The Quintessential Guide to Reading Memoir: An Introduction


Open book. Imagine I’m you. (Take your time for this is key).


You are the writer, the memoirist.


Now, tell the Big Lie. You would state the Big Lie with a phrase something like: What I’m about to tell you is a true story, or, I remember or This actual happened.


Elaborate on the overarching lie. This is done by creating some kind of narrative, a story, say, about your love of sail boats; the death of a relative; the bugs you collected as a child. Whatever; there have been memoirs about candy bars and cereal boxes; there have been memoirs dictated by madwomen and egotists. Anything goes.


As you write, don’t sweat “What” happened, give it a go, but don’t worry so much about that. Worry about “Who” happened.

That’s right. It’s not grammatically correct – who happened? – but in terms of memoirs is it. Who, who, who, who.

Who is the most important part of a memoir not “What” happened, because in all honesty the details hardly matter; what matters is the “Who” of the story because it’s the “Who” whose memory is on display in all its faulty and tattered plumage. Like a friend. Someone you trust, but sometimes you know puts a little too much mustard on the dog or forgets the name of the boy or girl you both courted in the second grade.


As the memoir progresses you will change, you will be transformed by the sailboats, the death, the bugs – heck, the candy bars. Some will call you solipsistic. Or mad with your just-so story. So be it. You can’t please everyone, right?


Tell everybody who are you, because as you go about composing this portrait of you (complex, weird, inconsistent, unreliable), the picture starts to transmogrify into me. Really: Trust yourself. It’s a little bit piece of magic.

A memoir: All stories are true. Imagine that.


Close memoir. Open another.


Repeat steps I-VIII.

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