i’ve gone on record more than once declaring my disinterest in memoirs. i think i actually uttered the words “i don’t do memoir” to a rep within the past two weeks. and yet, the last three books that i have really, truly, flat-out enjoyed? memoirs all.
to be fair, Kim Dana Kupperman’s I JUST LATELY STARTED BUYING WINGS is actually an essay collection. but since the topics of the essays are her life, and taken together they map her life over a distinct period, i don’t think it’s inaccurate to refer to it as a (sorta kinda) memoir.
Andre Dubus III’s TOWNIE is unabashedly a memoir, and a damn good one. same goes for Jeff Johnson’s TATTOO MACHINE — which, if you have ever gotten a tattoo, contemplated getting a tattoo, admired someone else’s tattoo, wondered about that whole tattoo thing, or just enjoy some Tom Wolfe-style hilarity on the fringes of society, you should read immediately.
so. am i just straight-up lying when i say i don’t like memoir? or is something else going on here? i’m not exactly sure. AD III i’ve met in person, and read his fiction, and therefore had a prior interest in. the Kupperman just kind of hit me out of the blue; the execution and writing in it is ingenious, and i think that had a large part in winning me over. i have more than a passing interest in tattoos, so the Jeff Johnson is no big surprise either.
but some of the other memoirs i’ve read (and, almost invariably, discarded half-way through) were written by talented writers who have led interesting lives. some were funny, most were sad, some more political, some intensely personal, but all in all they were fine examples of the genre, or so i understand from folks who dig them. a genre which, again, i usually find myself with little to no interest in.
the wonderful suzanna and i were recently talking about books, and utilized a turn of phrase that i love. “[x] is a genre i don’t read often, but when i do i like it.” for me, that genre is mystery — i rarely read them, but when i do i enjoy them. memoir is a genre that i try over and over again, usually after runs like these when i actually ENJOY a couple, and then find myself with a stack of half-read books that i’ll never pick up again. and i don’t want to say that the ones i enjoy have a special hook — because EVERY memoir has a special hook, or else it would never have gotten through the agent/editor process. (insert snarky comment about the publishing industry/celebrity memoir/stupid and-or greedy agents and-or editors here, then let’s all move on, shall we?) and while i could say that the ones i do enjoy have a hook specially guaranteed to interest me, i hesitate because a few memorable DNFs (did not finish) were on topics that i LOVE LOVE LOVE, and a few memoirs that i LOVED LOVED LOVED had nothing to do with anything that i am into.
so. do i like memoir or not? i think i am going to go with, “i don’t like memoirs, except for when i do.”