In a Daily Telegraph review of Diana Melly’s memoir Take a Girl Like Me, Andrew O’Hagan poses the question, “What makes a good memoir?”
It’s a question on which a lot of people have weighed in. Let’s look at a few of their answers to the question.
O’Hagan asserts that “…the well-written memoir has continued to promote the not-entirely-outrageous view that a properly interesting life is a worthwhile thing to read about. It also plays with the notion that sometimes (just sometimes) people might want to read about a life whose values are not like theirs.”
Elissa Elliot in a Books & Culture review of Sean Wilsey’s memoir Oh the Glory of It All observed, “Wilsey's book has all the elements of a good memoir. A good memoir is filled with wit, humor, and wisdom. A good memoir is honest—searingly so—and redemptive. A good memoir is not an easy weekend read; it causes considerable discomfort—that you, too, have done all these things, or might have, in similar circumstances; that you, too, have hurt people this badly. A good memoir says, "Here's the scumbag I was, but by the grace of God, look what happened!" The proof lies in the final, conciliatory pages, which say, I am what I am because of these people, my family. Thank you.”
Eric Forbes in a post on his Book Addict’s Guide to Good Books says, “A successful memoir brings about an intimacy or affinity between two perfect strangers: the reader and the memoirist.”
Finally, Neil Genzlinger, after generally excoriating the genre in his NY Times Book review piece The Problem with Memoirs concludes that a good memoir is “not a regurgitation of ordinariness or ordeal, not a dart thrown desperately at a trendy topic, but a shared discovery.”
Values, honesty, intimacy and discovery – not a bad list of goals to strive for in writing your memoir.
Click here to read Andrew O’Hagan’s view of What Makes a Good Memoir
Click here to read Elissa Elliot’s review
Click here to read Eric Forbes post
Click here to read Neil Genzlinger’s The Problem With Memoirs