Rebecca Foster's Reviews > Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature

Why We Write About Ourselves by Meredith Maran
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Nov 18, 2015

really liked it
bookshelves: memoirs, writers-and-writing, penguin-first-to-read, essays, read-via-netgalley

A great collection of first-person pieces from memoir authors, charting their individual journeys into autobiographical writing and giving their top tips. Opinions vary as to whether you have to get the approval of the people who appear in your work – some think that’s essential; others simply change the names and get on with it. Sometimes this has led to fallout within families. One thing everyone agrees on, though, is that a memoir has to be as carefully crafted as any novel, with a clear narrative arc and distinctive dialogue and scenes. You can’t just string together a bunch of things that happened and expect it to make a compelling story.

My favorite pieces were from Kate Christensen, Edwidge Danticat and Darin Strauss. It was also particularly interesting to hear from Sue Monk Kidd since most people think of her as just a novelist. (Much as I love Anne Lamott, I’m not sure why we need a piece from her about writing memoir, given that she so often reflects on her craft in her own essays.)

For anyone else fascinated by memoirs, I’d recommend reading this as a pair with The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr.
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Reading Progress

November 18, 2015 – Shelved
November 18, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
November 18, 2015 – Shelved as: memoirs
November 18, 2015 – Shelved as: writers-and-writing
November 18, 2015 – Shelved as: penguin-first-to-read
December 30, 2015 – Started Reading
January 7, 2016 – Shelved as: essays
January 7, 2016 – Finished Reading
January 31, 2016 – Shelved as: read-via-netgalley

Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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message 1: by Chad (new)

Chad This cover is quite reminiscent of Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings, no?


Rebecca Foster Ha! That hadn't occurred to me. In that it has horizontal blocks of bright color, you're quite right!


message 3: by Iris P (new) - added it

Iris P I tend to have a hard time reading essays that keep held my attention, as sometimes authors of this genre get too esoteric and abstract for my taste, but this collection sounds pretty interesting...
Great review as usual Rebecca :)


message 4: by Angela (new) - added it

Angela I totally agree with your recommendation of Mary Karr's immensely satisfying The Art of Memoir. That is the best book on memoir writing I've ever read I'm putting this one on my list to read next. Thanks!


Rebecca Foster Iris wrote: "I tend to have a hard time reading essays that keep held my attention, as sometimes authors of this genre get too esoteric and abstract for my taste, but this collection sounds pretty interesting....."

Thanks, Iris! The good thing about this collection is that all the essays follow a similar format -- the editor probably gave the authors an identical set of questions or topics to cover. So although they each bring their personal experience to the table, they don't really go off on tangents.


Rebecca Foster Angela wrote: "I totally agree with your recommendation of Mary Karr's immensely satisfying The Art of Memoir. That is the best book on memoir writing I've ever read I'm putting this one on my list to read next. ..."

Thanks, Angela. Glad to find another memoir fan :)


message 7: by Elyse (new) - added it

Elyse great review --on both books. I sure adore you, Rebecca!! Thanks for all you do!!!
There was an article about this book in our Sunday newspaper -- I guess a couple of Bay Area authors have contributed in it. Ayelet Waldman--and Kelly Corrigan (as you mentioned). They are all speaking in a book store about this book. (of course its 'tomorrow' and in the city). I'm sure I won't go...but I would if I had somebody would would 'love' to drive me...lol
Thanks--Happy Valentines! xo


Rebecca Foster Whether or not you get to go to the event I hope you'll seek out the book -- it's great!


message 9: by Elyse (new) - added it

Elyse Ok thanks!!!


message 10: by Gina (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gina I'm currently reading this book. The authentic suggestions about writing are so valuable. I completely agree with your comment about Lamott and your suggestion about Mary Karr's book. I was thrilled to meet with her in small writing workshop years ago- I'm fascinated by her take on writing.


message 11: by Gisela (last edited Nov 21, 2017 06:42PM) (new) - added it

Gisela Yes, Rebecca, great review of both books - which I've now added to my "Want to Read" list. Thanks! Nice to find other fans of memoir and memoir-writing. I'm a rusted on fan of Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird" of course, and was blown away by her TED talk on Youtube.

A (non-GR) friend of mine has recommended these Patti Miller books: "The Memoir Book", "Writing your Life" and "The Mind of a Thief". Really must get around to reading them soon ... I might make 2018 "The Year of Reading Books on Memoir and Memoir Writing" (a bit of a mouthful ...)


Rebecca Foster Thanks for the Patti Miller suggestions! Those sound like they're worth a look. I'll never be short of memoirs to read what with NetGalley downloads and Mary Karr's suggestions in the appendix to The Art of Memoir.


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