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I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory
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I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory

3.9  ·  Rating details ·  331 Ratings  ·  43 Reviews
In this timely gathering, Patricia Hampl, one of our most elegant practitioners, "weaves personal stories and grand ideas into shimmering bolts of prose" (Minneapolis Star Tribune) as she explores the autobiographical writing that has enchanted or bedeviled her. Subjects engaging Hampl's attention include her family's response to her writing, the ethics of writing about fa ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published August 17th 2000 by W. W. Norton Company (first published June 1st 1999)
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Nov 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The first essay let me know I'd found gold. Over and over, I was surprised by the direction of each essay thereafter. When I started the one on Milosz, I initially thought it was too highbrow for me--that I didn't know enough about Milosz work to understand the essay--but suddenly, several paragraphs in, I was captivated. That happened repeatedly, even in the Sylvia Plath essay which is weighty with contemplation. My favorite essays were the "Mayflower Moment: Reading Whitman during the Vietnam ...more
Richard Gilbert
Jul 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
A blend of memoir and thoughts about memoir, united by an inquiry into memory and its capture. A stealth memoir itself, really. Stunning personal writing in parts; in others, deep literary analysis of key historic memoirs. I flagged sometimes in the latter, yet Hampl's historic appreciations are worthy models for any memoirist-reviewer-critic. I will probably re-read this book, but skip the book reports unless I'm trying to emulate hers.
Jan 07, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: school, autobiography
One point that Patricia Hampl raises in “I Could Tell You Stories,” which I think is essential to keep in mind when working with autobiographical material, is that memory is not necessarily reliable or true. In the piece “Memory and Imagination,” Hampl recalls a memory of her first piano lesson, down to very specific sensory details, and then admits afterwards that what she had written was a lie. As she puts it: “no memoirist writes for long without experiencing an unsettling disbelief about the ...more
May 30, 2008 added it
Shelves: read-and-loved
What I learned: that I love Patricia Hempl's prose.

That someone else understands the power of story and its complex dance with memory.

That hard truths and great art can be two sides of a single coin.

Jonathan Hiskes
Aug 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
These careful essays probe the ascendence of memoir in contemporary lit, with gratifying results. Hampl mixes autobiographical stories with thoughtful readings of Whitman, Augustine, Plath, Gertrude Stein, Anne Frank, and others (which led me to meet some of these writers anew). She finds that memory engages the future more than the past, that memoir owes more to poetry (in its focus on detail and fragment) than to fiction. I picked this book up to think through the ethics of telling someone els ...more
Mar 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I bought this book as a freshman beginning the honors program in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota. Needless to say, college is busy, especially when one is also in the marching band, and I never got around to reading it for the book discussion...until a break between terms of graduate school. I think waiting that long to read it allowed me to appreciate it more than I would have had a read it when I was 18. This is especially true of Hampl's musings on her hometown of S ...more
Mar 27, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This book of essays begins with an image that is hard to forget. Hempl goes on to make some interesting observations on the life of writing. But what pulled me into the book even more was its setting in my own past time of the Vietnam War. I enjoyed watching Hempl try to make sense out of a confusing era. Though some of her essays would seem to fit better in another book--they don't belong here--the book is a good read.
Jim Seitz
Apr 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
What a terrific book about the life of a reader. Hampl discusses a different female author in each chapter and describes why they've been important to her. I, too, am fond of several of the writers she comments on, but she brought me fresh perspectives on all of them.
Elizabeth W.
Aug 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
I'd add to other reviews that I appreciated Hampl's chapters "The Need To Say It" and "Other People's Secrets". She engages head on with the ethical issues around memoir writing.
Lee Kofman
Dec 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was an intimidating, if rewarding, read. Hampl is seriously too smart for me. With some of her essays, namely the literary criticism ones (especially the one about Sylvia Plath), I frankly couldn’t understand her ideas and sometimes even suspected her (perhaps out of my own inferiority feelings) of over-intellectualising/over-interpreting. But her more personal essays, and essays that engaged with memory directly, without the mediation of criticism, really interested me. I also admire her s ...more
Byron Edgington
Dec 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Here we have a memoir of memoir writing, a kind of voyage through several writers’ experience in addressing life story in their own way. Hampl focuses on memoir by referring to her Czech Grandmother’s inability to write, enlisting Hampl’s skill to write letters for her to a sister in Los Angeles, then going from there. She details the writing genesis of such literary greats as Sylvia Plath, Walt Whitman, and refers to iconic literature from far ranging authors like Saint Augustine and Anne Frank ...more
Oct 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is a really amazing book, collection of essays, exploration of the ways and means of non-fiction and memoir, through ten or so different lens. Honestly, I'm not sure how this book ended up on my list, but it's probably the best overview of memoir-writing I've seen, in terms of laying out the biggest questions you might have about memoir writing and then diving in to wrestle with them. I think I'd accept a criticism that said this book limits itself to marquee concerns and stays away from sm ...more
Feb 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
This is an amazing book that may be hard for some people to grasp. When I first picked it up I thought that it would merely be some essays on memories and memoir, but it turned out to be so much more that that. Hampl uses delicate prose to not only talk about her own experiences with memory, but the experiences of many others, including Milosz, Plath, Whitman, St. Augustus and Anne Frank. Not only does Hampl explore memory, but she explores the differences in what the "self" is seen as depending ...more
May 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Hampl has much to say -- about identity, imagination, history, the self, the struggle to remember and the desire to forget, and about memory, privacy and memoir. “The privacy of individual experience is not a right... it is an inevitability that returns no matter what invasion seems to overtake it.” It “is bred of memory’s intimacy with the idiosyncrasy of the imagination.” (223) She questions the right and the reasonableness of writing about the intimacies of others. The recounting of experienc ...more
Meggan Carney-ross
Aug 20, 2007 added it
Recommends it for: Essay readers, Non-fiction Writers, those fascinated with how Memory works
This book has some excellent essays on how great writers and thinkers think and write about memory and imagination and how they intersect. Hampl is a true essayist, especially when she is dealing with others' ideas like St. Augustine, Czeslaw Milosz, Whitman, Edith Stein, Anne Frank, and Sylvia Plath. Her style can get very academic-- dense and complicated ideas in a very matter-of-fact tone. And I appreciate these more serious moments, but often I find myself more drawn to her more personal mom ...more
Jan 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: autobiography
Part memoir, part academic essay, Patricia Hampl's I Could Tell You Stories is an important book that dutifully covers the memoir genre. Its title hints at the overarching theme of the book-- stories that go untold and the desire to tell stories. Hampl's strongest writing comes when she writes about the self, but her essays ranging from Anne Frank to Czeslaw Milosz are also enlightening and made interesting, particularly by Hampl's beautiful, poetic prose. It's also clever in its telling, bringi ...more
Mar 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
As a writer who explores the memoir form a lot, I was very interested in this essay collection's constant theme of memory. The essays range in topic from Czeslaw Milosz to Edith Stein to Hampl's childhood, and while I certainly have favorites, the collection as a whole expresses really important ideas about the practice, scope, and ethics of memoir. While Hampl's prose occasionally feels heavy and sentimental, her work's articulate voice and high-caliber thinking make this book worthwhile for an ...more
Camille Sheppard
Apr 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
It took me a while to get through this book but only because its not a book to read fast. Patricia Hampl's range is vast. How many people can write with such authority about history, philosophy, poetry, religion and culture all through the lens of "writing about memory?" I was riveted by her essays on Sylvia Plath, Edith Stein and Anne Frank and paid close attention to the wisdom she passes on about writing autobiographically. As I leaf through the book now, I realize that I'll have to keep it h ...more
Oct 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hampl's book, about memoir and memory, contained excellent personal and literary essays. "To create one's life is to live it twice, and the second living is both spiritual and historical, for a memoir reaches deep within the personality as it seeks its narrative form and it also grasps the life-of-the-times as no political anaylysis can." Her writing on Whitman, Milosz, Anne Frank, Edith Stein, and especially on the Confessions are all beautiful and insightful meditations on very different metho ...more
Jan 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction13
Well written and engaging - I felt like I learned a great deal from Hampl, while never feeling like I was being taught. It felt more like a supportive conversation with a learned friend. I preferred the chapters where she talked about her own experience of writing her own memoir pieces, rather than the sections involving other writers - they weren't poor but just depended more on me knowing about the reader she was discussing, which in some but not all cases I did.
Sep 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Heidi by: Sari Fordham
Sublime. Hampl explores memory, identity, and the stories we tell about our lives. She writes about her own life, but also about Anne Frank, Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Czeslaw Milosz, her elderly Czech tutor, St. Augustine, and my favorite, Edith Stein. A rich, important book - which also delves deeply into 20th century history, especially WWII. Can't wait to read more of her stuff.
Shari Fox
Jan 04, 2014 rated it it was ok
For the first time in a while, I stopped reading this book before I finished it. I was expecting this to be mostly memoir, and it read more like a series of biographies. I found myself getting bored with it, and I have so many books in the queue, I gave it up. I enjoyed Patricia Hampl's memoir, The Florist's Daughter, so I was disappointed.
May 24, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2015-read
I have read (A Romantic Education, The Florist’s Daughter) and reread (Blue Arabesque) books by Ms. Hampl. I did not enjoy this book. Her analyses of other memoirists seemed a little forced and were about authors with awful life experiences. Give it a pass and read The Florist’s Daughter instead.
Rudy Oldeschulte
Essays that provoke and evoke one's own thoughts about one's history, one's experience, and certainly, our memory of those experiences...Wide range of interests and subjects in the essays...linking to memory. For writers, for the memoirist, or those prone to a lot of self-analysis, quite a good read leading to lots of personal reflection. Rudy
Jun 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
A nice collection of essays. I found the ones about memoir to be the most compelling, but even the one about Sylvia Plath held my attention - and I thought I'd never read another literary essay after graduation. haha.
Antonina Mareglia
May 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Such a beautiful and teasing book. I wanted to be told the stories, and I was, and yet there seemed to be so much more untold.
Jul 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Lovely essays about writing memoirs and reading them, the writer's life and the worthiness of a life making sense of the ordinary.
Oct 30, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014
Some of the middle chapters were a bit dry, but the beginning and the end were fabulous--full of insights into why people write memoirs, how they pursue it, and why it is meaningful. Awesome.
Aug 11, 2010 rated it liked it
Some chapters of this book were well above my experience level to fully grasp. I picked the ones I could relate to and had to let go of the others.
Nov 04, 2017 rated it did not like it
I liked the way the paper back cover felt, literally - to my hands holding the book. It felt as if it was a book that should be held and read over and over again. I enjoyed the opening story but nothing else. I didn't feel that this was a book about memoir and am baffled by all the great reviews of it. The author displays a fluent educated prose but that doesn't necessarily equate to an enjoyable read.
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Patricia Hampl’s most recent book is The Florist’s Daughter, winner of numerous “best” and “year end” awards, including the New York Times “100 Notable Books of the Year” and the 2008 Minnesota Book Award for Memoir and Creative Nonfiction. Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime, published in 2006 and now in paperback, was also one of the Times Notable Books; a portion was chosen for The Best Sp ...more
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“You can’t put much on paper before you betray your secret self, try as you will to keep things civil.” 20 likes
“We carry our wounds and perhaps even worse, our capacity to wound, forward with us. If we learn not only to tell our stories but to listen to what our stories tell us ... we are doing the work of memory.” 5 likes
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