Memoirs

There’s been much talk recently about authors writing “memoirs” that turned out to be more novel than memoir.  I think that’s being more generous than may be deserved, but I’m in a good mood tonight.  I was thinking about memories today at work, and one question popped into my mind.  Is there such a thing as a completely true memoir?

To be my cynical self, I highly doubt it.  I’m sure that most memoirs are deeply rooted in fact.  My reason for questioning whether there are any out there that don’t have mistakes in them is  that humans have a tendency to remember things differently than they occurred.  Sometimes, the differences are slight.  Other times, a memory turns out to be more of a fantasy or nightmare than it actually was.

I know there are many things in my own life that I remember differently than they were.  Over time, as the memories fade, it seems like they take on a life of their own in my mind as if to say, “Hey, I’m here, you can’t forget me!”  The good memories become even better memories, the bad ones are terrifying.

One in particular that I question is one of the terrifying ones.  In my mind, I can see a tan sedan pull up next to me as I’m walking up Union Street, the street that intersected my street.  A man leans over and says something to me and I freak out.  I run through the Glassmakers’ yard, through Grandma J’s, and the Larsons’.  When I get home, I’m winded and scared to death.  Did that really happen?  Did it happen the way I see it in my mind?  Twenty plus years later, I’m just not sure.

I also remember grocery shopping with my grandpa on Saturday mornings.  We always went to Sentry.  The memory shows a little girl cheerfully walking through the store enjoying samples of new foods.  I also remember that liverwurst was on the shopping list every week and we would go back home, slice it, and have sandwiches with oleo for lunch.  Being a mother now, I wonder if I was as content and well behaved as I think I was.  Perhaps children tend to behave differently when they’re with the grandparents than with mom and dad.  I know I wasn’t a little angel in the stores for my mom!

I don’t think there will ever be a memoir that doesn’t contain some sort of inaccuracies in it.  After typing this out, I think a memoir is the most accurate reflection as we remember.

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One Response to Memoirs

  1. Well said! I recently learned that the publisher I’m querying for my essay collection would publish the book as a “memoir.” I think that, perhaps, it would be seen as such, given that it’s a collection of essays covering the first 5 years of my child’s life. However, I think even though some memoirs have inaccuracies and inconsistencies, some of the authors set out to write an honest-to-God retelling of events. At least, as far as THEY can remember them. And, yes, it’s true that people see things differently. The question, though, is where readers and publishers are willing to draw the line between “novel” and “memoir.”

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