Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Life in the Slow Lane: A Memoir

Having some time to kill the other day when on break from jury duty, I went to a public library for the first time in many years. I had forgotten how much I love libraries. I always feel such a rush of POTENTIAL when I first walk into a library – like I could learn or discover or escape into anything I want to. Like I might discover that story that will change my life. Like I might once again light the fire I once had for voracious reading.

I was poking around the biography section, as I’ve decided that real stories from real people interest me most these days. I was struck by the number of memoirs on the shelf. In general, I really like memoirs because they tend to be shorter and more prone to the author’s flights of fancy. Not so constrained by the exacting details of an authorized biography.

But it was the titles of these books that caught my attention. I’d never noticed before that it really is all about the titles. Right there in that aisle it dawned on me that the true secret to writing a memoir that people will read is being able to come up with the right catchy title, then calling it “a memoir”.

Now there are many great books that BEGIN with the word memoir, like Memoirs of a Geisha or Memoirs of an Invisible Man, but the catchy title followed by “a memoir” seems the most provocative.

The one I chose to check out was Thomas Healey’s “I Heard You Calling in the Night: A Memoir”. (Long-time alcoholic spiraling out of control until he got a dog that changed his life. Read it in 2 hours while waiting during jury duty. A bit dull. But I loved the name!)

Here were some other titles I saw on that ONE SHELF in the library, and there were dozens and dozens and dozens more like them:

Bad Boy: A Memoir
The Glass Castle: A Memoir
Money: Women, Emotions and Cash: A Memoir
Mr. China: A Memoir
Running with Scissors: A Memoir
House with Wisteria: A Memoir
The Scent of God: A Memoir
Darkness Visible: A Memoir
Lucky: A Memoir
Teacher Man: A Memoir

So I’ve been thinking about what I might call a collection of my stories. Never mind that there isn’t anything of great interest to share in my stories – no grand adventures, no great insights, no moral lessons or spiritual breakthroughs – but really that’s beside the point. It’s only important to come up with a great name. How about:

The Dotopotamus: A Memoir
From Public Television to Public Intoxication: A Memoir
Tell Me a Story: A Memoir
Donuts, Dogs and Hair Dye: A Memoir
Don’t Nobody Know: A Memoir

It seems I have some work to do coming up with just the right title.

The memoir that broke my heart into a million little pieces was James Frey’s book by the same name. “A Million Little Pieces” KILLED me, I loved it so much. The odd way it was written. The (seeming!) sincerity. The wicked images of the ravages of addiction. I was reading it over Thanksgiving 2005 and I couldn’t put it down. It was so compelling. FIVE MINUTES after I finished reading it, I got in the car and drove to the book store and bought its hard-backed sequel, “Leonard”. I never buy hard backed books so that is proof at how badly I wanted to see how this man’s life was fairing. After all, he had been through so effing much. And he’d survived! He’d been triumphant! He’s slayed the demon dragons that ruled his life!

And then the scandal hit. Frey’s credibility began to be questioned. People cited in the book came forward calling him a liar. All of the dirty little secrets started to slip out and the whole house of cards fell, literally, into a million little pieces and Frey was labeled a fraud. I thought Oprah was going to kill the guy since she had originally promoted his book so heavily on her show. He had lied about almost every detail in the book.

The way I see it, Frey’s book would have been every bit as popular and every bit as moving if he had presented it as a work of fiction. But it was those two little words that sealed his fate…”a memoir”.

I just finished reading Jame’s Pinnochio’s “A Million Little Lies” which is a hysterical parody of Frey’s book. It hurt me a little bit to read it, but it was funny nonetheless.

I wish everyone would write down the stories of their lives. I find nothing more interesting. Whether they are funny, sweet, sad, silly, or deal more with the darker side of life, everyone has a story to tell and I love hearing them all. Just remember to tell it true and come up with a really catchy title followed by “a memoir”. The rest is easy.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home