Although Mary Karr is a well known memoirist, I hadn’t read any of her books yet I was strongly drawn to her most recent work; The Art of Memoir.
When I first heard of this book, I was under the initial belief that it was essentially a primer on how to write and compose a memoir. A better way to describe this book however is that The Art of Memoir is a memoir about memoirs – that offers some tips on the process along the way.
I did find this book informative in various ways, when I finished, I realized I had little interest in reading Karr’s other memoirs – The Liars Club, Cherry and Lit. When reading Karr’s writing I felt an artificial distance she was maintaining that I couldn’t breach. I thought perhaps this was only due to the subject matter of this particular book, but when I went to the bookstore to look at her other books, I got the same feeling as I sampled different parts of The Liars Club and Lit.
What The Art of Memoir did do for me was to inspire me to devote the entire month of August to reading just memoirs. In the back of The Art of Memoir, Karr lists a lot of memoirs that – after reading through, I discovered that I owned several of. Using the list as a reference, I dug up 15 memoirs that I own and have not read.
Although I wasn’t exactly drawn to Karr’s writing style, I would recommend The Art of Memoir as a reference book. In the least, this book does offer some worth while writing guidelines and suggestions – and if those don’t work for you, she offers many reading suggestions that will let you “see” the art of memoir in action.
I believe what really bothered me most about this book – in retrospect – was Karr’s subtle attempt to create a formula for how to compose a memoir. On a few occasions in the book she provides examples out of well known, well written memoirs that even she finds exceptional then tells her readers to not write that way. Clearly since Karr teaches about memoir, she has elevated herself to being some authority on how to write them. I wasn’t able to agree with this level of arrogance on her part. Some artist’s paint like Michelangelo, others like Pollack and still others like Picasso, and yet all of their methods are “correct” in regards to art – the same goes for writing, with memoirs especially.