Saturday, January 29, 2011

"the lost art of shutting up"

(Illustration by Timothy Goodman)

Did you read this article in the New York Times Book Review? The one about memoirs? I'll give you a minute. It's worth it. Critic and playwright Neil Genzlinger wrote a ballsy, sharp, and necessary critique on the state of a swollen genre: the memoir. My co-worker, preceptor, and friend Lisa forced me to read the article, and I almost cried laughing with relief.

As booksellers we see tons of books... you know...daily. There is no shortage of people writing memoirs. In fact, we thought about renaming the section "My childhood was worse than yours." It's not that we don't love well written, unique and quality prose, it's just that it would be nice if the quality of memoirs had to adhere to the same or similar standards as other genres. Consider this: If a poet writes a collection of confessional poems and pays no attention to craft ( it is sloppy, poorly edited and it's readability is dependent solely on the sexiness of the disclosure), it would get panned as self indulgent drivel.

As a student in an MFA program, I have lots of friends writing their memoirs, and as I would like to keep them friends...I will tread carefully here.

Not all humans experience the same suffering. Now, it is possible that all humans experience suffering the same, but the two are wildly different. I understand that if the worst trauma someone endures is a rejection letter from an Ivy, then that pain will register as high in their mind/ bodies' barometer as perhaps the disappointment of another individual who say, lost their children to starvation and curable childhood disease. Pain is relative. I get that. Human suffering is human suffering.


when we sit down to write we have the obligation, and responsibility to the readers to make sure that what we have to say needs saying. ...("needs" is a very flexible word in this context.)

1.) Is what you are saying new?

2.) Is how you are saying it new?

3.) The above two qualifiers, substitute new with "better than TV"

Personally, I kinda love memoirs. I love a self indulgent voyeuristic jaunt into the hologram of another's domestic horror show. I just expect their suburban tragedy to be...well....tragic...or at least tragically well written.

So....Thanks you Neil Genzlinger for your wonderful review. I will now read "An Exclusive Love" because of your brilliant critique by comparison. More please.

Ok. Off my high horse.

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