In this collection of essays, Patricia Hampl attempts to explain the lure of the memoir. It is today one of the most popular literary genres, but not long ago, readers would have been hard-pressed even to find memoir sections in their favorite bookstores. Hampl, who herself is a memoirist of note (A Romantic Education
and Virgin Time
) opens the book with some of her own memories. She recalls a bus trip during the Vietnam War era to visit her "draft resister" boyfriend in jail. When the bus stops along the way in a small town, she notices a large, middle-age woman passionately kissing a very handsome, much younger man, or is it the other way around? The woman boards the bus while the young man runs along outside, blowing her kisses. She takes the seat next to Hampl and says with a sigh, "I could tell you stories."
This small event sets the stage for the rest of the book--it draws a narrative out of a mostly mundane moment and underscores the complicated nature of remembering events as they actually happened. She writes that because "everyone 'has' a memoir, we all have a stake in how such stories are told. For we do not, after all, simply have experience; we are entrusted with it." In the balance of the book, Hampl examines the autobiographical writings of St. Augustine, Anne Frank, Sylvia Plath, Edith Stein, and Czeslaw Milosz. In each instance, she attempts to uncover the writer's intentions and reveal the true secrets that lurk in the shadows of what's on the page. I Could Tell You Stories is an excellent investigation into what makes a story essentially worthy of being told and ultimately read--a good companion to whatever book is currently in your hands. --Jordana Moskowitz
From Library Journal
Several of the writers featured in these volumes make reference to the problem of memoirs in contemporary culture: their proliferation, the troubled skepticism about their value and meaning, and the disdain for their perceived narcissism. In different ways, these books explore those issues and embody the best that memoir can beAintelligent and perceptive reflection that looks both inward and outward. Edited by Baxter, a novelist and critic, the third volume in the provocative "Graywolf Forum" series offers timely insights into the place of memory and memoir in contemporary society. In his introduction, Baxter identifies the unifying theme of the essays as a dual anxiety about the public and the private and what he calls "the effect of memory's peculiar privacy." These are self-conscious and beautifully written essays that deftly explore the act of memoir-making and the art of storytelling. Ranging from tales of trauma and loss to quotidian and even banal events, they probe the tension between memory and forgetting and the mysteries of how we do each. In I Could Tell You Stories, award-winning writer Hampl collects 11 essays, eight previously published (and one of which appears in Baxter's volume). Here the pivotal theme is the fusion of the reader and writer at the heart of the writer's "communion of the word." In polished narratives rich with evocative detail and astute observations on reading and writing about other authorsAincluding Walt Whitman, St. Augustine, Franz Kafka, Sylvia Plath, and Czeslaw MiloszAHampl achieves what she praises Whitman for, placing herself "between the personal and the impersonal." In so doing, she offers fresh perspectives on memory, writing, and literature. Both books are recommended for academic and public libraries.AJulia Burch, Cambridge, MA
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