“The ramblings and grumblings of author Ad Hudler”

Good memoirs leave the bullshitting behind
Friday, March 11, 2011

As I make make the transition from writing novels to memoirs (at least for the foreseeable future), and toil away on my own story of surviving the shock of the empty nest, I've been devouring as many memoirs as possible to help me learn.

There are a lot of bad memoirs out there.

And some good ones, too.
Among my favorites so far:

Lit by Mary Karr: An honest look at how alcohol shaped a mother's relationship with her son.

Lauretta Hannon's Cracker Queen: A tale of growing up poor in Warner Robbins, Georgia. I liked its mix of humor that occasionally turned on a dime, 180 degrees, into sadness.

Also: At Least in the City Someone can Hear You Scream, by Wade Rouse. The newest of the gay-boy memoirists. Funny like Sedaris but with a more youthful energy and sarcasm, which appeals to the junior-high boy in me.

And, finally, one I could not put down: The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls ... a story of kids raised by brilliant, gifted parents who taught their kids philosophy and physics but couldn't even put food on the table. In the words of my friend, who also read the book: This is another good example of showing, not telling. Without the violins. The facts themselves are so outrageous and compelling. She just needs to tell the story.

Here's what all these books have in common: absolute honesty. I've determined that the best memoirs ring true. Writing the truth is hard. For months, I was trying to hide behind humor while writing my own memoir, and my agent pushed me and pushed me to look beyond the humor, at the truth. It's been a grueling process, but I think I'm well on the way to creating something wonderful.

Because we have so much information available to us these days, we as a culture have developed a heightened ability to detect bullshit. It's definitely made the memoirist's job even harder.


Blogger Carey said...

Rick Bragg once told me "if it means something to you, then by all means, write it." But what are your thoughts on memoir writing...how do you know if a memoir is just another "sob story"?


March 11, 2011 at 11:36 AM  
Blogger Libby McMillan said...

Ad, this is exciting. I certainly can see how it would be easier to shy away from certain truths - who wants to really relive the worst moments of their lives? So I say "bravo" to your bravery and will anxiously await this tome! I probably only THINK I know you. ;-)

March 11, 2011 at 11:53 AM  
Blogger Ad Hudler said...

thanks, Libby...
And Carey: Yep, therein lies the challenge: writing a memoir that is unique both in content and style. I have picked up maybe 30 in the past year and have finished only about 7. The voice has to be fresh; it has to take me somewhere interesting and enlightening. And, as my friend says, no violins.

March 11, 2011 at 1:04 PM  

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