I encourage them to rethink their idea of memoir. Unfortunately a lot of the memoirs are celebrity fare, better suited for the National Enquirer than a book. The story of victimization or recovery from some trauma makes up another healthy chunk of the memoir section in bookstores. But you don’t need to be a traumatized celebrity to write a memoir.
What makes memoir such a rich genre is that it allows the reader to view the world through the eyes of the author. Each individual has a unique perspective and gains unique insights from her individual experiences. The memoir is a process of exploration and self-discovery that can sometimes lead to a greater understanding of the human condition. I think what memoir readers find fascinating is not so much the experiences but the insights and most of all the unique voice with which memoirs express them. Frank McCourt won the Pulitzer with Angela’s Ashes for his voice not his experiences. A strong voice expressing personal insights and emotions can elevate relatively mundane experiences to art.
Mitch Albom turned an experience common to everyone, the death of a loved one, and turned it into one of the most popular memoirs of recent years, Tuesdays With Morrie, which has sold 11 million copies. It is a simple chronicle of the lessons about life Albom learned from his old college professor who is dying of ALS – Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
It is telling your stories from your unique viewpoint and sharing the unique insights you have gained from those experiences in your own unique voice that makes a memoir interesting, not necessarily the events themselves. That’s why H.L Menken said, “Who ever heard, indeed, of an autobiography that was not interesting? I can recall none in all the literature of the world.”