Sunday’s New York Times Book Review reminded us that sometimes taking a much narrower focus makes for a better story. Two somewhat offbeat memoirs were reviewed - Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling by Beth Raymer and Wide Awake: A Memoir of Insomnia Patricia Morrisroe. The lesson? A memoir or family history need not be a complete, chronological life story to be interesting.
In Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling, Raymer seeks to give her readers a glimpse into a universe far different than their own. As reviewer Lynn Harris summarizes, “Six 40-inch televisions, each showing a different sport; a banquet table cluttered with hockey digests and Yoo-Hoo; the boss sausaged into tube socks and armed with a copy of Hide You’re A$$ets and Disappear: no this is not your typical workplace. But then, professional sports betting – a sordid, florid microworld lurching along the edge of society, not to mention legality – is not your typical job.”
To read the reviews, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/11/books/review/Pinsky-t.html
In Wide Awake: A Memoir of Insomnia, Morrisroe, an insomniac, seeks the cause of and a solution for her condition among over 80 identified forms of sleep disorder. Reviewer Robert Pinsky says that she, “shapes this material as a personal narrative of her quest for better sleep, an odyssey of encounters with various drug researchers and dispensers, psychotherapists and mystics and conference-goers, as well as a range of savants, bullies, discoverers, profiteers, innovators and at least one sage.”
These two books demonstrate that the key to writing a good memoir is finding and exploring what’s unique about you, your history and formative experiences. Then the goal is to present your knowledge in a way that is compelling, one that will allow your reader to share your experience.