Death and Dying.
Evolution. Evolutionary Psychology.
Personality Psychology Psychological research methods.
Psychology books: Nature of Prejudice by Gordon W. Allport.
Learned Optimism by Martin E. P. Seligman. Pessimism (defensive) (Norem).
Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas
by Professor Elaine Pagels.
Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code by Professor Bart D. Ehrman.
Our BLOG (web log) of Books to read.
Book Log archive. Best books read. Reviews of Harry Potter books.
Blog of Drabble's The Pattern in the Carpet. The Pattern in the Carpet as one of the Best books read in 2016.
Books on the writing process:
Mary Karr's The Art of Memoir. David Lodge's The Art of Fiction. Margaret Drabble's The Pattern in the Carpet.
Credited with sparking the current memoir explosion, Mary Karr's The Liar's Club
spent more than a year at the top of the New York Times list.
... Anchored by excerpts from her favorite memoirs and anecdotes from
fellow writers' experience, The Art of Memoir lays bare Karr's own process.
... As she breaks down the key elements of great literary memoir, she breaks open our concepts
of memory and identity, and illuminates the cathartic power of reflecting on the past.
[Front cover flap.]
I once heard Don DeLillo quip that a fiction writer starts with meaning
and then manufactures events to represent it; a memoirist starts with the events,
then derives meaning from them.
p. xvii (in Preface)
Unless you're a doubter and a worrier, a nail-biter, an apologizer, a rethinker,
then memoir may not be your playpen. That's the quality I've found most consistently in those
life-story writers I've met. Truth is not their enemy.
It's the bannister they grab for when feeling around on the dark cellar stairs.
It's the solution.
One not-really-in-joke saying in my family is,
"The trouble started when you hit me back."
Your small pieties and impenetrable, mostly unconscious poses invariably trip you up.
Here are the chapter titles and a selection of quotations:
My unscientific, decades-long study proves even the best minds warp and blur what they see.
For all of memory's power to yank us back into an overwhelming past, it can also fail big-time
— both short-term (the lost vehicle in a parking lot, the name on the tip of your tongue)
and long term (we made out in high school?). That's why I always send my manuscripts out to folks
I write about, because I don't trust my wiggly mind.
[U]ntruth is simple: making up events with the intent to deceive.
... Forget how inventing stuff breaks a contract with the reader;
it fences the memoirist off from the deeper truths that only surface in draft five or ten or twenty.
My own general idea is to keep the focus on myself and my own struggles, not speculate on other people's
motives, and not concoct events and characters out of whole cloth.
Her handy 10-question quiz does just what the title of the chapter offers.
Trying to catalog Nabokov's talents would take a library, and yet not to call out
Speak, Memory in a book about memoir would be like Fourth of July sans fireworks.
... You're intimate with the writer's thought processes without feeling that he has anything
in common with the likes of you.
... He's not just smarter but somehow more effete than most of us without seeming put on.
Students who fear sentimentality as death have to study
Nabokov, who proves that sentimentality is only emotion you haven't
proven to the reader — emotion without vivid evidence.
By carnal, I mean, Can you apprehend it through the five senses?
How are you trying to appear?
The author of a lasting memoir manages to power past the initial defenses,
digging past the false self to where the truer one waits to tell the more complicated story.
I must defend Hong Kingston's right to represent her own Chinese girlhood any way she damn pleases,
without checking with the male thought police first. ...
Hong Kingston's Woman Warrior has outlived the past's more sexist environment
to win the ardor of generations. It's a timeless monument to memoir's possibilities.
The chapter ends with Karr's 11 "rules for dealing with others", starting with:
1. Notify subjects way in advance, detailing parts that might make them wince.
So far, no one has ever winced.
2. On pain of death, don't show pages to anybody mid-process.
You want them to see your best work, polished.
She quotes from one of her 1978 poems (37 years before this book was published) and then says:
I won't bother to say what all is wrong with this — the snotty, devil-may-care tone,
which would better fit a jokester fool like Letterman;
or the crap line breaks — violent enjambments and uneven syllabic pattern chosen
for no reason. There's no data about who the woman is or why you should care.
Plus it's in no way true ... a fine example of my limited fictional imagination.
In terms of basic book shapes, I've used the same approach in all three of mine:
I start with a flash forward that shows what's at stake emotionally for me over the course
of a book, then tell the story in straightforward, linear time.
I wouldn't suggest that shape for everybody,
but I would say you have to start out setting emotional stakes
— why the enterprise is a passionate one for you, what's at risk — early on.
No matter how much you're gunning for truth, the human ego is also a stealthy,
low-crawling bastard, and for pretty much everybody, getting used to who you are
is a lifelong spiritual struggle ... rip out each mask as you find it blotting out your vision.
It takes an obsessive streak that borders on lunacy to go rummaging around
in the past as memoirists are wont to do, particularly a fragmented or
incendiary past, in which facts are sparse and stories don't match up.
Includes half a dozen tangential but relevant tasks to do when you feel (dare we say it) blocked.
Most memoirs fail because of voice.
It's not distinctive enough to sound alive and compelling.
Or there are staunch limits to emotional tone, so it emits a single register.
Being too cool or too shrill can ruin the read.
The sentences are so boring and predictable,
or it's so inconsistent you don't know who's speaking or what place they come from.
You don't believe or trust the voice.
Her 11-point checklist reprises points made already, consolidating them on two pages. The chapter ends with:
And one big fat caveat: lead with your own talent, which may cause you
to ignore all I've recommended.
Every reader who didn't fall for Michael Herr's voice in his seminal war memoir
Dispatches (1977) fell for it as a moviegoer in the haunting narration of Apocalypse Now
or his later script for Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket.
Karr then does a very practical and informative analysis of an opening from Herr's memoir. She concludes:
A serious student of memoir can pick apart or analyze any master this way to start dismantling
the underlying architecture of an otherwise seamless piece of prose.
Revision is the secret to their [her stuck students'] troubles — and yours.
That, and a sense of quality that exceeds what you can do — that gives you something to strive for.
Actually, every writer needs two selves — the generative self and the editor self.
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