The latest issue of The Writer’s Chronicle contains 4 articles that I read word for word. I make this point because when does a magazine ever have that many great articles in one issue? I felt like I’d hit the jackpot. If you don’t get TWC in the mail, run to your local bookstore — if it’s not bankrupt and closed — and pick it up, or spend a quiet hour with it in the library.
After yesterday’s post on memoir writing, I opened TWC and read “Novel Anxiety,” where I found this quote by David Shields. “For imagination and memory are Siamese twins, and you cannot cut them so cleanly apart. There’s a good case for arguing that any narrative account is a work of fiction. The moment you start to arrange the world in words, you alter its nature.”
True enough. But does that make writing ‘memory’ any less engaging, artistic, insightful, or intriguing?
In his interview in TWC, Aleksandar Hemon said the following: “In memoiristic nonfiction, the writer can’t become other people, because it’s all about his or her situation. The book is so specific to what the writer thinks because it’s a confession. You cannot really enter [another realm]. There is no exchange. And that’s really playing it safe.”
No exchange? Safe??
And then, “I think that’s one of the ways the publishing industry has undermined itself, this reliance on the confessional memoir. The genre is practically dead because it’s the same old thing: addiction, despair, some kind of abuse…. People are bored with it.”
My favorite piece was an interview with Tom Grimes who has recently published a memoir titled MENTOR about his relationship with Frank Conroy, the former (and legendary) director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Every question and answer was thought-provoking and insightful, so I encourage you to read the whole shebang, but here’s my favorite quote: “Memoir has a double edge. It works in present and past time. I was writing to recapture the past — you know, Proust’s remembered selves. But as Proust also said, memory is an act of imagination. Essentially you recreate events. In turn, this changes your memory of them. Ultimately, I became a stranger to myself as I wrote the book. In the end I didn’t know the guy I had been twenty years ago.”
And with that, ladies and gentlemen, I’m off to work, where I’ll be mining my memory with a giant pickaxe.