I recently read Mary Karr’s – The Art of Memoir and today I’m sharing my review on the book from my perspective as a memoir writer. Although it wasn’t one of my favorite reads on the topic it certainly has its merits.
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 teaching prizes at Syracuse. (The writing program there produced such acclaimed authors as Cheryl Strayed, Keith Gessen, and Koren Zailckas.) In The Art of Memoir, she synthesizes her expertise as professor and therapy patient, writer and spiritual seeker, recovered alcoholic and “black belt sinner,” providing a unique window into the mechanics and art of the form that is as irreverent, insightful, and entertaining as her own work in the genre.
Anchored by excerpts from her favorite memoirs and anecdotes from fellow writers’ experience, The Art of Memoir lays bare Karr’s own process. (Plus all those inside stories about how she dealt with family and friends get told— and the dark spaces in her own skull probed in depth.) As she breaks down the key elements of great literary memoir, she breaks open our concepts of memory and identity, and illuminates the cathartic power of reflecting on the past; anybody with an inner life or complicated history, whether writer or reader, will relate.
Joining such classics as Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, The Art of Memoir is an elegant and accessible exploration of one of today’s most popular literary forms—a tour de force from an accomplished master pulling back the curtain on her craft.
My 4 Star Review:
Critically acclaimed memoir writer, Mary Karr, writes about the art of writing memoir as an instructional guide for memoir writers demonstrating how to extract the raw self out of our stories to bring them alive in our words. The information she shares is to aid in helping writers project their stories to help readers capture the essence of our stories by painting a picture of physical reality of situation and characters. Karr emphasizes the elements which should be included in a memoir that give a reader a carnal feel for all the senses.
The author refers to points about speaking in reflection with backstory while staying in the present and breaks down the crucial elements of writing memoir by using examples from some of her own writing as well as by depicting passages from the works of other memoir writers to convey story and style.
She shares lists about what to include in memoirs that will help readers be taken into a story while reminding to project the inner gruel of a story.
I felt the first part of the book jumped around between parts of the author’s life and too much focus on stories about other books she used to demonstrate her examples which began to bore me. The second half of the book had more practical information.
I can’t say this was one of the best books I’ve read on memoir writing, although I certainly couldn’t discredit credentials of this talented author. I did get a lot more about writing memoir from books by William Zinsser – Writing About Your Life, Stephen King – On Writing, and Bill Roorbach – Writing Life Stories.