By November 20, 2009 2 Comments Read More →

Is Memoir the New Literary Fiction?

read-on-life-storiesI’ve been thinking about memoirs again while reading Rosalind Reisner’s new book, Read On… Life Stories. It’s a superb addition to the Read On… series, providing annotated lists of books selected from the best of memoir and biography, with each list focusing on a particular storyline, character type, setting, writing and language style, or mood. Reisner’s book is a strong entry on the shelf of books that groups can consult to find wonderful discussion titles.

Reisner’s book isn’t the only new contribution to discussion of memoirs. University of Delaware journalism professor Ben Yagoda is receiving attention in the blogosphere (for instance here at Salon) for his new memoirbook Memoir: A History. Yagoda takes the long view, mixing literary criticism with cultural history. As he shows, claims that memoirs are narcissistic, stretch truth, or in some cases are outright lies are as old as the format itself. But these claims have not slowed the rise of the memoir, Yagoda argues, and may be somewhat motivated by a need in some quarters to defend the novel’s supremacy.

The issues that Yagoda raises have interesting implications for book groups. Memoirs get lots of love in our circles. In addition to the book’s actual content, it’s always interesting to discuss questions like how much the author re-created from memory, where reality might have been embellished, how the memoir reflects on its author’s character, or how it might have been received by the people it mentions. Yagoda’s book itself is full of interesting tidbits for discussion. It would pair well in consecutive book group meetings with a free choice of memoirs.

At the end of the day, and despite all the controversy about the veracity of recent memoirs, the form continues to sell well and seems to be the testing ground of choice for many new writers, who choose to employ it instead of literary fiction, historical nonfiction, and other literary forms and genres. While it is a stretch to say that the memoir has replaced the novel’s primacy, it’s certainly taking a growing share of the market. Armed with Reisner and Yagoda’s books, you’ll be ready to ride the wave of the form’s popularity.



About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

2 Comments on "Is Memoir the New Literary Fiction?"

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  1. memoire de forme | May 8, 2015
  1. Fellow writer Eric Sasson were talking at Sally Jane Kerschen-Sheppard’s pahty on Wednesday in Manhattan and we were discussing precisely this. Eric convinced me to go to Naomi Rosenblatt of Heliotrope Books to see about pitching my next novel as creative non fiction. Admitting that it is indeed the truth is a bit scary but the potential of reaching a wider audience more quickly might be worth it. Thanks for writing this.

    -Elizabeth Dembrowsky, author of -My Monk-, working on it’s true sequel -Harriet Ever After-.

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