By November 28, 2011 0 Comments Read More →

Mary Karr’s Lit: One Book, Two Groups

Last week I had the opportunity to facilitate my colleague’s book group’s discussion of Mary Karr’s third memoir, Lit. My book group had discussed Lit earlier in the year. I was especially interested in how the reception of the book might differ between groups. And differ it did.

Karr’s no-holds-barred memoir dives into her alcoholic binges as a new mother. Like my group, this group also found Karr initially off-putting, as one reader said, “a person I don’t want to meet.” But whereas my group had found themselves warming after an initial chill, many in this group never found sympathy with Karr or found very little.

We discussed the possible difference between autobiography and memoir, coming to the conclusion that memoirs can focus on an aspect or small time period in a life, thus enabling a person to write multiple books about their lives. The group said they felt Karr was self-absorbed but did admit she had a gift for writing.

Other observations that came up in the discussion that did not come up in the prior one: they would have liked to see the same book written from her husband’s or even her son’s perspective and they found Karr’s mother more compelling than Karr herself.

We also talked more about the title. Lit obviously refers to a common euphemism for drinking, “getting lit,” but we discussed how it could also refer to literature and to being lit from within through the power of faith.

One question I posed to the group as they were harder on Karr overall was whether we are harder on women than men when it comes to drinking or child neglect and whether we are easier on male writers who drink despite their parental responsibilities than women. We didn’t come to a conclusion on this, but it is an assumption that Karr defends against, to some degree, in her self-deprecation and humor. We also talked about why Karr starts her memoir with a letter to her son. Has she truly made amends to him?

Any way you slice it, Mary Karr’s Lit provides plenty to talk about.

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

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