The Art of Memoir Quotes

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The Art of Memoir The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr
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“Writing, regardless of the end result—whether good or bad, published or not, well reviewed or slammed—means celebrating beauty in an often ugly world.”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“Unless you’re a doubter and a worrier, a nail-biter, an apologizer, a rethinker, then memoir may not be your playpen. That’s the quality I’ve found most consistently in those life-story writers I’ve met.”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“After a lifetime of hounding authors for advice, I've heard three truths from every mouth: (1) Writing is painful -- it's 'fun' only for novices, the very young, and hacks; (2) other than a few instances of luck, good work only comes through revision; (3) the best revisers often have reading habits that stretch back before the current age, which lends them a sense of history and raises their standards for quality.”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“Literature makes us better noticers of life; we get to practice on life itself; which in turn makes us better readers of detail in literature; which in turn makes us better readers of life.”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“One can’t mount a stripper pole wearing a metal diving suit.”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“I’ve said it’s hard. Here’s how hard: everybody I know who wades deep enough into memory’s waters drowns a little.”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“every writer needs two selves—the generative self and the editor self.”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“Dumb hope is what it hurts most to write, occupying the foolish schemes we pursued for decades, the blind alleys, the cliffs we stepped off.”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“If you let yourself tell those smaller anecdotes or stories, the overarching capital-S Story will eventually rise into view.”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he cannot distinguish the truth within him or around him, and so loses respect for himself. And having no respect, he ceases to love. Fyodor Dostoevsky”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“Real You is all you have, and all other paths are false. And in the best case, Real You is so happy to finally be recognized, it rewards you with Originality.”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“Persiflage is my nom de guerre. (Don’t use foreign expressions. It’s elitist.)”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“None of us can ever know the value of our lives, or how our separate and silent scribbling may add to the amenity of the world, if only by how radically it changes us, one and by one.”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“Finally, put it aside. Put it out of your head at least a week. You want it to set up like jello. And when you pick it back up, ask yourself, What haven’t I said? How might someone else involved have seen it differently?”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“Charm is from the Latin carmen: to sing. By “charm,” I mean sing well enough to hold the reader in thrall. Whatever people like about you in the world will manifest itself on the page. What drives them crazy will keep you humble. You’ll need both sides of yourself—the beautiful and the beastly—to hold a reader’s attention.”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“Life is a field of corn. Literature is the shot glass it distills down into. Lorrie Moore”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“Memoir done right is an art, a made thing. It’s not just raw reportage flung splat on the page.”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“Truth works a trip wire that permits the book to explode into being.”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“But most of the time, we keep memories packed away. I sometimes liken that moment of sudden unpacking to circus clowns pouring out of a miniature car trunk—how did so much fit into such a small space?”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“I revise and revise and revise. Any editor of mine will tell you how crappy my early drafts are. Revisions are about clarifying and evoking feelings in the reader in the same way they were once evoked in me.”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“Literature differs from life in that life is amorphously full of detail, and rarely directs us toward it, whereas literature teaches us to notice. Literature makes us better noticers of life; we get to practice on life itself; which in turn makes us better readers of detail in literature; which in turn makes us better readers of life. James Wood, How Fiction Works As”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“Now try writing some pages to serve as later notes. Because you’re not yet sure of voice or anything else, you’re free from the need to squash in all manner of background information, explaining what year it is, etc. That stuff will just get you back in your head and drive you nuts. You’re free to write as if all that stuff is in the reader’s head already. It will be, by the time you get to this part of the book. You”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“What would you write if you weren’t afraid?”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“Most morally ominous: from the second you choose one event over another, you’re shaping the past’s meaning.”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“every time I picked up a pen, this grinding, unnamed fear overcame me—later identified as fear that my real self would spill out. One can’t mount a stripper pole wearing a metal diving suit. What I needed to write kept simmering up while I wrote down everything but that. In fact, I kept ginning out reasons that writing reality was impossible. I cranked up therapy and drank like a fish.”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“The most interesting information comes from children, for they tell all they know and then stop. Mark Twain”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“If your goal is to polish up a fake person you can sell to a public you perceive as dumb, the unexamined life will do perfectly well, thank you.”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“our strange cynicism about truth as a possibility has permitted us to accept all manner of bullshit”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“I once heard Don DeLillo quip that a fiction writer starts with meaning and then manufactures events to represent it; a memoirist starts with events, then derives meaning from them.”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
“In some ways, writing a memoir is knocking yourself out with your own fist, if it’s done right.”
Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir

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