The Art of Memoir By Mary Karr

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Goodreads Synopsis: Credited with sparking the current memoir explosion, Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club spent more than a year at the top of the New York Times list. She followed with two other smash bestsellers: Cherry and Lit, which were critical hits as well.

For thirty years Karr has also taught the form, winning graduate teaching prizes for her highly selective seminar at Syracuse, where she mentored such future hit authors as Cheryl Strayed, Keith Gessen, and Koren Zailckas. In The Art of Memoir, she synthesizes her expertise as professor and therapy patient, writer and spiritual seeker, recovered alcoholic and “black belt sinner,” providing a unique window into the mechanics and art of the form that is as irreverent, insightful, and entertaining as her own work in the genre.

Anchored by excerpts from her favorite memoirs and anecdotes from fellow writers’ experience, The Art of Memoir lays bare Karr’s own process. (Plus all those inside stories about how she dealt with family and friends get told— and the dark spaces in her own skull probed in depth.) 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; anybody with an inner life or complicated history, whether writer or reader, will relate.

Joining such classics as Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, The Art of Memoir is an elegant and accessible exploration of one of today’s most popular literary forms—a tour de force from an accomplished master pulling back the curtain on her craft.

Find on Amazon and Goodreads. 

Though I am primarily a poet and fiction writer, I would like to write my memoirs eventually. Thus how I came to pick up this book in the first place. But sadly I found, for me, this book was a waste of time.

The Art of Memoir is not helpful. There are very few actual activities that Karr suggests to do to help you with your memoir writing. When I’m reading a “how-to” book I’d like to be given activities. That was one reason I didn’t enjoy it.

I also didn’t like how long-winded and rambly it was. I wanted to get to the point, the “bit of insight” but Karr wanted to go on a tangent about how people have a hard time remembering things.

Added on to this I hated it when Karr would say things like “get a real job” to the writers reading her book. Which is all very well and nice for someone to say after they’ve had 7 books published and made money on them.

I think this book is a case of it just wasn’t for me. I found myself bugged by the voice of the author, and only found one activity with practical advice on writing. I gave this book 1 star on Goodreads. Don’t bother with it.  If you want advice on writing, try Natalie Goldberg.

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