Jacki Kellum

Juxtapositions: Read My Mind

Category: Art of Memoir

Is Lying in Memoirs Cheating? On Denial, Lying, and Wearing Facades

The very popular book A Million Little Pieces was published as a Memoir, but later, it was exposed as a lie.  The same thing happened with the book Primates of Park Avenue. In fact, several books that have been published as Memoirs have been exposed as fabrications. Your first question might be Why?

Question: Why Would Anyone Publish A Book of Lies and Call It A Memoir?

Answer: Memoirs are popular and they fare well on the market

In her book The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr suggests that because of the rising popularity of memoirs, some have jumped on the bandwagon of memoir writing, simply to ride it for a better chance at sales. That is sleazy, but I feel better for those memoir-writing liars than I do for the people whose lies in memoirs are simply extensions of their facades.

Mary Karr Challenges the Memoirist to be Truthful

Although Karr defends a writer’s freedom, she says that she is irritated by writers who sell their lies as truth. She challenges Vivian Gornick’s opinion that whether or not she embellishes her stories is nobody’s business:

“It niggles the hell out of me never to know exactly what parts the fabricators have fudged….

“Well, if I forked over a cover price for nonfiction, I consider it my business. While it’s great she owned up to her deceits, it’s hard to lend credence to any after-the-fact confession….”

“So here I stand with my little stick, attempting to draw a line in the dirt for the sake of memoir’s authenticity. Truth may have become a foggy, fuzzy nether area. But untruth is simple: making up events with the intention to deceive…..You know the difference between a vague memory and a clear one, and the vague ones either get left out or labeled dubious. It’s the clear ones that matter most anyway, because they’re the ones you’ve nursed and worried over and talked through and wondered about your whole life. And you’re  seeking the truth of memory–your memory and character–not of unbiased history. ” Karr, Mary  The Art of Memoir, pgs.10-11.

Our Denials Impact Our Memoir Writing

To a certain extent, all of us delude ourselves. We do that every day, and we call that phenomenon Denial.  I write about Denial quite often. When we begin to write our memoirs, our writings might reflect some of the partial truths that have been tainted by our own delusions, but that is not the same thing as blatantly lying in one’s memoir.

I am well into the process of writing my memoir, and I am painfully aware that I wasted several years of my life, wearing a facade and because of that, there has always been an enormous duality about my existence. Even as a young child, I was aware that there was something different about me. Probably before I even went to school, I realized that I was thinking about and noticing things that other people did not seem to note. By the time that I was in school, I was becoming quite sure that the other kids and I were living in 2 different worlds. Yet, I was a very social child. I wanted people to like me. I wanted to fit in; and because of that, I became 2 different people.

I well remember 6th grade. The science teacher was talking about taste buds; and on that day, I dared to actually try to express what was on my mind. I said, “I wonder if everyone’s taste buds taste the same way. I wonder if a carrot tastes the same way to me as it does to you.”

Everyone else in the room snickered, and the teacher’s face glazed over.

I didn’t get an answer, but I became convinced of what I had always suspected. People just didn’t get me.

For the world, I became Miss Congeniality, but deep inside, I was someone else. It took many years for me to accept that other-else, but over time, she became my best friend-a friend that other people might only imagine was there. The best thing about growing older is that all of the me’s have shifted around. Now, the creative-me–who was formerly the closet-me and only a whisper within my own mind–has become the REAL me; and the other-me–the social-butterfly-me–has been laid to rest. Don’t get me wrong. I still do fun things, but now, I do the things that I truly enjoy and that are meaningful to me. Writing has helped me to distinguish who I really am and what I honestly enjoy.

Hiding in Plain Sight
by Jacki Kellum

Smiling, Joking, Dancing, Free
That’s the Social Side of Me.

Tossing kisses from my car,
Scared, Confused Alone We Are.

If you look, you will see
The Scared, Confused and Social Three.

People Who Lie In Memoirs Deny Themselves of the Therapeutic Benefit of Writing

The memoir writer who lies in his writing is missing the greatest advantage of writing memoir–the therapeutic advantage of writing, but that therapeutic advantage comes with a cost.

In her book The Art of Memoir, Karr also discusses the toll that memoir writing takes on the writer:

“But nobody I know who’s written a great one described it as anything less than a major-league shit-eating contest. Any time you try to collapse the distance between your delusions about the past and what really happened, there’s suffering involved. When I’m trying to edit or coach somebody through one, I usually wind up feeling like the mean sergeant played by Tom Berenger in Platoon. He’s leaning over a screaming soldier whose guts are extruding, and in a husky whisper, Berenger says through gritted teeth, ‘Take the pain,’ till the guy shuts up and mechanically starts stuffing his guts back in.

“No matter how self-aware you are, memoir wrenches at your insides precisely because it makes you battle with your very self–your neat analyses and tidy excuses….

“In terms of cathartic affect memoir is like therapy, the difference being that in therapy, you pay them. The therapist is the mommy, and you’re the baby, In memoir, you’re the mommy, and the reader’s the baby. And–hopefully–they pay you. (‘No man but a blockhead ever wrote for any cause but money,’ Samuel Johnson said). ” Karr, Mary  The Art of Memoir, pgs. xx-xi.

If We Write Memoir for Therapeutic Reasons, We Cheat Ourselves of Therapy When We Lie

Mary Karr adds the following about the writer’s need to be truthful in writing memoir:

“Forget how inventing stuff breaks a contract with the reader, it fences the memoirist off from the deeper truths that only surface five or ten or twenty. Yoes, you can misinterpret–happens all the time…But unless you’re looking at actual lived experience, the more profound meanings will remain forever shrouded. You’ll never unearth the more complex truths, the ones that counter that convenient first take on the past. A memoirist forging false tales to support his more comfortable notions–or to pump himself up for the audience–never learns who he is. He’s missing the personal liberation that comes from the examined life. …

“But whether you’re a memoirist or not, there’s a psychic cost for lopping yourself off from the past: it may continue to tug on you without your being aware of it. And lying about it can–for all but the most hardened sociopath–carve a lonely gap between your disguise and who you really are. The practiced liar also projects her own manipulative, double-dealing facade onto everyone she meets, which makes moving through the world a wary, anxious enterprise. It’s hard enough to see what’s going on without forcing yourself to look through the wool you’ve pulled over your own eyes.”  Karr, Mary  The Art of Memoir, pgs. 11-12.

In summary, I toss my hat into the ring with the people who believe that lying in memoir writing is cheating. I believe that the lying memoirist cheats his reader, but more importantly than that, I believe that the lying memoirist cheats himself.

©Jacki Kellum September 29, 2016

Facade

Pretending to Write at Barnes and Noble – Stephen King Says If You Are Serious about Writing, Read More and Write More

I know that you have seen them. They are the people who load all of their writing gadgets and gear into their SUV’s and spread it across one or two of the few available tables at Barnes and Noble. They arm themselves with a Grande Espresso, and then, they begin yet another day of pretending to write at Barnes and Noble.

Perhaps I am being too harsh, but when I see folks who are trying very hard to play one part or another, I remember the Drugstore Hunters in Mississippi. Until I was 53-years-old, I lived in the Deep South, and hunting is still a great sport in the South. The fall is the time for dove hunting, and people hunt ducks during the winter.  My ex-husband had four brothers and probably had at least ten male cousins. That family was serious about hunting, and they always came home from their hunting trips laughing about this “Drugstore Hunter” or that. A Drugstore Hunter is someone who buys all of the most expensive hunting gadgets and dresses himself beautifully for his hunts, but he is not actually a hunter. In fact, many of the drugstore hunters may never leave the lodge or the hunting camp. They may spend the entire hunt drinking and partying. When I see the people making a great show of writing at Barnes and Noble, I always chuckle and whisper under my breath: “Drugstore Writers.” For many years, I was probably a Drugstore Writer–someone who likes to pretend to write–but now, I am buckling down and actually moving forward a bit. My bedroom is on the top floor of my house, and when I write, I prop myself up on my bed, put my laptop on my lap, and I just write.

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My room isn’t usually this neat, however. In fact, I moved my bed toward the center of the room and I have a bookshelf loaded with books that I am currently reading. That bookshelf is next to my bed.

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I have decided to heed Stephen King’s advice:

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“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, p. 145.

“One learns most clearly what not to do by reading bad prose….
“Good writing, on the other hand, teaches the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creations of believable characters, and truth-telling.  A novel like The Grapes of Wrath may fill a new writer with feelings of despair and good old-fashioned jealousy–‘I’ll never be able to write anything that good, not is I live to be a thousand’–but such feelings can also serve as a spur, goading the writer to work harder and aim higher. Being swept away by a combination of great story and great writing–of being flattened, in fact–is part of every writer’s necessary formation. You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you. [p. 146]

“So we read to experience the mediocre and the outright rotten; such experience helps us to recognize those things when they begin to creep into our own work, and to steer clear of them. We also read to measure ourselves against the good and the great, to get a sense of all that can be done. And we read in  order to experience different styles.” King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, pgs. 146-47.

stephen-king-books

“It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but ‘didn’t have time to read,’ I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject?

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King

“Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life, I take a book with me everywhere I go, and find there all sorts of opportunities to dip it. The trick is to teach yourself to read in small sips as well as in long swallows. Waiting rooms were made for books–of course! But so are theater lobbies before the show, long and boring checkout lines, and everyone’s [p. 147] the john. You can even read while you’re driving, thanks to the audiobook revolution.

. . .

“Where else can you read? There’s always the treadmill….

“Once weaned from the ephemeral craving for TV, most people will find they enjoy the time they spend reading. I’d like to suggest that turning off that endlessly quacking box is apt to improve the quality of your life as well as the quality of your writing.” King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, pgs. 148-49.

“…when you find something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening (or reading, or watching), every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy. Perhaps even ecstatic. That goes for reading and writing as well as for playing a musical instrument, hitting a baseball, or running the four-forty.

“The sort of strenuous reading and writing program I advocate–four to six hours a day, every day–will not seem strenuous if you really enjoy doing these things and have an aptitude for them….” Stephen King

“the real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing….Constant reading will pull you  into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.” King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, p. 150.

Image result for stephen king

“…’read a lot, write a lot’ is the Great Commandment….” King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, p. 151.

“I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That’s 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book….” King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, p. 155.

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“Like you bedroom, your writing room should be private, a place where you go to dream. Your schedule–in at about the same time every day…exists in order to habituate yourself, to make yourself ready to dream….In both writing and sleeping, we learn to be physically still at the same time we are encouraging our minds to unlock from the humdrum rational thinking of our daytime lives….

“But you need the room, you need the door, and you need the determination to shut the door. You need a concrete goal, as well.

. . .

“Don’t wait for the muse.” – Stephen King

 

. . .

“This isn’t the Ouija board or the spirit-world we’re talking about here, just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon or seven ’til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up, chomping his cigar and making his magic.”  King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, pgs. 156-57.

barnes-noble

Allow me to return to my initial point: if we are serious about writing, we won’t be flittering our days away, making a huge display of our efforts at Bares and Noble or at Starbucks or at any other public place. When I am at Barnes and Noble, I am looking at books or at all of the Drugstore Writers. I am not there to write. When I want to write, I prop up in my bed, and I turn the rest of the world off. Then, I begin to write. I don’t wait for my muse to beat me to my writing spot. I simply show up and write. Try it. It works.

karr

Yesterday, on jackikellum.com, I posted a great reading list for writers who want to write about their own lives, and honestly, all of us write about our own lives–in one way or another. Mary Karr Reading List Here

©Jacki Kellum September 25, 2016

Pretend

Too Many Books – Too Little Time – A List of Memoir Books to Read

Dillard, Annie. An American Childhood. This morning, I snapped the above photo of the bookshelf that is next to my bed. Believe it or not, I am trying to read all of these books at once. I know that this is a recipe for craziness, but I am 65 years behind in my reading, and I feel panicky about my need to catch up.

In undergraduate school and in my first master’s program, I studied writing, but I also studied painting at the same time. The job gods found me several positions teaching art and then, I painted for a while. During the same time, I was marrying and divorcing and raising three children. There simply wasn’t enough time for me to do anything at all with my writing, and I didn’t want to be reminded that I wasn’t writing. Last year, I began blogging, and now, I want to do some writing that is more serious. I regret all of those years that I didn’t write and more than that, I regret the years that I didn’t read either. On some days, I am in panic-button mode, and I flit from book to book, not really absorbing much at all. On saner days, I slow down and accept the reality that tackling my reading list is like approaching any other gargantuan task–it can only be accomplished one bite at a time.

karr

At the back of her book The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr provides a list of books that she believes every memoir writer should read.  The following books are in my local library’s collection. Most of these books came from Mary Karr’s list [Note-All of the images and reviews came from Amazon, where the books can be published]:
Product DetailsAllende, Isabel. The Sum of Our Days

In The Sum of Our Days, internationally acclaimed author Isabel Allende reconstructs the painful reality of her own life in the wake of the tragic death of her daughter, Paula. Narrated with warmth, humor, exceptional candor, and wisdom, this remarkable memoir is as exuberant and full of life as its creator. Allende bares her soul as she shares her thoughts on love, marriage, motherhood, spirituality and religion, infidelity, addiction, and memory—and recounts stories of the wildly eccentric, strong-minded, and eclectic tribe she gathers around her and lovingly embraces as a new kind of family.

 

Product DetailsAngelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Here is a book as joyous and painful, as mysterious and memorable, as childhood itself.I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right. Maya Angelou’s debut memoir is a modern American classic beloved worldwide.

Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.

Poetic and powerful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read.
 
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings liberates the reader into life simply because Maya Angelou confronts her own life with such a moving wonder, such a luminous dignity.”—James Baldwin

Product DetailsAugustine, Saint, Confessions

The son of a pagan father and a Christian mother, Saint Augustine spent his early years torn between conflicting faiths and world views. His Confessions, written when he was in his forties, recount how, slowly and painfully, he came to turn away from his youthful ideas and licentious lifestyle, to become instead a staunch advocate of Christianity and one of its most influential thinkers. A remarkably honest and revealing spiritual autobiography, the Confessions also address fundamental issues of Christian doctrine, and many of the prayers and meditations it includes are still an integral part of the practice of Christianity today.

Product DetailsBeah, Ishmael. A Long Way Gone.

This is how wars are fought now: by children, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. Children have become soldiers of choice. In the more than fifty conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them.

What is war like through the eyes of a child soldier? How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But until now, there has not been a first-person account from someone who came through this hell and survived.In A Long Way Gone, Beah, now twenty-five years old, tells a riveting story: how at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts.

Product DetailsBourdain, Anthony. Kitchen Confidential.
A deliciously funny, delectably shocking banquet of wild-but-true tales of life in the culinary trade from Chef Anthony Bourdain, laying out his more than a quarter-century of drugs, sex, and haute cuisine….
Most diners believe that their sublime sliver of seared foie gras, topped with an ethereal buckwheat blini and a drizzle of piquant huckleberry sauce, was created by a culinary artist of the highest order, a sensitive, highly refined executive chef. The truth is more brutal. More likely, writes Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential, that elegant three-star concoction is the collaborative effort of a team of “wacked-out moral degenerates, dope fiends, refugees, a thuggish assortment of drunks, sneak thieves, sluts, and psychopaths,”
Product DetailsCarr, David. The Night of the Gun.

From David Carr (1956–2015), the “undeniably brilliant and dogged journalist” (Entertainment Weekly) and author of the instant New York Times bestseller that theChicago Sun-Times called “a compelling tale of drug abuse, despair, and, finally, hope.”

Do we remember only the stories we can live with? The ones that make us look good in the rearview mirror? In The Night of the Gun, David Carr redefines memoir with the revelatory story of his years as an addict and chronicles his journey from crack-house regular to regular columnist for The New York Times.

Product DetailsCarroll, James. Practicing Catholic.
James Carroll turns to the notion of practice—both as a way to learn and a means of improvement—as a lens for this thoughtful and frank look at what it means to be Catholic. He acknowledges the slow and steady transformation of the Church from its darker, medieval roots to a more pluralist and inclusive institution, charting along the way stories of powerful Catholic leaders (Pope John XXIII, Thomas Merton, John F. Kennedy) and historical milestones like Vatican II. These individuals and events represent progress for Carroll, a former priest, and as he considers the new meaning of belief in a world that is increasingly as secular as it is fundamentalist, he shows why the world needs a Church that is committed to faith and renewal.
Product DetailsDidion, Joan. The Year of Magical Thinking.
From one of America’s iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. Joan Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage–and a life, in good times and bad–that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child.
The author of Slouching Towards Bethlehem and 11 other works chronicles the year following the death of her husband, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne….
Product DetailsDillard, Annie. An American Childhood.
A book that instantly captured the hearts of readers across the country, An American Childhood is Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard’s poignant, vivid memoir of growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1950s.
Annie Dillard remembers. She remembers the exhilaration of whipping a snowball at a car and having it hit straight on. She remembers playing with the skin on her mother’s knuckles, which “didn’t snap back; it lay dead across her knuckle in a yellowish ridge.” She remembers the compulsion to spend a whole afternoon (or many whole afternoons) endlessly pitching a ball at a target. In this intoxicating account of her childhood, Dillard climbs back inside her 5-, 10-, and 15-year-old selves with apparent effortlessness. The voracious young Dillard embraces headlong one fascination after another–from drawing to rocks and bugs to the French symbolists. “Everywhere, things snagged me,” she writes. “The visible world turned me curious to books; the books propelled me reeling back to the world.”
Product DetailsDouglass, Fredereck. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. 
Former slave, impassioned abolitionist, brilliant writer, newspaper editor and eloquent orator whose speeches fired the abolitionist cause, Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) led an astounding life. Physical abuse, deprivation and tragedy plagued his early years, yet through sheer force of character he was able to overcome these obstacles to become a leading spokesman for his people.
In this, the first and most frequently read of his three autobiographies, Douglass provides graphic descriptions of his childhood and horrifying experiences as a slave as well as a harrowing record of his dramatic escape to the North and eventual freedom.
Published in 1845 to quell doubts about his origins — since few slaves of that period could write — theNarrative is admired today for its extraordinary passion, sensitive and vivid descriptions and storytelling power.
Product DetailsDu Bois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk.
The Souls of Black Folk is a classic work of American literature by W. E. B. Du Bois. It is a seminal work in the history of sociology, and a cornerstone of African-American literary history. To develop this groundbreaking work, Du Bois drew from his own experiences as an African-American in the American society. Outside of its notable relevance in African-American history, The Souls of Black Folk also holds an important place in social science as one of the early works in the field of sociology.

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963) is the greatest of African American intellectuals–a sociologist, historian, novelist, and activist whose astounding career spanned the nation’s history from Reconstruction to the civil rights movement. Born in Massachusetts and educated at Fisk, Harvard, and the University of Berlin, Du Bois penned his epochal masterpiece, The Souls of Black Folk, in 1903. It remains his most studied and popular work; its insights into Negro life at the turn of the 20th century still ring true.

Product DetailsDubus, Andre, III. Townie.
After their parents divorced in the 1970s, Andre Dubus III and his three siblings grew up with their overworked mother in a depressed Massachusetts mill town saturated with drugs and everyday violence. Nearby, his father, an eminent author, taught on a college campus and took the kids out on Sundays. The clash between town and gown, between the hard drinking, drugging, and fighting of “townies” and the ambitions of students debating books and ideas, couldn’t have been more stark. In this unforgettable memoir, acclaimed novelist Dubus shows us how he escaped the cycle of violence and found empathy in channeling the stories of others―bridging, in the process, the rift between his father and himself.
Product Details
Dunham, Lena. Not That Kind of Girl.

Exuberant, moving, and keenly observed, Not That Kind of Girl is a series of dispatches from the frontlines of the struggle that is growing up. “I’m already predicting my future shame at thinking I had anything to offer you,” Dunham writes. “But if I can take what I’ve learned and make one menial job easier for you, or prevent you from having the kind of sex where you feel you must keep your sneakers on in case you want to run away during the act, then every misstep of mine will have been worthwhile.”

Praise for Not That Kind of Girl

Product Details Eggers, Dave. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. 
The literary sensation of the year, a book that redefines both family and narrative for the twenty-first century. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is the moving memoir of a college senior who, in the space of five weeks, loses both of his parents to cancer and inherits his eight-year-old brother. Here is an exhilarating debut that manages to be simultaneously hilarious and wildly inventive as well as a deeply heartfelt story of the love that holds a family together.

Literary self-consciousness and technical invention mix unexpectedly in this engaging memoir by Eggers, editor of the literary magazine McSweeney’s and the creator of a satiric ‘zine called Might, who subverts the conventions of the memoir by questioning his memory, motivations and interpretations so thoroughly that the form itself becomes comic.

Product DetailsFey, Tina. Bossypants. 
Before Liz Lemon, before “Weekend Update,” before “Sarah Palin,” Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream….
At last, Tina Fey’s story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty onSaturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon — from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence.
Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we’ve all suspected: you’re no one until someone calls you bossy.
Product DetailsGilbert, Elizabeth. Eat, Pray, Love.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love touched the world and changed countless lives, inspiring and empowering millions of readers to search for their own best selves. Now, this beloved and iconic book returns in a beautiful 10th anniversary edition, complete with an updated introduction from the author, to launch a whole new generation of fans.

In her early thirties, Elizabeth Gilbert had everything a modern American woman was supposed to want—husband, country home, successful career—but instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she was consumed by panic and confusion. This wise and rapturous book is the story of how she left behind all these outward marks of success, and set out to explore three different aspects of her nature, against the backdrop of three different cultures: pleasure in Italy, devotion in India, and on the Indonesian island of Bali, a balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence.

Product DetailsGrealy, Lucy. Autobiography of a Face. 
This powerful memoir is about the premium we put on beauty and on a woman’s face in particular. It took Lucy Grealy twenty years of living with a distorted self-image and more than thirty reconstructive procedures before she could come to terms with her appearance after childhood cancer and surgery that left her jaw disfigured. As a young girl, she absorbed the searing pain of peer rejection and the paralyzing fear of never being loved.
“This is a young woman’s first book, the story of her own life, and both book and life are unforgettable.” —New York Times

“Engaging and engrossing, a story of grace as well as cruelty, and a demonstration of [Grealy’s] own wit and style and class.”—Washington Post Book World

Product DetailsHaley, Malcolm and Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
In the searing pages of this classic autobiography, originally published in 1964, Malcolm X, the Muslim leader, firebrand, and anti-integrationist, tells the extraordinary story of his life and the growth of the Black Muslim movement to veteran writer and journalist Alex Haley . In a unique collaboration, Haley worked with Malcolm X for nearly two years, interviewing, listening to, and understanding the most controversial leader of his time.

As voices of protest and change rose above the din of history and false promises, one voice sounded more urgently, more passionately, than the rest. Malcolm X—once called the most dangerous man in America—challenged the world to listen and learn the truth as he experienced it.

Product DetailsHamilton, Gabrielle. Blood, Bones & Butter. 

Before Gabrielle Hamilton opened her acclaimed New York restaurant Prune, she spent twenty hard-living years trying to find purpose and meaning in her life. Blood, Bones & Butter follows an unconventional journey through the many kitchens Hamilton has inhabited through the years: the rural kitchen of her childhood, where her adored mother stood over the six-burner with an oily wooden spoon in hand; the kitchens of France, Greece, and Turkey, where she was often fed by complete strangers and learned the essence of hospitality; Hamilton’s own kitchen at Prune, with its many unexpected challenges; and the kitchen of her Italian mother-in-law, who serves as the link between Hamilton’s idyllic past and her own future family—the result of a prickly marriage that nonetheless yields lasting dividends. By turns epic and intimate, Gabrielle Hamilton’s story is told with uncommon honesty, grit, humor, and passion.

Product DetailsHemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast. 
Ernest Hemingway’s classic memoir of Paris in the 1920s, now available in a restored edition, includes the original manuscript along with insightful recollections and unfinished sketches.
In the preface to A Moveable Feast, Hemingway remarks casually that “if the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction”–and, indeed, fact or fiction, it doesn’t matter, for his slim memoir of Paris in the 1920s is as enchanting as anything made up and has become the stuff of legend. Paris in the ’20s! Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, lived happily on $5 a day and still had money for drinks at the Closerie des Lilas, skiing in the Alps, and fishing trips to Spain. On every corner and at every café table, there were the most extraordinary people living wonderful lives and telling fantastic stories. Gertrude Stein invited Hemingway to come every afternoon and sip “fragrant, colorless alcohols” and chat admid her great pictures. He taught Ezra Pound how to box, gossiped with James Joyce, caroused with the fatally insecure Scott Fitzgerald (the acid portraits of him and his wife, Zelda, are notorious). Meanwhile, Hemingway invented a new way of writing based on this simple premise: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.”Product DetailsJacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. 
The true story of an individual’s struggle for self-identity, self-preservation, and freedom, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl remains among the few extant slave narratives written by a woman. This autobiographical account chronicles the remarkable odyssey of Harriet Jacobs (1813–1897) whose dauntless spirit and faith carried her from a life of servitude and degradation in North Carolina to liberty and reunion with her children in the North.
Written and published in 1861 after Jacobs’ harrowing escape from a vile and predatory master, the memoir delivers a powerful and unflinching portrayal of the abuses and hypocrisy of the master-slave relationship. Jacobs writes frankly of the horrors she suffered as a slave, her eventual escape after several unsuccessful attempts, and her seven years in self-imposed exile, hiding in a coffin-like “garret” attached to her grandmother’s porch.
A rare firsthand account of a courageous woman’s determination and endurance, this inspirational story also represents a valuable historical record of the continuing battle for freedom and the preservation of family.

Product DetailsKarr, Mary. The Liars Club.

When it was published in 1995, Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club took the world by storm and raised the art of the memoir to an entirely new level, as well as bringing about a dramatic revival of the form. Karr’s comic childhood in an east Texas oil town brings us characters as darkly hilarious as any of J. D. Salinger’s—a hard-drinking daddy, a sister who can talk down the sheriff at twelve, and an oft-married mother whose accumulated secrets threaten to destroy them all. Now with a new introduction that discusses her memoir’s impact on her family, this unsentimental and profoundly moving account of an apocalyptic childhood is as “funny, lively, and un-put-downable” (USA Today) today as it ever was
Product DetailsKarr, Mary. Cherry. 
From Mary Karr comes this gorgeously written, often hilarious story of her tumultuous teens and sexual coming-of-age. Picking up where the bestselling The Liars’ Club left off, Karr dashes down the trail of her teen years with customary sass, only to run up against the paralyzing self-doubt of a girl in bloom. Fleeing the thrills and terrors of adolescence, she clashes against authority in all its forms and hooks up with an unforgettable band of heads and bona-fide geniuses. Parts of Cherry will leave you gasping with laughter. Karr assembles a self from the smokiest beginnings, delivering a long-awaited sequel that is both “bawdy and wise” (San Francisco Chronicle)
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Product DetailsKarr, Mary. Lit. 
Lit follows the self-professed blackbelt sinner’s descent into the inferno of alcoholism and madness–and to her astonishing resurrection. Karr’s longing for a solid family seems secure when her marriage to a handsome, Shakespeare-quoting blueblood poet produces a son they adore. But she can’t outrun her apocalyptic past. She drinks herself into the same numbness that nearly devoured her charismatic but troubled mother, reaching the brink of suicide. A hair-raising stint in ‘The Mental Marriott,’ with an oddball tribe of gurus and saviors, awakens her to the possibility of joy and leads her to an unlikely faith. Not since Saint Augustine cried, ‘Give me chastity, Lord-but not yet!’ has a conversion story rung with such dark hilarity. Lit is about getting drunk and getting sober, becoming a mother by letting go of a mother, learning to write by learning to live. Written with Karr’s relentless honesty, unflinching self-scrutiny, and irreverent, lacerating humor, it is a truly electrifying story of how to grow up–as only Mary Karr can tell it.
Product DetailsKing, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
….the author takes time to tell us the highlights of his life that influenced him into the writer he became. Heartfelt memories of his mother, brother, wife, and children were a joy to read, with me growing teary-eyed on an occasion or two. I was delighted to see small things in his childhood that reminded me of things to come in later books (like IT.) His mothers support of him from the beginning was, I think, a crucial part of his development. One of the more emotional areas of the books, it’s good to have someone fighting in your corner and keeping your hopes up. After his mother, there was his wife, all playing their big parts in who he became.

[In the second part of the book, King discusses the craft of writing.]

 Product DetailsKrakauer, Jon. Into Thin Air.
A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that “suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down.” He was wrong. The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more–including Krakauer’s–in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for Into Thin Air, Krakauer’s epic account of the May 1996 disaster.
By writing Into Thin Air, Krakauer may have hoped to exorcise some of his own demons and lay to rest some of the painful questions that still surround the event.
Product DetailsLeast Heat-Moon, William. Blue Highways: A Journey into America.
Hailed as a masterpiece of American travel writing, Blue Highways is an unforgettable journey along our nation’s backroads. William Least Heat-Moon set out with little more than the need to put home behind him and a sense of curiosity about “those little towns that get on the map-if they get on at all-only because some cartographer has a blank space to fill: Remote, Oregon; Simplicity, Virginia; New Freedom, Pennsylvania; New Hope, Tennessee; Why, Arizona; Whynot, Mississippi.” His adventures, his discoveries, and his recollections of the extraordinary people he encountered along the way amount to a revelation of the true American experience.
Product DetailsMacdonald, Helen. H Is for Hawk

The instant New York Times bestseller and award-winning sensation, Helen Macdonald’s story of adopting and raising one of nature’s most vicious predators has soared into the hearts of millions of readers worldwide. Fierce and feral, her goshawk Mabel’s temperament mirrors Helen’s own state of grief after her father’s death, and together raptor and human “discover the pain and beauty of being alive” (People). H Is for Hawk is a genre-defying debut from one of our most unique and transcendent voices. “Breathtaking . . . Helen Macdonald renders an indelible impression of a raptor’s fierce essence—and her own—with words that mimic feathers, so impossibly pretty we don’t notice their astonishing engineering.” —Vicki Constantine Croke, New York Times Book Review

 

Product DetailsMandela, Nelson. Conversations with Myself.
Nelson Mandela is one of the most inspiring and iconic figures of our age. Now, after a lifetime of recording thoughts and events, hardships and victories, he has opened his personal archive, which offers unprecedented insight into his remarkable autobiography.

From letters written in the darkest hours of his twenty-seven years of imprisonment to the draft of an unfinished sequel to Long Walk to Freedom, Conversations with Myself gives readers access to the private man behind the public figure. Here he is making notes and even doodling during meetings, or transcribing troubled dreams on the desk calendar in his prison cell on Robben Island; writing journals while on the run during the anti-apartheid struggle in the early 1960s, and conversing with friends in almost seventy hours of recorded conversations. Here he is neither icon nor saint.

Product DetailsMartin, Steve. Born Standing Up.

 The riveting, mega-bestselling, beloved and highly acclaimed memoir of a man, a vocation, and an era named one of the ten best nonfiction titles of 2007 by Time and Entertainment Weekly.

In the mid-seventies, Steve Martin exploded onto the comedy scene. By 1978 he was the biggest concert draw in the history of stand-up. In 1981 he quit forever. This book is, in his own words, the story of “why I did stand-up and why I walked away.”

Emmy and Grammy Award–winner, author of the acclaimed New York Times bestsellers Shopgirl andThe Pleasure of My Company, and a regular contributor to The New Yorker, Martin has always been a writer. His memoir of his years in stand-up is candid, spectacularly amusing, and beautifully written.

Product DetailsMayle, Peter. A Year in Provence.
In this witty and warm-hearted account, Peter Mayle tells what it is like to realize a long-cherished dream and actually move into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the remote country of the Lubéron with his wife and two large dogs. He endures January’s frosty mistral as it comes howling down the Rhône Valley, discovers the secrets of goat racing through the middle of town, and delights in the glorious regional cuisine. A Year in Provence transports us into all the earthy pleasures of Provençal life and lets us live vicariously at a tempo governed by seasons, not by days.
Product DetailsMcBride, James. The Color of Water.

Who is Ruth McBride Jordan? A self-declared “light-skinned” woman evasive about her ethnicity, yet steadfast in her love for her twelve black children. James McBride, journalist, musician, and son, explores his mother’s past, as well as his own upbringing and heritage, in a poignant and powerful debut, The Color Of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother.The son of a black minister and a woman who would not admit she was white, James McBride grew up in “orchestrated chaos” with his eleven siblings in the poor, all-black projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn. “Mommy,” a fiercely protective woman with “dark eyes full of pep and fire,” herded her brood to Manhattan’s free cultural events, sent them off on buses to the best (and mainly Jewish) schools, demanded good grades, and commanded respect. As a young man, McBride saw his mother as a source of embarrassment, worry, and confusion—and reached thirty before he began to discover the truth about her early life and long-buried pain.

Product DetailsMcCourt, Frank. Angela’s Ashes. 

A Pulitzer Prize–winning, #1 New York Times bestseller, Angela’s Ashes is Frank McCourt’s masterful memoir of his childhood in Ireland.

“When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

So begins the luminous memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank’s mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank’s father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy—exasperating, irresponsible, and beguiling—does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story.

Product DetailsMoody, Anne. Coming of Age in Mississippi.
Written without a trace of sentimentality or apology, this is an unforgettable personal story—the truth as a remarkable young woman named Anne Moody lived it. To read her book is to know what it is to have grown up black in Mississippi in the forties an fifties—and to have survived with pride and courage intact.
In this now classic autobiography, she details the sights, smells, and suffering of growing up in a racist society and candidily reveals the soul of a black girl who had the courage to challenge it. The result is a touchstone work: an accurate, authoritative portrait of black family life in the rural South and a moving account of a woman’s indomitable heart.

Product DetailsNafisi, Azar. Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books.Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Azar Nafisi, a bold and inspired teacher, secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. Some came from conservative and religious families, others were progressive and secular; some had spent time in jail. They were shy and uncomfortable at first, unaccustomed to being asked to speak their minds, but soon they removed their veils and began to speak more freely–their stories intertwining with the novels they were reading by Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, as fundamentalists seized hold of the universities and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the women in Nafisi’s living room spoke not only of the books they were reading but also about themselves, their dreams and disappointments.

Product DetailsOates, Joyce Carol. A Widow’s Story.
Unlike anything Joyce Carol Oates has written before, A Widow’s Story is the universally acclaimed author’s poignant, intimate memoir about the unexpected death of Raymond Smith, her husband of forty-six years, and its wrenching, surprising aftermath. A recent recipient of National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, Oates, whose novels (Blonde, The Gravedigger’s Daughter,Little Bird of Heaven, etc.) rank among the very finest in contemporary American fiction, offers an achingly personal story of love and loss. A Widow’s Story is a literary memoir on a par with The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion and Calvin Trillin’s About Alice.

Product DetailsOlsen, Tillie. Silences.
First published in 1978, Silences single-handedly revolutionized the literary canon. In this classic work, now back in print, Olsen broke open the study of literature and discovered a lost continent—the writing of women and working-class people. From the excavated testimony of authors’ letters and diaries we learn the many ways the creative spirit, especially in those disadvantaged by gender, class and race, can be silenced. Olsen recounts the torments of Melville, the crushing weight of criticism on Thomas Hardy, the shame that brought Willa Cather to a dead halt, and struggles of Virginia Woolf, Olsen’s heroine and greatest exemplar of a writer who confronted the forces that would silence her.

Product DetailsPatchett, Ann. Truth & Beauty: A Friendship
Ann Patchett and the late Lucy Grealy met in college in 1981, and, after enrolling in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, began a friendship that would be as defining to both of their lives as their work. In Grealy’s critically acclaimed memoir, Autobiography of a Face, she wrote about losing part of her jaw to childhood cancer, years of chemotherapy and radiation, and endless reconstructive surgeries. In Truth & Beauty, the story isn’t Lucy’s life or Ann’s life, but the parts of their lives they shared. This is a portrait of unwavering commitment that spans twenty years, from the long winters of the Midwest, to surgical wards, to book parties in New York. Through love, fame, drugs, and despair, this is what it means to be part of two lives that are intertwined . . . and what happens when one is left behind.

Product DetailsRaban, Jonathan. Bad Land: An American Romance.
Jonathan Raban ambles and picks his way across the Montana prairie, called “The Great American Desert” until Congress offered 320-acre tracts of barren land to immigrants with stardust in their eyes. Raban’s prose makes love to the waves of land, red dirt roads, and skeletons of homesteads that couldn’t survive the Dirty Thirties. As poignant as any romance novel, there’s heartbreak in the failed dreams of the homesteaders, a pang of destiny in the arbitrary way railroad towns were thrown into existence, and inspiration in the heroism of people who’ve fashioned lives for themselves by cobbling together homes from the ruined houses of those who couldn’t make it. Through it all, Raban’s voice examines and honors the vast open expanses of land and pays homage to the histories of families who eked out an existence.

Product DetailsRadziwill, Carole. What Remains.
A stunning, tragic memoir about John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn Bissett, and his cousin Anthony Radziwill, by Radziwill’s widow, now a star of The Real Housewives of New York.
What Remains is a vivid and haunting memoir about a girl from a working-class town who becomes an award-winning television producer and marries a prince, Anthony Radziwill. Carole grew up in a small suburb with a large, eccentric cast of characters. At nineteen, she struck out for New York City to find a different life. Her career at ABC News led her to the refugee camps of Cambodia, to a bunker in Tel Aviv, and to the scene of the Menendez murders. Her marriage led her into the old world of European nobility and the newer world of American aristocracy.

Product DetailsRed Cloud with Bob Drury and Tom Clavin. The Heart of Everything that Remains.
An acclaimed New York Times bestseller, selected by Salon as a best book of the year, the astonishing untold story of the life and times of Sioux warrior Red Cloud: “a page-turner with remarkable immediacy…and the narrative sweep of a great Western” (The Boston Globe).
Red Cloud was the only American Indian in history to defeat the United States Army in a war, forcing the government to sue for peace on his terms. At the peak of Red Cloud’s powers the Sioux could claim control of one-fifth of the contiguous United States and the loyalty of thousands of fierce fighters. But the fog of history has left Red Cloud strangely obscured. Now, thanks to the rediscovery of a lost autobiography, and painstaking research by two award-winning authors, the story of the nineteenth century’s most powerful and successful Indian warrior can finally be told.
.“Unabashed, unbiased, and disturbingly honest, leaving no razor-sharp arrowhead unturned, no rifle trigger unpulled….a compelling and fiery narrative” (USA TODAY), this is the definitive chronicle of the conflict between an expanding white civilization and the Plains Indians who stood in its way.

Product DetailsSantiago, Esmeralda. When I Was Puerto Rican.
Esmeralda Santiago’s story begins in rural Puerto Rico, where her childhood was full of both tenderness and domestic strife, tropical sounds and sights as well as poverty. Growing up, she learned the proper way to eat a guava, the sound of tree frogs in the mango groves at night, the taste of the delectable sausage called morcilla, and the formula for ushering a dead baby’s soul to heaven. As she enters school we see the clash, both hilarious and fierce, of Puerto Rican and Yankee culture. When her mother, Mami, a force of nature, takes off to New York with her seven, soon to be eleven children, Esmeralda, the oldest, must learn new rules, a new language, and eventually take on a new identity. In this first volume of her much-praised, bestselling trilogy, Santiago brilliantly recreates the idyllic landscape and tumultuous family life of her earliest years and her tremendous journey from the barrioto Brooklyn, from translating for her mother at the welfare office to high honors at Harvard.

StSmith, Patti. Just Kids. 

In Just Kids, Patti Smith’s first book of prose, the legendary American artist offers a never-before-seen glimpse of her remarkable relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the epochal days of New York City and the ChelseaHotel in the late sixties and seventies.  An honest and moving story of youth and friendship, Smith brings the same unique, lyrical quality to Just Kids as she has to the rest of her formidable body of work—from her influential 1975 album Horses to her visual art and poetry.

Product DetailsStrayed, Cheryl. Wild.
A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again.

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone.

Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor,Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

Product DetailsThompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing in Las vegas. 

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the best chronicle of drug-soaked, addle-brained, rollicking good times ever committed to the printed page.  It is also the tale of a long weekend road trip that has gone down in the annals of American pop culture as one of the strangest journeys ever undertaken.

Now this cult classic of gonzo journalism is a major motion picture from Universal, directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro.

Product DetailsTrillin, Calvin. About Alice. In Calvin Trillin’s antic tales of family life, she was portrayed as the wife who had “a weird predilection for limiting our family to three meals a day” and the mother who thought that if you didn’t go to every performance of your child’s school play, “the county would come and take the child.” Now, five years after her death, her husband offers this loving portrait of Alice Trillin off the page–his loving portrait of Alice Trillin off the page–an educator who was equally at home teaching at a university or a drug treatment center, a gifted writer, a stunningly beautiful and thoroughly engaged woman who, in the words of a friend, “managed to navigate the tricky waters between living a life you could be proud of and still delighting in the many things there are to take pleasure in.”

Product DetailsAutobiography of Mark Twain.

Twain is widely rumored to have stated that the full version of his life could not be released until 100 years after his death. What Twain allowed to be published at the time comprises a rambling collection of anecdotes and ruminations rather than a more typical autobiography.His innovative notion – to “talk only about the thing which interests you for the moment” – meant that his thoughts could range freely. Twain thought his autobiography would be most entertaining if he went off on whims and tangents in non-sequential order. This book will be a real joy for all fans of Mark Twain.

Product DetailsWalls, Jeanette. The Glass Castle.
Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn’t stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an “excitement addict.” Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.

Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town — and the family — Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents’ betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.

What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.

For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story. A regular contributor to MSNBC.com, she lives in New York and Long Island and is married to the writer John Taylor.

Product DetailsWelty, Eudora. One Writer’s Beginnings.
Eudora Welty was born in 1909 in Jackson, Mississippi. In a “continuous thread of revelation” she sketches her autobiography and tells us how her family and her surroundings contributed to the shaping not only of her personality but of her writing. Homely and commonplace sights, sounds, and objects resonate with the emotions of recollection: the striking clocks, the Victrola, her orphaned father’s coverless little book saved since boyhood, the tall mountains of the West Virginia back country that become a metaphor for her mother’s sturdy independence, Eudora’s earliest box camera that suspended a moment forever and taught her that every feeling awaits a gesture. She has recreated this vanished world with the same subtlety and insight that mark her fiction.

Even if Eudora Welty were not a major writer, her description of growing up in the South–of the interplay between black and white, between town and countryside, between dedicated schoolteachers and the public they taught–would he notable. That she is a splendid writer of fiction gives her own experience a family likeness to others in the generation of young Southerners that produced a literary renaissance. Until publication of this book, she had discouraged biographical investigations. It undoubtedly was not easy for this shy and reticent lady to undertake her own literary biography, to relive her own memories (painful as well as pleasant), to go through letters and photographs of her parents and grandparents. But we are in her debt, for the distillation of experience she offers us is a rare pleasure for her admirers, a treat to everyone who loves good writing and anyone who is interested in the seeds of creativity.

Product DetailsWinterson, Jeanette. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

“Magnificent . . . A tour de force of literature and love.”—Vogue

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is raucous. It hums with a dark refulgence from its first pages. . . . Singular and electric . . . [Winterson’s] life with her adoptive parents was often appalling, but it made her the writer she is.”—The New York Times

“[Winterson is] one of the most daring and inventive writers of our time—searingly honest yet effortlessly lithe as she slides between forms, exuberant and unerring, demanding emotional and intellectual expansion of herself and of us. . . . In Why Be Happy,, [Winterson’s] emotional life is laid bare . . . [in] a bravely frank narrative of truly coming undone. For someone in love with disguises, Winterson’s openness is all the more moving; there’s nothing left to hide, and nothing left to hide behind.”—Elle

Jeanette Winterson’s bold and revelatory novels have earned her widespread acclaim, establishing her as a major figure in world literature. She has written some of the most admired books of the past few decades, including her internationally best-selling first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, the story of a young girl adopted by Pentecostal parents, that is now often required reading in contemporary fiction classes.

 

Panic

Mark Twain, E.B. White, Stephen King, Mary Karr, William Zinsser, and Other Writers on Style

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The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – ’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning. Mark Twain

John Updike was a Harvard Graduate and a long-time contributor to the New Yorker. He wrote numerous short stories, some of which could be called memoirs, and he also wrote The Witches of Eastwick and many, many other things. You could probably say that Updike’s writing and Twain’s writing were about as different as lightning and lightning bugs, but even Updike, the Ivy League writer, recognized the brilliance of Mark Twain’s Down-Home, River Rat Voice, which would probably NOT be called Stylish. Mark Twain’s voice was filled with a Huck-Finnishness that was “right” for Huck Finn. Therefore, while Mark Twain may not have written Stylishly, he definitely had  Style.

In a Paris Review interview, Updike said the following about Mark Twain’s voice and his authentic use of language–or his Style:

It comes down to what is language? Up to now, until this age of mass literacy, language has been something spoken. In utterance there’s a minimum of slowness. In trying to treat words as chisel strokes, you run the risk of losing the quality of utterance, the rhythm of utterance, the happiness. A phrase out of Mark Twain—he describes a raft hitting a bridge and says that it “went all to smash and scatteration like a box of matches struck by lightning.” The beauty of “scatteration” could only have occurred to a talkative man, a man who had been brought up among people who were talking and who loved to talk himself. I’m aware myself of a certain dryness of this reservoir, this backlog of spoken talk. A Romanian once said to me that Americans are always telling stories. I’m not sure this is as true as it once was. Where we once used to spin yarns, now we sit in front of the tv and receive pictures. I’m not sure the younger generation even knows how to gossip. But, as for a writer, if he has something to tell, he should perhaps type it almost as fast as he could talk it.

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“When a prisoner of style escapes, it’s called an evasion.”
― Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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“To achieve stye, begin by affecting none.”
― E.B. White, The Elements of Style

E.B White was another person who wrote for The New Yorker, and he was the co-author of The Elements of Style, which is the quintessential guide for writing correctly. White’s book Charlotte’s Web is considered to be the perfect junior fiction novel, but he wrote other things equally well. His essays are beautifully written. E.B. White could have affected in words any style that he wanted, but he realized the futility of affectation. E.B. White was satisfied writing as himself–in a style that William Zinsser calls Breeziness.

Breeziness

“There is a kind of writing that sounds so relaxed that you think you hear the author talking to you. E.B. White was probably its best practitioner, thought many other masters of the style–James Thurber, V.S. Pritchett, Lewis Thomas–come to mind. I’m partial to it because it’s a style….The common assumption is that the style is effortless. In fact the opposite is true: the effortless style is achieved by strenuous effort and constant refining. ” Zinsser, William. On Writing Well, pgs. 232-33.

 In his book On Writing Well, William Zinsser said the following about the importance of a writer’s voice:

“I wrote one book about baseball and one about jazz. But it never occurred to me to write one of them in sports English and the other in jazz English. I tried to write them both in the best English I could, in my usual style. Though the books were widely different in subject, I wanted readers to know that they were hearing from the same person…. My commodity as a writer, whatever I’m writing about, is me. And your commodity is you. Don’t alter your voice to fit your subject. Develop one voice that readers will recognize when they hear it on the page….” Zinsser, William. On Writing Well, p. 232.

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“One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be even more embarrassed. [p.117]

”Remember that the basic rule of  vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful. If you hesitate and cogitate, you will come up with another word…but it won’t be as good as your first one, or as close to what you really mean.”― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, pgs. 117-118.

King continues:

“Must you write complete sentences each time, every tie: Perish the thought. If your work consists only of fragments and floating clauses, the Grammar Police aren’t going to come and take you away.”  Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, p. 120.

King listed some of his pet peeves: “That’s so cool,” “and “at the end of the day.” Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, p. 122.

“You should avoid the passive tense….Suppose, for instance, a fellow dies in the kitchen but ends up somewhere else. The body was carried from the kitchen and placed on the parlor sofa is a fair way to put this, although ‘was carried’ and ‘was placed’ still irk the shit out of me…. What I would embrace is Freddy and Myra carried the body out of the kitchen and laid it on the parlor sofa. Why does the body have to be the subject of the sentence, anyway? It’s dead, for Christ’s sake!”  Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, p. 123.

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For 30 years, Mary Karr has taught memoir writing at Syracuse University, and in her book The Art of Memoir, she offers some great thoughts about the importance of the writer’s voice and his style [Note–Karr’s advice is good for writing in genres other than memoir, too]:

“Each great memoir lives or dies based 100 percent on voice. It’s the delivery system for the author’s experience–the big bandwidth cable that carries in lustrous clarity every pixel of someone’s inner and outer experiences. Each voice is cleverly fashioned to highlight a writer’s individual talent or way of viewing the world. …It may take a writer hundreds of rough trial pages for a way of speaking to start to emerge unique to himself and his experience, both carnal and interior experiences come back with clarity,and the work gains an electrical charge. For the reader, the voice has to exist from the first sentence. [p. 35].

“Because memoir is such a simple form, its events can come across–in the worst books–as thinly rendered and haphazard. But if the voice has a high enough voltage, it will carry the reader through all manner of assholery and tangent because it almost magically conjures in her imagination a fully realized human. We kind of think that the voice is the narrator. It certainly helps if the stories are riveting, but a great voice renders the dullest event remarkable.

“The secret to any voice grows from a writer’s finding  a tractor beam of inner truth about psychological conflicts to shine the way. While an artist consciously constructs a voice, she chooses its elements because they’re natural expressions of character. So above all, a voice has to sound ike the person wielding it–the super-most interesting version of that person ever–and grow from her core self.

“Pretty much all the great memoirists I’ve met sound on the page like they do in person. If the page is a mask, you rip it off only to find that the writer’s features exactly mold to the mask’s form, with nary a gap between public and private self. These writer’ voices make you feel close to–almost inside–their owners. Who doesn’t halfway consider Huck Finn or Scout a pal?

“The voice should permit a range of emotional tones–too wiseass, and it denies pathos; too pathetic, and it’s shrill. It sets and varies distance from both the material and the reader00from cool and diffident to high-strung and close. The writer doesn’t choose these styles fo much as he’s born to them, based on who he is and how he experienced the past.

“Voice isn’t just a manner of talking. It’s an operative mindset and way of perceiving that naturally stems from feeling oneself alive inside the past. That’s why self-awareness is so key. The [p. 36]  writer who’s lived a fairly unexamined life–someone who has a hard time reconsidering a conflict from another point of view may not excel at fashioning a voice because her defensiveness stands between her and what she has to say.  Also, we naturally tend to superimpose our present selves onto who we were before, and that can prevent us from recalling stuff that doesn’t shore up our current identities. Or it can warp understanding to fit more comfortable interpretations…..

“However you charm people in the world, you should do so on the page. ….Charm is from the Latin carmen: to sing.  By ‘charm,’ I mean sing well enough to held the reader in thrall. Whatever people like about you in the world will manifest itself on the page….You’ll need both sides of yourself–the beautiful and the beastly–to hold a reader’s attention…. [p.36]

“All the good lines can’t be the memoirist’s. Karr, Mary. The Art of Memoir, pgs. 35-38.

“Unfortunately, nobody tells a writer how hard cobbling together a voice is. Look under ‘voice’ in a writing textbook, and they talk about things that seem mechanical–tone, diction, syntax. Dho, the writers says with a forehead smack. Diction is merely word choice, what variety of vocabulary you favor.  Syntax is whether sentences are long or short, how they’re shaped, with or without dependent clauses, etc., Some sentences meander, others fire off like machine-gun runs. Tone is the emotional tenor of the sentences; it’s how the narrator feels about the subject.  Robert Frost said anytime he heard wordless voices through a wall, tone told him who was angry, who bemused, who about to cry. For me, psyche equals voice, so your own psyche–how you think and see and wonder and scudge and suffer–also determines such factors as packing and what you [p. 45] write about when. Karr, Mary. The Art of Memoir, pgs. 45-46.

“…voice grows from the nature of a writer’s talent, which stems from innate character….e don’t see events objectively: we perceive them through ourselves. And we remember through a filter of both who we are now and who we once were.
So the best voices include a writer’s insides. Watching her mind feel around to concoct or figure out events, you never lose sight of the ego’s shape, its blind spots, dislikes, wants.” Karr, Mary. The Art of Memoir, pgs. 47.

“…a memoirist can’t help but show at each bump in the road how her perceptual filter is distorting what’s being take in. In other words, she questions her own perceptions as part of the writing process…..

“The noise each makes speaks his character into being. …

“But how dare I speak of truth in memoir, when it’s common knowledge that the subjective, egoistic perception is a priori warped by falsehood–perhaps mildly so in self-serving desires, or wildly so in hardwired paranoia?…

“…the self-aware memoirist constantly pokes and prods at his doubts like a tongue on  a black tooth. [p. 48].

“The goal of a voice is to speak not with objective authority but with subjective curiosity. …

“To chirp my story like some bouncy cheerleader would be to lie. That grimness has to make it in. …

“A quest for self-knowledge drives such a writer to push past the normal vanity she brings to party dressing. She somehow manages to show up at the ball boldly naked.” Karr, Mary. The Art of Memoir, pgs. 45-49.

“A quest for self-knowledge drives such a writer to push past the normal vanity she brings to party dressing. She somehow manages to show up at the ball boldly naked.” Karr, Mary. The Art of Memoir, p. 49.

In summary,  it would seem to me that a writer who has style is one who is not trying to be stylish. He is simply a person who talks to his readers, and his words are recorded on a page. He is also a person who is honest about who he is, and he is able to communicate with that honesty. To quote Mary Karr again:

“Any memoirist’s false selves (plural_ will take turns plastering themselves across his real mouth to silence the scarier fact of who he is. Writing as directly as possible out of that single  ‘true’ core…will naturally unify pages. Otheri=wise, there will be inconsistencies that read as fake.

“False choices based on who you wish you were will result in places where the voice goes awry or the details chosen ring false. If Helen Keller wrote from the viewpoint of a nearsighted girl rather than a blind one or if May Angelou made herself [p. 151] an orphaned paraplegic or a light-skinned black girl who could pass in the Jim Crow South . . .  well, you can see how their stories would’ve been bled of raw power.” Karr, Mary. The Art of Memoir, pgs. 151-52.

“No matter how much you’re gunning for truth, the human ego is also a stealthy, low-crawling bastard, and for pretty much everybody, getting used to who you are is a lifelong spiritual struggle…..The best you can hope for is to rip off each mask as you find it blotting out your vision.” [p. 153].

“We each nurture a private terror that some core aspect(s) of either our selves or our story must be hidden or disowned.”  Karr, Mary. The Art of Memoir, pgs. 153-54.

©Jacki Kellum September 21, 2016

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