June 27, 2011

Why (Read) Memoir?

Recently I put down a memoir. I'd picked it up on the recommendation of Michael and Ann of the excellent podcast Books on the Nightstand, and gotten about 40 pages or so into the story before setting it down again. At the time I couldn't quite pinpoint why I was having trouble getting into the story. The writing was quite good -- the author is a well-received writer of novels -- so that wasn't the problem. But for some reason, I just wasn't captivated.

There are a lot of reasons why books captivate or bore, and I could write at length about all of those. I'm not trying to make an all-encompassing statement here on why I read in general. But I was able, after a few days of thought, to come up with the particular reasons I'd put down this particular memoir. It wasn't because it was a bad book. It wasn't because the author is a bad writer. To put it simply, there are two reasons I read memoir (assuming, of course, a baseline of decent writing and storytelling, and the like).

1. The author. There are fascinating people out there, and though I'm not prone to celebrity stalking as much as some people, there are certain well-known people I pay attention to. Neil Gaiman, for instance. I would definitely pick up a memoir by Neil Gaiman, or by Vienna Teng. Musicians, politicians, actors, writers -- there are many whose name on a book would immediately pique my interest.

2. The subject matter. I am a travel memoir junkie, mostly because I can't afford to do any of the traveling myself. Same goes for food -- can I afford to hit the hot spots where twelve course dinners are $250 a person? Hell no. Also, I've got some food allergy troubles. But for some reason, I've been really into food memoirs lately, by chefs or just really good eaters. Add to this list the ever-increasing line of subjects I find fascinating... Bee-keeping, for one. I would read a memoir about bee-keeping. Or jaguar-taming.

The problem with the memoir that shall go unnamed is not that it was bad, as I said earlier. It's just that I read memoirs for two very simple reasons, and this memoir satisfied neither of those. I know the author's name, but am not particularly interested in him otherwise, and the lens of the story was not a subject I found interesting.

So readers, why do you read memoirs? Do you read them at all?

5 comments:

  1. I'm not particuliar to memoirs, I'm not sure why. Anne Frank's diary was one of my favorite books growing up. If it's a storyline whereis the author survived great odds, I might be intrigued. Otherwise the little details around me are enough real life portrayal. (Hugs)Indigo

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  2. I don't think I've ever read a memoir! I prefer fiction, or books on science.

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  3. @fairyhedgehog

    What about a memoir about science? (The only one that immediately comes to mind is "How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming," by Mike Brown.)

    Yes, memoirs are definitely not for everyone. I only got into them recently...

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  4. @Indigo

    Memoirs are definitely not for everyone. But if you're interested in books about authors surviving great odds, I'm sure there are some out there! Hmm... I haven't read any (sadly?) but it sounds like something there'd be a huge market for.

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  5. That looks fun! I might see if our local library has it.

    I read Fermat's Last Theorem which wasn't really a memoir, if I'm remembering right, but sounds similar in many ways.

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