The Art of Time in Memoir (Then, Again)
I occasionally think that the contemporary memoir section is next to fiction at the bookstore because that’s what it mostly is; fiction. There are so many sensational confessions; stories of abuse, neglect, drug addition – self-exposing disclosure run amok (see James Fry “Million Little Pieces”). However, as Birketts says in his introduction, “we cannot allow the many to wreck things for the few”. In fact Birketts sees this as a new Golden Age of literary memoir and cites as examples Mary Karr’s “The Liars’ Club”, Lucy Grealy’s “Autobiography of a Face” and Michael Ondaatje’s “Running in the Family” among others.
According to Birketts, as long as “the memoirist’s essential tasks” are adherred to, the genre should always remain fresh and strong. Memories are intuited not simply recorded linearly. Patterns of meaning need to be assembled and set into the framework of universal themes. Proust, Nabokov and Virginia Woolf are amply cited and regarded as “genre bending” masters.
Birketts argues that there is a necessary wisdom in the best of memoirs that cannot be discovered in other genres. The memoir is, after all, anchored in actual life. As our actual lives become increasingly complex and our self-conceptions more and more fragmented by our electronic tools, perhaps the reading of great memoirs will become more necessary as a way of accessing our own sense of self and understanding our own past and present.
I found Birketts’ book to be an elegantly written and illuminating study on the craft of memoir writing.
Wizard’s First Rule
Tor Books, 1994
“Wizard’s First Rule” is the first novel by Terry Goodkind that I have read and I can assure you that it will not be the last. The first book in the Sword of Truth series promotes a fantastical world full of enchantment, adventure and suspense, with a captivating plot that will quench anyone’s thirst for a truly entertaining tale. This is definitely a novel everyone should have on their bookshelf.
Between the Sheets: The Literary Liasons of nine 20th century Women Writers
Overlook Press 20120
Through diaries, journals and letters, McDowell examined the relationships between nine literary couples (Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton, Hilda Doolittle and Ezra Pound, Rebecca West and H.G Wells, Jean Rhys and Ford Maddox Ford, Anais Nin and Henry Miller, J.P Satre and Simone de Beauvior, Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway, Elizabeth Smart and George Barker, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes) and concluded that all of the female writers had benefitted in some way from their male writer counterparts and were not simply victims of their relationships.
These pioneering female writers, considered essential to the development of modernist literature and the rise of feminism, chose a particular route into literature by attaching themselves to their men and shaping their identities through sex, marriage and language. Each woman was prepared to put artistic ambition before personal happiness.
Although most of the women considered in Between the Sheets were deserted or rejected by their husbands/lovers, McDowell questions the degree to which they pined for their respective men. While they championed the virtues of feminism and female independence in their writing, their personal lives did not reflect this stance. Thus McDowell speculates that the male writers provided the women with professional inroads into the writing field and this was worth the personal sacrifice each of them made.
I enjoyed the book and would recommend it as an alternative way to become familiar with some of the most important female writers of the 20th century.