I wasn’t really sure, when I began this blog entry, about the difference between an autobiography and a memoir, so I googled it! According to Brian Klems of Writer’s Digest, “an autobiography focuses on the chronology of the writer’s entire life while a memoir covers one specific aspect of the writer’s life.”
I don’t tend to read much nonfiction, but when I do I often find myself holding a memoir. I guess I’m kind of voyeuristic that way, wanting to peek at someone else’s life without their knowing. I could liken it to a low-tech version of TV’s reality shows, or even facebook. I just like to lurk around and see what’s going on.
One of the earliest memoirs I remember reading was Rascal, a memoir, by Sterling North. I was in high school and my mother read and enjoyed it, and it was about a raccoon, so I read it too. Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt was another memoir read many years later that I found difficult to put down. I couldn’t believe that this book wasn’t a work of fiction. It was hard to imagine the life it depicted in 20th century Ireland and in Brooklyn, New York. The poverty, the alcoholism, and the mother’s attempt to raise her children just seemed overwhelming to me. It was simply unimaginable. I read Red Scarf Girl, by Ji-li Jiang, which gave me a look at what life was like growing up during China’s Cultural Revolution.
Running With Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs, was a humorous yet horrifying depiction of Burroughs’ life growing up in a very unconventional household. The Glass Castle by journalist Jeanette Walls was another eye-opening memoir that I can’t forget and recommend again and again. It reads like fiction yet is unbelievably true! Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck is a great book for women dealing with the realities of aging.
It’s funny, and I learned about the artful use of neck scarves. I enjoyed reading Condoleezza Rice’s memoir Extraordinary, Ordinary People. I found the first half of the book much more interesting, though, since it dealt with her early life and education. I suppose I just find the stories of peoples’ childhood fascinating; how we become who we are as adult because of, or in spite of, how we are raised.
I hope you will give memoirs or autobiographies a try sometime. Just pretend it’s fiction like I do! If you do a keyword search using the word “memoir” you’ll get a sizeable list to choose from. Or, you could just browse the biographies in the 921 section of the library. Either way you’ll be sure to discover something new about someone you never knew about!
Until next time!