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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A reminder that truth is elusive; memory and assumptions will trip us up, September 23, 2007
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This review is from: The Memoir and the Memoirist: Reading and Writing Personal Narrative (Paperback)
When I reached the end of this book, without pausing I turned back to page one and began it again. That's because the author put far more thought and insight into this ambitious undertaking than I was able to absorb in one pass.

The modern-day memoir--life stories written by ordinary folks--has vocal detractors. Some dismiss it as facile self-absorption. Others recoil from the lurid sensationalism found in certain examples and extrapolate from that to the whole genre. Thomas Larson, perhaps for the first time, explains here what is really going on in memoir and makes a case for its acceptance, along with the essay, the novel, and other forms, as serious literature.

This book will not tell you how to write your own memoir. However, it WILL help you evaluate your work in terms of its honesty. If you have been penning a simple chronological account of your exploits and mishaps, this book will encourage a deeper analysis. According to Larson, a serious memoirist is disclosing the truth of events and motivations to himself at the same time he discloses it to the reader, is questioning his memory, assumptions, values, and--in the process of reconciling past drama with the present drama of grappling with it--transforming and liberating himself.

This kind of introspection is an entirely different thing from the self-justification found in autobiographies of famous people. Larson finds it healthier, so much so that he ends up recommending it not only for memoirists but for all of us.

The Memoir and The Memoirist is both scholarly and personable. In part, that means it examines what works (and occasionally fails to work) in a number of well-known memoirs. But, as in a memoir, the author is present in the material as well. I was startled to notice a couple of minor errors in his discussion of one memoir (e.g., Laron remembers the author's father as being a Vietnam vet when that book states he served in Korea). I doubt that these subtle slips were intentional, but actually they prove his point: Truth is elusive, memory and assumptions will trip us up all the time. All the more reason for the tentative, self-doubting approach taken in what he feels are the best memoirs.

I expect to read this yet book again, and soon. I so admire what Larson has done with the subject.
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Location: San Diego, CA United States

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