Memoir is a genre that is undeniably fascinating as it relates true story based on fact. The best memoir in my opinion has some writer embellishment, raw detail and a sense of hope, compassion and belief in humankind.
A memoir is not a biography; it is a slice of life and tends to be thematic in nature. One memoirist may have several books published about him/herself since humans are complex – but another person writes your biography. An autobiography is written by the authors about themselves and usually spans the lifetime of the subject in chronological order. Most bios are about famous or notorious persons while a memoir encapsulates a unique time period, event or growth period of any individual.
Memoir writing (according to me) also has its genres. I categorize the ones I have read as: sweet slice of life, dark childhood, addiction related, grief stricken or overcoming a substantial circumstance. Every memoir I read – ever– seems to bring healing to the author if not the reader –probably both and I can only speak for myself but I have always received a healing or a message/lesson/reminder as well.
The most recent memoir I have read in the addiction recovery group was Beautiful Boy – A Father’s Journey through his Son’s Addiction by David Sheff, a writer by trade. His story is interesting and helpful because it comes at the foibles and troubles of addiction from the parental point of view, not the addict’s. His recall of events and conversations brings to life the series of downfalls, questions, frustrations and pure hopelessness of addiction and how it affects everyone; no one is left untouched by this serious epidemic. He tries to make sense of it all by fighting for legislation, education and awareness campaigns in the medical, legal and social media. His story is one of stamina and perseverance and need I say – HEARTBREAKING!
Another addiction story but told from the addict’s point of view is Broken by William Cope Moyers and Katherine Ketcham. I actually had the privilege to meet Mr. Moyers, the eldest son of the famous journalist, Bill Moyers at a UCLA event. At the same celebrity hosted seminar I also met Noah Levine, son of Stephen Levine, the guru of death and meditation as a means of healing author/speaker. Noah went through his own revolution/evolution and wrote Dharma Punx and Against the Stream, both memoirs of his recovery story and enlightened Buddhist conversion, respectively. I endorse all three of these books for their honesty and their description of pure raw pain – and it just goes to show that although Moyers and Levine came from two very different walks of life, age groups and upbringings, their paths into addiction were similarly horrific and their recovery, spiritual in nature.
In a complete about face, Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl by Carol Bodensteiner details a rural, wholesome, hearty childhood remembered sweetly. When my daughter V complains that all the memoirs I read are depressing, I suggest over and over again she give this simple page turner a try. This is a feel good, uplifting read and the only unpleasantness is that rural America like Ms. Bodensteiner describes it – and that era – are dead and gone.
Tomorrow – bad childhoods, grief and living through tough times…..I guess my daughter is right about the tone/themes being a bit gloomy!