Writing & Reading Memoir

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I am excited each morning to carry a good cup of coffee into my office, sit down at my desk and start working. I really enjoy being a freelance writer/ghostwriter of memoir and biography, and working with others to tell their tales so they aren’t lost.

Currently I am helping two people write memoirs, and writing a biography for a third client about his mom and her family’s history. Memoir writer Leslie LangIt’s a huge responsibility to take someone’s stories and make sure you are wrangling them down onto paper just right, while also correctly grasping the significance. I’m tired at the end of my work day, though it often may look as though I merely sit the whole time. I’m hard at work while sitting!

I really love it, though. Everyone I work with has such an extraordinarily different story, and it’s all fascinating. This work is a great match for me. Hearing people’s stories, figuring out how to tell them, and writing them well – I couldn’t enjoy it more.

Here are some resources if you’d like to read some more about the genre of memoir.

1. Do you know the website BrainPickings.org? If you don’t, you should, because what a great site. Here’s a good entry point:

The 13 Best Biographies, Memoirs, and History Books of 2013   From Alan Turing to Susan Sontag, by way of a lost cat, a fierce Victorian lady-journalist, and some very odd creative habits.

by Maria Popova

It’s that time of year again, the time for those highly subjective, grossly non-exhaustive, yet inevitable and invariably fun best-of reading lists. To kick off the season, here are my thirteen favorite biographies, memoirs, and history books of 2013. (Catch up on last year’s best history books.)…

2. My writing colleague Pat McNees,who is amazing, put together this great online resource called Memoir, biography and corporate history. Its subtitle says, Memoir or personal history, biography or autobiography, oral history or interview, corporate or organizational history — resources on various forms of life writing a/​k/​a life story writing. It is a truly amazing collection of linked reference materials you have to see to appreciate.

3. This New York Times review of Ben Yagoda’s book Memoir: A History, is fun to read. “He ambles past Holocaust memoirs, child abuse memoirs, sexual abuse memoirs, and incest, drug addiction, celebrity, spirituality, eating and parenting memoirs; pauses to contemplate the odd species of “investigative” memoir (written by or for someone who must supplement memory with research); notes with surprise the fake Holocaust memoir; and stops in amazement before the strangest hybrid of them all, O. J. Simpson’s “If I Did It,” a memoir in the conditional mood.”

4. This person, a serious fan of the memoir, has put together a Pinterest page showing memoirs: I’ve read a memoir a week starting in October 2011,” she writes. “Many of them are listed here, plus other memoirs/biographies that I continue to read.”

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Saving Face, & Voice, & Stories

My father died in 1983, when I was 20 and he was only 50.

I don’t know of any recordings of his voice that still survive, but I’d sure love to have one.

He died way before we were all walking around with cameras capable of recording video and audio in our pockets (or our hands).  Apple II

How he would have loved this digital age, by the way. Because of him, my family was an early adopter of the Apple II, with its Pong game and all, but really my dad missed about all of this digital era. He was a “techie” type, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he would have loved it.

But nowadays, with all this readily available technology all around us, making it so easy, do we remember to videotape/audiotape our parents? Our grandparents? How often do we record our family moving around and talking, so we can show our kids and grandkids later? So that later they will still be real people, just like us, instead of just names on a page? So we ourselves can see and hear them again decades from now, like magic?

And if we do, I don’t know if we always make sure to back up the recording and store it separately. And put it on a DVD, and label it. Does everybody think to make a few copies, and give them to different family members, or at least store them in different places, so they don’t all perish in the same disaster?

It’s so easy to do, whether casually or professionally (if you don’t have the time, know-how or energy, we can help you with it here at Talk Story Press). And it’s priceless to have later.

Verlyn Klinkenborg (is there a better name, by the way?) writes in the New York Times about getting his old voice back, after surgery to remove a papilloma on his vocal cord. And about voices that “recover memory and emotion and loss itself.”

What would we know if we could hear the voice of Cleopatra? How odd would Napoleon’s Corsican accent sound to modern French speakers? And what if we had two minutes of the voice of Shakespeare, who managed to leave so little of his personal self behind?

We might feel awe at hearing these voices, but very likely the recordings would be mere artifacts, overwhelmed by legend, deed and word. And these figures would still be strangers. It would be nothing like hearing again the intimate sound of a voice that has gone missing in your own life, a voice that recovers memory and emotion and loss itself.

Read his whole New York Times essay So Many Snapshots, So Few Voices Saved.

And don’t forget to take advantage of this great technology we have all around us, and record your family members – their faces, voices and stories. Someday, you, and others who come along later, will be so glad you did.

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