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Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir Paperback – May 20, 1998


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Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir + Writing About Your Life: A Journey into the Past + On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Rev Sub edition (May 20, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395901502
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395901502
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #44,559 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Every time Inventing the Truth appears in a new edition, editor William Zinsser can't help but add to it. The first edition (1987) evolved from a series of New York Public Library talks, for which the mandate was not to lecture about the genre of the memoir but to explain how a specific memoir came to be written. In the book's 1995 edition, Russell Baker, Annie Dillard, Alfred Kazin, and Toni Morrison were joined by Jill Ker Conway, Eileen Simpson, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Ian Frazier. This time around, Zinsser has added a rich and charming reminiscence by Frank McCourt (Angela's Ashes).

The authors do stick to their assignment: Russell Baker credits his huge family with helping him "learn a lot about humanity from close-up observation"; Jill Ker Conway talks about her desire to write a female memoir that was not a romantic happily-ever-after; and Henry Louis Gates Jr. discusses "want[ing] to write a book that imitated the specialness of black culture when no white people are around." But there is also plenty of advice for writers here, and some general thoughts about the genre. Conway addresses the difficulty of "going back as a historian" and trying to understand "all the things you took as a given when you were a child." Gates warns us to "be prepared for the revelation of things you don't even dream are going to come up." And Annie Dillard contemplates the strangeness of spending "more time writing about [a scene or an event] than you did living it." --Jane Steinberg

From Publishers Weekly

Russell Baker, in writing his memoirs, left out a principal characterhis motherin the first draft. After much torment, he realized that "although nobody's life makes any sense . . . you might as well make it into a story." The six essays in this symposium explore the craft of memoir, defined here as a portion of a life, narrower in scope than autobiography. Annie Dillard argues that the best memoirs forge their own forms. Toni Morrison describes how slave narratives have influenced her work. New York's streets gave Alfred Kazin "physical images, straight from the belly," which he shaped into his self-portrait, A Walker in the City. Lewis Thomas weaves reflections on human adaptability, memory and evolution. In his introductory essay, Zinsser discusses why a good memoir is also a work of history, capturing a distinctive moment in the life of a society.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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This is an excellent book on writing memoirs.
Barbara Y. Stewart
This book would be very helpful for anyone considering writing a memoir and it's a terrific cross-section of the genre for anyone wanting to read some of the best.
Joan Mazza
The writer of a memoir must become "the editor of his own life. He must cut and prune an unwieldy story" and give it shape.
Mark Silrum

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
Memoir writers Russell Baker, Annie Dillard, Alfred Kazin, Toni Morrison, and Lewis Thomas share their thoughts on writing memoir. The chapters are taken from a series of talks given on the subject.
The authors point out that memoir is not biography. The hardest thing about writing memoir, they agree, is not deciding what to put in, but what to leave out.
They point to Emerson, Thoreau, Twain, and each other as models of good memoir writers.
Annie Dillard says that she writes memoir to fashion a text. She advises that those who want to preserve memories will avoid writing memoir since the act of writing an event often takes more time than the event itself. She compares writing to taking care of a baby. "You don't take care of a baby out of will-power, you do it out of love," she says. It's the same, she says, with writing.
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52 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Kitty Axelson-Berry on December 14, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is a must-read for anyone embarking on a memoirs project because it helps clarifying the question of WHOSE truths can and should be expressed in a memoirs. As the president of Modern Memoirs, a private publishing firm that specializes in personal memoirs and family histories, I am constantly recommending it to clients and their families. It's especially useful when one member of the family wants THEIR version of the truth to supercede the memoirist's own version. Good companion to Tristine Rainer's excellent The New Autobiography, and Richard Stone's The Sacred Art of Storytelling.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Joan Mazza on September 25, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In INVENTING THE TRUTH, several memoirists offer their viewpoints on writing about one's life. Each author talks about the process of discovering different ways to tell their own stories and then subjecting their stories to a critical analysis, understanding that it might be told differently. They consider how the author knows too much and must distill this glut of information into a dramatic, readable narrative that will hold a reader. That means using many of the techniques of fiction, but also being true to the events. The examples prompted me to buy several of the memoirs discussed. This book would be very helpful for anyone considering writing a memoir and it's a terrific cross-section of the genre for anyone wanting to read some of the best. ~Joan Mazza, author of DREAM BACK YOUR LIFE, DREAMING YOUR REAL SELF, and 3 books in The Guided Journal Series with Writer's Digest.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Lyndsey Davis on December 7, 2001
Format: Paperback
Capturing Your Memories
In the book Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Writing a Memoir William Zinsser along with other well renown authors take the reader through the writing process of a memoir.
The book is divided into six sections individually composed by each author. In their own words they describe how to create a memoir that will be interesting, fluid, and accurate. A memoir is not just the facts as they are, but the facts as you experienced them. There are many other pieces of advice through out the book that add to the reader's knowledge of writing a memoir.
William Zinsser is a well renowned author and teacher. He has written and been editor for the New York Herald Tribune, and Life Magazine. Zinsser has also taught non-fiction writing at Yale University. In his book Inventing the Truth Zinsser gathers advice from many talented and experienced authors. They not only offer up advice but also describe their own trials and tribulations throughout the process. From Zinsser's boyhood in Long Island to Thomas's interpretation of evolution the book Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Writing a Memoir gives comfortable and informative lessons that a writer will find useful.
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45 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Katie McCabe on December 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
According to Webster, the definition of memoir is "a biographical sketch, usually one written by someone who knows the subject well." It is from the Latin word memoria, meaning memory. But in Inventing the Truth, Annie Dillard says, "Don't hope in a memoir to preserve your memories. If you prize your memories as they are by all means avoid--eschew--writing a memoir" (70). Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir is a sort of instructional anthology composed of six chapters written by six authors. The purpose of this book, edited and introduced by William Zinsser, is to give writers different perspectives on how to write a memoir. If you are writing a memoir, or even just thinking about writing one, this book will be helpful to you. It contains examples of good memoir writing, advice on what to put in and what to leave out, and an overview of the process of writing a memoir. The advice given by William Zinsser and the other five contributors to Inventing the Truth pertains mostly to organizing memories. Annie Dillard's chapter entitled "To Fashion a Text" is very focused on memoir writing, and would not prove useful to the average Joe. However, Lewis Thomas' chapter called "A Long Line of Cells" would be interesting for anyone to read. Unless you are thinking about writing a memoir, this book probably will not entirely interest you.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A. Nocerino on March 17, 2007
Format: Paperback
Zinsser is a Zen master when it comes to memoir writing. The introduction to this book is nothing short of a tour de force. It inspires, articulates, and deconstructs the myths and perils of memoir writing. The title, INVENTING THE TRUTH, is well crafted because the book addresses the ardous task of conflating truth and memory. One caveat this book is not an easy read for high school students; in fact it is nearly inaccessible, however, a teacher or memorist could glean invaluable experience on the craft of memoir writing from the collection. In a college memoir class this book would be and should be a must-have. If this book were to be expanded again, I would suggest including exercises or contemplation questions for the writer,teacher, and student.
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