I just Googled “fiction versus memoir,” even though I know the difference – and I suspect that you do too. My search results yielded the following top result: “Memoir or Novel? How to Decide.” It’s from a random literary agency that hosts an accompanying blog full of tips for would-be authors, and this was one of its posts. I admit to being a little baffled because I always assume that writers sort of know what genre they want to tackle. Do you want to make up a story or not? Ok, ok, I’ll concede that maybe at the beginning of one’s writing days, a little waffling may present itself. Writer: “I have a message I want to convey, but I’m not sure how.” But otherwise, “fake news” notwithstanding, we have FACT and we have FICTION. They’re different, right?
This summer the New York Times Book Review published a special section entitled “The 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years.” When you think about it, 50 years is a long time. (I can get away with saying that because I myself am over 75% of the way to 50.) In fact, I think “50 years” is a particularly long time in memoir-speak because except for the very few, most of the selections on this list were unfamiliar to me or caused me to go, “Oh riiiiiiiight. Forgot about that one.” The majority of memoirs seem to be the flashes-in-the-pan of the literary world.
Let’s take one of 2018 and 2019’s favorite memoirs. Raise your hand if you have read Educated. (Do you see what I did there? Education…school…raising hands…) In the event that you don’t know, Educated is the story of a woman named Tara Westover who extricated herself from a hyper-religious and hyper-survivalist childhood in Idaho, taught herself enough info to do well on the ACT, gained admission to Brigham Young University, and then earned a Masters and doctorate at Cambridge. The epitome of an against-all-odds story, Westover’s memoir chronicles a stratospheric ejection from her unorthodox childhood from every imaginable angle: educational philosophy (she entered BYU not knowing what the Holocaust was), religious philosophy (a hybrid of essential-oil-heavy “naturalism” and Mormonism), and family-relationship philosophy (Westover eventually realizes that “hey, this isn’t normal”). It’s made-for-television (except it’s real), and we read this type of thing slack-jawed. For those who have grown up in an environment like Westover’s – rare, but plausible – the book may provide a blueprint of hope. For those of us who did not grow up like that, it is a fascinating view into someone’s life as well as a reminder to “appreciate all that we have.” I suspect people will remember Westover’s book for a long time – how can one forget? Continue reading “Fact or Fiction: On The Stone Diaries, The Body Papers & Investigating a Life”