On memory, melancholy, four-legged love, girls on summer afternoons, the difficulty of paying attention, and king-size beds…
Tell me a story. Tell me your story . Wait—let me get comfortable. Okay, talk to me, tell me who you really are. This is what we feel as we sit down to read a memoir. We have a craving for connection, an urge to share a confidence. We want an insider's glimpse of someone else's life: Not what happened, as memoirist Vivian Gornick puts it, but what the writer makes of what happened. We're not interested in going on "a liar's holiday," poet Mark Doty writes; we want to get to the bottom of things as they were and are. That's why we slurp up memoirs as if they were lattes, while publishing houses scurry to keep up with the demand. Today bookstore shelves groan beneath the weight of memoirs, including old favorites by the likes of James Baldwin, Mary McCarthy (and her nemesis, Lillian Hellman), Maya Angelou, Mary Karr, Frank McCourt...the list goes on. At a meeting of a group called the Memoir Club in Bloomsbury, London, in 1920, Virginia Woolf shocked her fellow writers with the true story of an incestuous relationship with her half brother ("What possessed me to lay bare my soul!" Woolf wrote afterward). Following in that painful tradition, some contemporary memoirists such as Kathryn Harrison, Geoffrey Wolff, and Augusten Burroughs have bared startling family secrets, but a memoir can as often be a story carved from a quiet, ordinary life: a personal history reconstructed from memory and infused with meaning. "It's all in the art," V.S. Pritchett said. "You get no credit for living." On these pages, eight writers plumb their hearts and minds to tell us their most intimate real-life stories. Come, pull up a chair.
Printed from Oprah.com on Friday, March 7, 2014
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