What Are Memoirs?

I’ve struggled with separating autobiographies from memoirs. I’ve read slews of  autobiographies of famous classic movie stars, ghostwritten, of course.  Joe Shmoe, Big Movie Star, by Joe Shmoe, and Little Nobody. These bios supposedly encompass the star’s entire life, with anecdotes from all stages of career, DUI’s, lovers, divorces, etc. Dates are given to back up some of the stories told. Still, how many people can recall verbatim conversations they’ve had 40 years ago? Some of the books I’ve perused are written as if events are so fresh in the person’s mind, that you picture them chit chatting in real time–which of course is silly. So, how does that differ from a memoir? I know I’ve pondered this question before, and probably will again, until the differences are crystal clear.

Read more

Memoir or Fiction?

I finished a mesmerizing story of a horrific but in some ways magical childhood, and started musing over it. The story and its particulars stayed with me all day. In fact, I had kept reading long into the night, and when awakened early, read some more. In the book a woman tells of her childhood, from the time she was three, until when the book was published, in 2005. The truth is stranger than fiction label fits here. The descriptions of where she lived, how she lived, and what her parents did and didn’t do, would be completely unbelievable in a work of fiction. What makes a memoir different than a fictionalized account of a person’s life? Why is her book, universally praised and a bestseller, not looked at more as a bit of extrapolated truth, than a true fact based autobiography? The reason I question the veracity of the book is the way it is written. Entire conversations from this woman’s childhood, from age 3,  5, 7, 10 and on are quoted. Maybe whole scenes can replay in the mind of a 10 year old, but not a 3 year old. And yet as the reader we never think twice about what is being said, and that’s because the power of the prose and the way the story is being told almost blinds the reader to the improbableness of exact memories. I think back to my most traumatic experience at age 5, and conversation between adults and between myself and adults do not exist in my memory banks. Do I have a particularly bad memory span? Should I be able to recount discussions made way back then? I don’t think so. Certainly I remember certain phrases and things said to me–and the circumstances surrounding the event–but do I remember what my mother said to the next door neighbor when she asked to be driven to the doctor because I claimed my arm was broken? Do I remember what the doctor said to my mother, other than, yes, it’s broken, the bone is sticking out? Or what was discussed in the emergency room, or by the sadistic nuns at the hospital or the kid in the next bed to me? No. I don’t have total recall. So, if I were to write of this episode, is it within the guidelines of memoir writing that I create possible conversations among the participants? Or does that push the bounds of truth, and turn the reality of breaking my arm and the aftermath into a speculation of what happened, rather than what really happened?

Read more

Four of the Top Autobiographies

People have always been fascinated by the lifestyles of the rich, famous and influential. Top autobiographies carry a large demand, and the reasons for the success of these books are pretty easy to grasp. With money and fame comes the luxury of being able to lead an interesting and inspiring life. Top autobiographies feature the … Read more