liveable acreage. Occasionally the river floods these places. "Floods" is the word they use, but in fact it is not flooding, but remembering. Remembering where it used to be. All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was. Writers are like that: remembering where we were, what valley we ran through, what the banks were like, the light that was there and the route back to our original place. It is emotional memory - what the nerves and the skin remember as well as how it appeared. And a rush of our imagination is our "flooding."

  8. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I like to write down quotes from books I like, and with this book, I wrote down so many quotes, I just about copied the whole book. One of my favorite essays was from Toni Morrison, and she wrote: "If writing is thinking and discovery and selection and order and meaning, it is also awe and reverence and mystery and magic."

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy

    Henry David Thoreau wrote 7 different drafts of Walden in 8 years. He finally pieced together what Margaret Fuller called the "mosaic" method, a book that strikes as casual and chatty. Annie Dillard's essay "To Fashion a Text" is the best. She says not to write a memoir. Rather write about what you are left with after years of thinking about it. Her advice is "to fashion a text. Don't hope in a memoir to preserve your memories. . . . The work battens on your memories. And it replaces them." Dill Henry David Thoreau wrote 7 different drafts of Walden in 8 years. He finally pieced together what Margaret Fuller called the "mosaic" method, a book that strikes as casual and chatty. Annie Dillard's essay "To Fashion a Text" is the best. She says not to write a memoir. Rather write about what you are left with after years of thinking about it. Her advice is "to fashion a text. Don't hope in a memoir to preserve your memories. . . . The work battens on your memories. And it replaces them." Dillard: "After you've written, you can no longer remember anything but the writing. However true you make that writing, you've created a monster. . . . After I've written about any experience, my memories--those elusive, fragmentary patches of color and feeling--are gone; they've been replaced by the work. The work is a sort of changeling on the doorstep--not your baby but someone else's baby rather like it, different in some way you can't pinpoint, and yours has vanished." Dillard: "Memory is insubstantial. Things keep replacing it. Your batch of snapshots will both fix and ruin your memory of your travels, or your childhood, or your children's childhood. You can't remember anything from your trip except this wretched collection of snapshots." E. B. White once said about his move from Manhattan to Maine that he was "homesick for loneliness."

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jo

    Read sometime between 2008 and 2010. Owned a copy, reread some parts before donating in 2020. I was really interested in how Angela’s Ashes came to be, and in Henry Louis Gates’ process writing Colored People (which I have since read). Reading Toni Morrison makes me want to revisit her work. These were originally talks - I would’ve enjoyed going to them and hearing the authors.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    I love Zinsser. I love his writing, his thought process and his mind. His writing (included in this anthology) is planted on earth, graspable. He's an awesome editor as shown in this work. The collected essays deal with the many considerations inherent in memoir. This anthology includes the work of Dillard, Baker, Kazin, Morrison and Thomas. Dillard suggests that the re-writing of a memory will implant the edited version in the mind of its maker (71). Zinsser says, "Memoir is a window into a lif I love Zinsser. I love his writing, his thought process and his mind. His writing (included in this anthology) is planted on earth, graspable. He's an awesome editor as shown in this work. The collected essays deal with the many considerations inherent in memoir. This anthology includes the work of Dillard, Baker, Kazin, Morrison and Thomas. Dillard suggests that the re-writing of a memory will implant the edited version in the mind of its maker (71). Zinsser says, "Memoir is a window into a life" (21). Morrison equates memory to a flood, “All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was. Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir by William Knowlton Zinsser My review rating: 4 of 5 stars I love Zinsser. I love his writing, his thought process and his mind. His writing (included in this anthology) is planted on earth, graspable. He's an awesome editor as shown in this work. The collected essays deal with the many considerations inherent in memoir. This anthology includes the work of Dillard, Baker, Kazin, Morrison and Thomas. Dillard suggests that the re-writing of a memory will implant the edited version in the mind of its maker (71). Zinsser says, "Memoir is a window into a life" (21). Morrison equates memory to a flood, “All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was. Writers are like that: remembering where we were…the light that was there and the route back to our original place. It's an emotional memory…" (119). View all my reviews.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tony Page

    William Zinsser declares in his introduction 'this is the age of the memoir'. He reports on a project begun in 1986 that produced this fascinting compilation from nine famous memoir writers describing their craft in their own words. I couldn't put the book down. The following short paragraphs summarise what I took away. When the life history in your mind has not been critically analysed, and when the painful parts tend to grow and overwhelm the good bits, then the plot that guides your life is no William Zinsser declares in his introduction 'this is the age of the memoir'. He reports on a project begun in 1986 that produced this fascinting compilation from nine famous memoir writers describing their craft in their own words. I couldn't put the book down. The following short paragraphs summarise what I took away. When the life history in your mind has not been critically analysed, and when the painful parts tend to grow and overwhelm the good bits, then the plot that guides your life is not the one you really want, and you might need to do something about it. Writing your own memoir is doing something about it, shining a light on a particularly vivid or important period of your life, often the childhood. Unless this past is confronted, the good bits may be fading into obscurity along with the rest. Serious work to piece together what we find also lets us recover all kinds of other lost resources: humour and compassion and values and heritage. Done thoroughly and well, this work softens the heart of the writer, and also the hearts of the readers. That is the art. But memoirs will come across badly if the craft is not properly developed possibly producing a random and callous confession of toxic feelings, a bashing of parents or former friends, or a sordid trotting out of something for the masses to marvel at. If you can learn the craft of creating a narrative shape to the writing that brings a kind of resonance for others, then others may make their own associations; and become nourished as a result. In the midst of this endeavour, shame and guilt, will rear their ugly heads and endanger the project. This includes your own shame and guilt, and that of the family and friends surrounding you. Your intended outcomes, and the likely impact of publication have to be worked through, without losing your distinct truth in the equally valid truths of your siblings and parents and uncles and aunties and friends, who have their own different story that they may or may not wish to expose. Until we can declare our truth authentically and kindly, thousands of others in our worlds may be reluctant to declare their truths, and collectively we will continue limping along in the semi-darkness.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    This collection of essays and Q & A's with several well-known memoir writers isn't a how-to but more a "how I did it." As a writer who has discovered how shockingly difficult it is to get a grasp around a memoir theme, I hoped some of these authors would throw me a lifeline. My biggest takeaways from the book were that it is normal to realize you cannot rely on memory alone in reconstructing one's past; that focusing on a period of time in one's life will help narrow down the scope and angle, an This collection of essays and Q & A's with several well-known memoir writers isn't a how-to but more a "how I did it." As a writer who has discovered how shockingly difficult it is to get a grasp around a memoir theme, I hoped some of these authors would throw me a lifeline. My biggest takeaways from the book were that it is normal to realize you cannot rely on memory alone in reconstructing one's past; that focusing on a period of time in one's life will help narrow down the scope and angle, and how much research these writers did to verify what they thought they knew, as well as to discover new and sometimes exciting facts that shed new light on the families they thought they knew. I especially enjoyed Russell Baker, Frank McCourt and Toni Morrison's essays.

  14. 4 out of 5

    George K. Ilsley

    An excellent anthology for writers or those interested in the creative process. Of course, some essays resonate more than others. I particularly enjoyed the piece by Henry Louis Gates. Worth reading and re-reading. This is not (directly) a "how to write memoir" book, but in a way it is: because through their stories the writers demonstrate that there are many paths towards inventing the truth, and inventing your own path may be necessary to your own true story.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Scott J Pearson

    Writing a memoir, a very personal task, involves an individualized process that is specific to each author. This book contains insights from ten authors of meaningful memoirs. Some of their advice conflicts; at other times, their process is so grounded in history that it can never be replicated. As such, this work is less of a how-to book and more of an inspirational book to aid a budding writer’s self-confidence. I have taken from this work the motif of distinguishing between an autobiography an Writing a memoir, a very personal task, involves an individualized process that is specific to each author. This book contains insights from ten authors of meaningful memoirs. Some of their advice conflicts; at other times, their process is so grounded in history that it can never be replicated. As such, this work is less of a how-to book and more of an inspirational book to aid a budding writer’s self-confidence. I have taken from this work the motif of distinguishing between an autobiography and a memoir. An autobiography is a biography written about and by the author. It is essentially an objective record of facts about one’s life, shaped into a narrative. To contrast, a memoir contains a high degree of subjectivity. Feelings enter the mix and distort objective reality. Indeed, objective reality does not even seem to be an aim. Memoirs aim for respectful tone instead of journalistic accuracy. The selected interviewees have been taken from many different walks of American life. Any American reader can find someone to identify with. Zinsser even includes Nobel prizewinner Toni Morrison, who wrote fiction and never penned a memoir. (Despite this – or maybe because of this – her interview was one of the most insightful.) Zinsser is, as usual, on top of his craft. He is known for the best-selling book On Writing Well. This work merely applies some of those principles to the specific task of writing a memoir. One need not aspire to write a memoir to benefit from this work, however. We all craft stories about ourselves, to our friends, family, and co-workers. Zinsser’s work helps us refine what we are trying to say. This is the real benefit of his work and of his niche in writing. Overall, I recommend this book for those who want to learn how to share about themselves better because it helps them know themselves better first and because next it helps them relate that knowledge to others.

  16. 5 out of 5

    JZ

    Frankly, I was surprised what a quick read this was, because the stories were so interesting, until I got to Toni Morrison, who bored me to tears until the last pages, when she answered a question, and talked like a human being instead of an encyclopedia. Ian Frazier wrote the most interesting story of how he wrote his family history, and I fell in love with his way of writing, but I'm just not interested in his subject. I'm bored with extensive family trees. Sorry, it's just not my thing. I mar Frankly, I was surprised what a quick read this was, because the stories were so interesting, until I got to Toni Morrison, who bored me to tears until the last pages, when she answered a question, and talked like a human being instead of an encyclopedia. Ian Frazier wrote the most interesting story of how he wrote his family history, and I fell in love with his way of writing, but I'm just not interested in his subject. I'm bored with extensive family trees. Sorry, it's just not my thing. I married a man who came with one that included three of the witches executed in Salem, and lived in a town that had memorials to his ancestors. sigh Enough, already. They're all dead. I'm not. That said, one of the best features of the book is the bibliography at the end. I added more than a few books to my tbr list from there. Quite a pleasant read that kept me up later than I had planned. I was so happy to learn that Frank McCourt loved Wodehouse, Russell Baker loved Thurber, as did Annie Dillard, and "The Education of Henry Adams" was mentioned several times. A timely book might be "A History of the United States Since the Civil War" by Ellis P. Overholzer that was finished in 1931.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Anson Cassel Mills

    The 1987 edition of Inventing the Truth originated in the winter of 1986 as a series of talks sponsored by the Book-of-the-Month Club at the New York Public Library. A shadow of its predecessor, Extraordinary Lives (1986), this slender book has as its theme, reminiscences about writing memoirs. Although novelist Toni Morrison and medical writer Lewis Thomas veer off to a degree from this theme, all the essays are valuable as examples of good writing. There is no index, but the volume concludes w The 1987 edition of Inventing the Truth originated in the winter of 1986 as a series of talks sponsored by the Book-of-the-Month Club at the New York Public Library. A shadow of its predecessor, Extraordinary Lives (1986), this slender book has as its theme, reminiscences about writing memoirs. Although novelist Toni Morrison and medical writer Lewis Thomas veer off to a degree from this theme, all the essays are valuable as examples of good writing. There is no index, but the volume concludes with fascinating annotated bibliographies of the authors’ favorite first-person narratives.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Val Frost

    A book I'm already feigning to re-read! Full of a wonderful selection of contributors with their own experiences, identities, and traumas to lend perspective to. It was great to get a detailed account of their research methods both inter-personally and factually. The stories drew a web between guilt, memory, and, of course, writing that I had never connected before. I will continue to reflect on how, and if, guilt indicates narcissism and of the transformative nature, for better or worse, of mem A book I'm already feigning to re-read! Full of a wonderful selection of contributors with their own experiences, identities, and traumas to lend perspective to. It was great to get a detailed account of their research methods both inter-personally and factually. The stories drew a web between guilt, memory, and, of course, writing that I had never connected before. I will continue to reflect on how, and if, guilt indicates narcissism and of the transformative nature, for better or worse, of memories themselves. Not only are memories forever re-accounted through writing but they become re-invigorated with each remembrance.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Adams

    Another book read for a class. Inventing the Truth is a collection of interviews with writers about their experiences writing memoir. The best by far was Jill Kee Conway's "Points of Departure." Otherwise, more like a collection of promotional materials for books then a book itself. As someone whose life fantasies include reading the entire New York Times Sunday Book Review section every week, this is not entirely damning praise, but it still felt like the pyramid scheme of reading.

  20. 4 out of 5

    N

    I read the intro and all the chapters by women. The only male contributor I read was Ian Frazier because I really enjoy some of his writing (his essay here was so so). Annie Dillard's "To Fashion a Text" and Toni Morrison's "The Site of Memory" were the definite standouts in this collection—read those if nothing else.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jackie

    I picked up this book hoping to be galvanized into starting back in on a memoir project that’s been stalled out for some time. That didn’t happen, mostly because I don’t think the aim of this book is to galvanize anyone. Still, it told me what I needed to hear, which was, over and over, some version of JUST WRITE IT. So, thanks, I guess?

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sophie Cayeux

    Excellent. Very useful book on how different authors write their memoir/ biographies; how they structure their work to make it of universal relevance ; why they choose to focus on one particular theme; what is their personal view on what are memories.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lily

    I wouldn't say that this is a primer on writing memoirs but more illustrations of the selected authors. That may be more useful, though, because it brings it down to an interesting story level instead of dry drivel. I enjoyed the majority of the book

  24. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    Very interesting and inspiring to read the reflections of the various writers on their own memoir-writing process and ideas about memoir. And the bibliography of recommended books by each of the contributors is a great resource!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I didn't read all of the interviews with Annie Dillard and Toni Morrison because I found them too abstract.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lucille

    very good book about memoirs. Its more about how these authors wrote them, in terms of what they went through. I've never read a memoir, but this book made me want to buy tons of them!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Paula Bartlett

    Excellent reference book if thinking about writing a memoir. Just plain good reading too! Various authors contribute but anything by Zinsser is excellent.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    An excellent book just to read as it is a collection of essays (taped talks about their memoirs) by famous writers — and full of good details and information in case you want to write your own.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Suggs

    This was pretty good. Some of the stories were better than others.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    I read this in preparation for a unit I'm planning on memoir and autobiography for a tenth grade high school class. Almost all of the essays collected here are exceptionally thoughtful, but especially the ones by Toni Morrison, Annie Dillard, Jill Ker Conway, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The Morrison essay is probably the best--it touches on something that I find particularly interesting yet unexplored about the genre, which is the line between fiction and memoir, between "truth" and "fact." I sus I read this in preparation for a unit I'm planning on memoir and autobiography for a tenth grade high school class. Almost all of the essays collected here are exceptionally thoughtful, but especially the ones by Toni Morrison, Annie Dillard, Jill Ker Conway, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The Morrison essay is probably the best--it touches on something that I find particularly interesting yet unexplored about the genre, which is the line between fiction and memoir, between "truth" and "fact." I suspect Morrison is able to talk about that line precisely because she is a fiction writer. (As she explains--this article was written when she was in the process of creating Beloved--she wants to write what was left unsaid in the slave narratives of the 1800's.) I think the looseness of these definitions (fiction, autobiography, memoir: it's all narrative, all the time) is essential to talk about as a teacher, because as high school students we are so awe-struck by literature that the focus becomes editing our understanding to fit with what we perceive as the rigidity and formality of literature, but what is in fact the rigidity or formality of our teachers' attitudes and interpretations. No, Shakespeare does not have to be read in a high-class British accent! Just because you are not born understanding something doesn't mean you can't learn it. Knowledge is fluid. Reality, even, can be fluid. That's what these essays are about.

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