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The Art of Memoir

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  5,974 ratings  ·  915 reviews
Credited with sparking the current memoir explosion, Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club spent more than a year at the top of the New York Times list. She followed with two other smash bestsellers: Cherry and Lit, which were critical hits as well.

For thirty years Karr has also taught the form, winning graduate teaching prizes for her highly selective seminar at Syracuse, where she
Hardcover, 225 pages
Published September 15th 2015 by Harper
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Chel It depends on what your goal is. This book is about memoirs as literature -- why the great memoirs are great. If your goal is just to tell a story or …moreIt depends on what your goal is. This book is about memoirs as literature -- why the great memoirs are great. If your goal is just to tell a story or create a record, it may set the bar dauntingly high. But even so, there are some very useful chapters on things like voice, detail, and how to deal with other people you write about.

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Average rating 4.12  · 
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 ·  5,974 ratings  ·  915 reviews

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(4.5) I haven’t read Mary Karr’s memoirs, but I certainly will after reading her masterful survey of memoirs old and new. During her Texas upbringing full of alcoholism and abuse, “a first-person coming-of-age story, putatively true, never failed to give the child me hope that I could someday grow up and get out of the mess I was in ... Every memoirist had lived to tell the tale.” Over the last decade memoirs have rapidly become one of my favorite genres. I read them for a cathartic effect simil ...more
As someone who aspires to write a memoir of his own one day, I found The Art of Memoir both engaging and encouraging. Writing a memoir requires more than just journaling memories onto a page. The practice forces you to punch yourself in the gut multiple times as you uncover the ugliest and most personal truths about yourself. Mary Karr offers several sage pieces of advice on how to do just that, ranging from the importance of remaining truthful to the skill of always addressing your target audie ...more
Julie Ehlers
One of my favorite anecdotes Mary Karr tells in this book:
In a private workshop with Etheridge Knight--an ex-con from Mississippi and elsewhere, ashy of knee and with hands rusty enough to strike a match on--he scolded me about the pretentious pages I turned in. Way before poetry slams, he used to take us into bars or onto crowded buses to read out loud. Facing a listing drunk or a footsore commuter, you figure out pretty quick how irrelevant much of your drivel is.
I love this quote not just bec
Sep 15, 2015 rated it liked it
It's always hard to judge a book read in fits and starts. When you're busier than usual, you pick up your book-of-the-moment at odd times. And even if you end every day like I do -- reading in bed -- the busyness of your life often leads to an early date with Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep. Thus, another start ends, only now in a sleeping fit.

I rallied at the end of Mary Karr's book, however, taking the last 100 pp. by storm. It helped. My 3 stars began to lean four-ish. It's a short book, for o
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The book comes out September 15.

The queen of memoir, who also teaches classes in memoir writing, has published a book about writing memoir. It couldn't get better. I love how Mary Karr writes despite not yet finishing one of her memoirs. She is quite self-referential in this text, which even she seems uncertain about. Many of the references will only make sense if you have read the books she is referencing, so I
Diane Barnes
Sep 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
I read this book not because I anticipate writing a memoir of my own, but because I love the form and was interested in how it's done. Some of the best books I've ever read have been memoirs, so it was fascinating to get a behind the scenes look at what a memoirist goes through to get the truth in the pages of a book. Mary Karr does this beautifully, but she does teach a much in demand graduate seminar at Syracuse University, besides having written three about her own life, so she knows what she ...more
Amanda Patterson
Dec 11, 2016 rated it it was ok
This is one of the strangest books I've read and I am finding it almost impossible to write a review. Maybe it's because I was expecting something different. I was expecting a book that would help writers who wanted to write a memoir. This book does not do that.

'The Art of Memoir' is more of a memoir about writing a book on how to write a memoir. Yes, it is as disjointed as this description sounds. Apparently Mary Karr is a 'messy' teacher and I can understand why after reading this. Bits of ad
Rebecca Renner
Nov 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This is one of the best books on writing I've ever read. I strongly recommend it for any writers, not just writers of memoir. ...more
Aug 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(I received this as an ARC)

This book is advertised as a book about the art of memoir writing. But it's about so much more; the art of beautiful words, the art of truth, and the art of living an examined life. While I initially thought this book would be an interesting read, but ultimately not relevant to me as a fiction writer, I came away with lots of insights that I believe will help any writer of any genre hone their craft, as well as inspire readers with the wonder of a really well-told stor
Sep 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
"I can honestly say not one page I've ever published appears anywhere close to how it came out in first draft. A poem might take sixty versions. I am not much of a writer, but I am a stubborn little bulldog of a reviser."

Fantastic on audio! Here, MaryKarr discusses the memoir process — MUCH more complex than I ever dreamed. She sights several authors' works plus bits her own. My TBR is now several memoirs deeper and I'm elated. A must read for fans of the genre.
Laurie Anderson
Jan 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
Wonderful book about memoir writing, based largely on the classes that Karr teaches. She did a great job balancing a few of her own stories with many examples from the memoirs of others. Highly recommended.
Emily Bowers
Oct 05, 2015 rated it it was ok
As a fan of Lit (I battled with Cherry and didn't finish it), I was eager for Karr's thoughts on the genre which, as she reminded us a number of times in this book, she's been teaching for 30 years. Her list of reasons for why people shouldn't write a memoir reminded me of someone who has had success in their field and wants to cling to it, or perhaps has been curbed for too long by academia's rule-bound tendencies. Her obsession with truth in memoir was contradictory at times and her advice to ...more
Oct 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
An enormously helpful book, in sputters and spurts, for aspiring memoirists. It is written in the ribald tone I remember enjoying so much in Mary Karr’s memoir, Liars’ Club.

Some sections weren’t so helpful, and others a little dry. Pages go by without any penciled underlining. Also, I found the way Karr uses the word “carnal” to be jarring, and would consciously substitute “sensuous” every time I encountered it. Indeed I feel a little like a hypocrite giving four stars to this book when there h
Robert Case
Sep 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
I spent a long time listening to the audio version of this book. It was time well spent. The author's passion for memoir and for writing as art, resonates throughout. The early chapters delve into how the writer uncovers their story, and then finds their voice. Her discourse on perspective leads into a fascinating discussion of "Truth" and what a layered onion it becomes. She hammers home a lesson well learned in her childhood home: that truth is always subjective. There is always a context, whi ...more
Leo Robertson
Sep 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful compact overview of the memoir format, useful to non-fiction/fiction writers and appreciators of literature alike :) I feel like my ability to understand big swathes of literature has levelled up, and this book also expands on Stephen King's "Read a lot, write a lot" maxim. While giving more pointers than read a lot, write a lot, Karr also confirms our suspicions: developing a voice takes time, effort, and ultimately your own rules or lack thereof- but you'd better know her rules befor ...more
K.M. Weiland
Aug 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Another reviewer said she wanted to underline ever word. I felt the same—except I was listening on audio, so I promptly bought a copy, so I could do just that. Even if you’re a novelist and not a memoirist, as I am, this is a brilliant book, full of spot-on advice and one of the best and most applicable challenges to story integrity I’ve ever heard.
Jun 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books I have ever read on writing memoir. I think this should be required in every CNF MFA program. I learned more from this book than I did in many of my classes. And Karr is a master at explaining it.
Beth Browne
Oct 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
I wasn't sure about this book, or about Mary Karr, until I was well into this one. I don't know if it's me or her writing style or her dialect, but I find her writing hard to follow at times. Twice in the preface I thought there might be a page missing when the thread of thought just didn't carry to the next page.

But, dear reader, please read on. Ms. Karr has some really amazing points to make, and you don't want to miss them. I have read a bunch of books on memoir recently and I have to say tha
Camelia Rose
Sep 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A very informative book on memoir writing and appreciation, useful if you want to write one, enjoyable for general readers too.

I like the chapter where Mary Karr describes one of her teaching methods. Without letting the students know, she stages a "conflict" with a coworker in the classroom then asks the students to describe what they remember. It is surprising how different people's accounts are. Except a few excellent memoirists, majority of students can only recall partially the event. Not o
Richard Gilbert
Oct 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Here Karr reiterates her everlasting obsession: honesty in personal prose. She’s been criticized in the past for protesting a bit much about memoirists not fabricating. Her practice is of sharing pages with those mentioned. The revelation in The Art of Memoir is how she unites this basic concern with the thrilling imperative to find an authentic perspective/voice/persona. As she puts it:

"Each great memoir lives or dies based 100 percent on voice. . . . The goal of a voice is to speak not with ob
Nov 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: all-time-faves
This is probably the best book on writing I’ve ever read. Mary Karr combines immensely satisfying criticism (including brilliant analyses on Vladamir Nabokov, Maya Angelou, and Michael Herr) with guidelines for memoir writing, focusing on themes of truth, carnality, and cultivating a voice, all delivered with her own mastery of language and charming Texas twang. I connected with her no-nonsense outlook on writing, and her ability to talk the reader through scribbling down the hard stuff with hum ...more
I have been getting into non-fiction lately and especially memoirs. I love reading bookish memoirs, exploring someone’s reading journey or a challenge they completed. I think I have an interesting reading journey and I would love to write it down on paper. I picked up The Art of Memoir to get some ideas and motivate me into writing it down, even if it may never become a memoir. I like the idea of experimenting with the memoir form, developing my writing skills; who knows I might put my reading j ...more
Mar 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
First, let me say that this will not be what I would call a review. Rather, I will comment on this book which I finished today.

Several years ago, my book club read Mary Karr's memoir "lit." I didn't especially like the book, but many of my friends did. So I promised myself that I would read her earlier memoirs when they became available as digital downloads.

So far, that hasn't happened. However, when I saw this offering, I decided that it would be well worth reading. The craft of writing fascin
Robert Vaughan
Feb 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Really impressive information shared in this book about the memoir, and told from a veteran writer also from many diverse angles. Contains an impressive data list of memoir authors at the back, and dives into several examples in her revealing chapters. At times it felt too "school-ish," even though I know this was the point of the book. It really spoke more to me in the second half of her book, especially Karr's perceptions in her chapter "Michael Herr: Start in Kansas, End in Oz" about his Disp ...more
Sep 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
My life has been nowhere near as interesting as Mary Karr's, for better or worse, but I still yearn to tell my story. That being said, I can't think of a better person (who has written a book about memoir) to learn the craft from. She really is that slightly-off-balanced aunt that everyone has: the one you don't see near often enough, but each time you do, it's such a damned delight, you hate to see her leave again. I love love love love her voice; it's just so real. I am so excited to write my ...more
Aug 22, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: owned, non-fiction
Today's nonfiction post is on The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. It is 256 pages long and is published by HarperCollins. The cover is white with the title in red and black. The intended reader is someone who wants to learn more about writing memoirs and writing in general. There is descriptions of sex, violence, and lots of language in this book. There Be Spoilers Ahead.

From the jacket- Credited with sparking the current memoir explosion, Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club spent more than a year at the to
Jan Priddy
Oct 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I loved The Liar's Club but vaguely recall thinking I didn't like the sound of Cherry so I never read it. Now I will have to go back and read the rest of her memoirs.

This book is solid. It is specific without being formulaic and personal without focussing overmuch on Karr's own work. She is concerned about that and I think she is right to be concerned. Her determination to look at how a variety of memoirists (including herself) accomplished their stories and her insistence on backing away from
Jan 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
It goes without saying that this book is required reading for today's memoir authors. Mary Karr is a major figure in the modern memoir scene with loads of wisdom and wit to share.

The book is excellently written and as compelling as a straight-up memoir. Karr includes a mix of practical advice and thoughtful discussions to mull over. Most of us will never be a student in one of her classes at Syracuse University. This book is the next best thing.
Sep 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Sarah by: Meghan Krogh
Holy genius, Mary Karr. Reading this set my brain on fire.
Melissa Stacy
I love the three published memoirs of Mary Karr (The Liars' Club, Cherry, and Lit), and I assumed I would love her memoir how-to guide, the 2015 guidebook, "The Art of Memoir." I've wanted to read this book since it hit bookstore shelves.

I was surprised by how little I actually enjoyed this book, and the problem seems to be that the book's intended audience is all over the place. On one hand, Mary Karr is hyper-aware she is being read by masterful authors like George Saunders, Don DeLillo, Richa
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Mary Karr is an American poet, essayist and memoirist. She rose to fame in 1995 with the publication of her bestselling memoir The Liars' Club. She is the Peck Professor of English Literature at Syracuse University.

Karr was born January 16, 1955, in Groves, a small town in East Texas located in the Port Arthur region, known for its oil refineries and chemical plants, to J. P. and Charlie Marie (Mo

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