Memoirs have always been in my reading repertoire, and Mary Karr’s The Liar's Club is among my favorites. She grew up in a small, poor Texas town in a family rife with alcoholism, violence and mental illness; through it all, despite it all, she maintained a fierce love for and gained a keen understanding of her family. Karrs’ latest book, The Art of Memoir, is technically a how-to writing book, though it also feels part-memoir. She shares many insights about how she wrote and revised her other work — the internal struggles she faced in realizing the truth, coming to terms with it and sharing it with the world. There is much we can learn from great memoirists.
Karr explains many elements of memoir writing – what works, what does not, and why. As a reader, it explained a lot to me about why I have been deeply touched by some memoirs and have been turned off by others. As a writer, it confirmed my notions that many elements of strong writing cross all genres.
This author has a sassy, smartass writing style, which I love. Karr pulls no punches with the reader, nor with herself. She is honest and real, flawed and relatable. It takes great courage to bare your life and soul in a public way, with the hope for personal healing and the belief that it may help others heal as well. Karr not only rises to this challenge personally, she also highlights and applauds many other writers who’ve done the same in this risky and demanding genre that she loves. Her analysis of their works is enlightening.
I have no desire to write a memoir (pause for collective sigh of relief from family and friends), but this is a book I will keep and reread. If you are a writer and/or enjoy reading memoirs, I highly recommend this insightful tome. I added several titles to my to-read pile, thanks to her recommendations. Her insights also got me thinking about some of the memoirs that have moved me. Here are a few of my favorites (in no particular order):
- Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant, by Daniel Tammet
- Breaking Clean, by Judy Blunt
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
- Hope’s Boy, by Andrew Bridge
- The Road from Coorain, by Jill Ker Conway
- From Baghdad, With Love: a Marine, a War and a Dog Named Lava, by Jay Kopleman
- On Writing, by Stephen King