Bessie’s Books and Other Things
Memoirs can be defined as a subcategory of autobiography, but rather than summarizing a whole life as autobiographies do, a memoir tells a story from one part of a life.
Both the memoir and the autobiography are problematic because they both rely on the accuracy of human memory to tell a story. When James Fry wrote A Million Little Pieces, it was discovered that because he was under the influence of drugs during the time period, which he was writing onhe really didn’t have a complete memory of what had occurred. He filled in the blanks with what may or may not be fact. In his case the filling in of the blanks was overt, but many feel that we all do this to some extent with our own memories. It is probably important to remember when reading a memoir that it is only as accurate as our memory.
That said, people love reading about other people’s lives. Sometimes it’s because they are interested in the person doing the writing, sometimes it’s because they have had similar experiences or want to understand someone else’s experience.
When James Fry wrote A Million Little Pieces, despite the controversy over whether or not it was truthful, many readers felt it helped them to understand what addiction feels like including Fry’s mother. Drunk Mom by Jowita Bydlowski is about one woman’s struggle with alcoholism and Portia De Rossi’s Unbearable Lightness talks about her battle with anorexia. Although people sometimes want to talk about their experiences as a form of self-cleansing, for some it is extremely difficult to be so public with their less than perfect lives. For these people, I think they truly do want to help others by sharing their experiences.
Three memoirs about extraordinary childhoods that struck me are: Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, Too Close to the Falls, by Catherine Gildiner, and The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. Both Gildiner and Walls went on to write fiction after they published their successful memoirs.
Sometimes people want to talk about a trauma that has occurred in their life. Night by Elie Wiesel is a terrifying personal account of the Nazi death camp horrors that took place during World War II and Under an Afghan Sky by CBC journalist Mellissa Fung recounts the author’s experience being abducted, and held captive in a hole for 28 days in Afghanistan.
There are some memoirs that are born of people’s experiences with others who have effected their lives in very profound ways. The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius by Kristine Barnett is the fascinating tale of a child with autism whose mother is able to bring out the best of him. Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom reunites a professor with his student who spends every Tuesday with his former teacher throughout the last bit of his life.
Whether profound, enlightening, moving, historic, or mundane, the Haliburton County Public Library has biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs to suit your reading needs.
*Originally published in Haliburton County Living on August 8th 2013