Many thanks to author and teacher Laura Davis for this great advice for memoirists:
If you want to write a memoir, it’s essential that you read good ones. Become a student of the genre. What I ask my students to do is to learn to read as a writer, not as a reader. This means studying a book, not just being entertained by it. I ask my students to read books twice—once to fully inhabit the story, to experience it as a “naïve reader.” And the second time to read beyond the story—to look at the choices the author made and analyze why he/she made those choices.
Some of the questions you can ask yourself when you’re studying a memoir are:
1. Why did this author start the story where she did? Why did she end it where she ended it?
2. Does this writer have empathy for all the characters in the book? Why or why not?
3. What do you think was left out?
4. How is the memoir structured? Why?
5. What did the author choose to reveal about herself? Not reveal?
Here’s a list of some of my favorites, just to get you started:
1. Road Song by Natalie Kusz
2. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
3. Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
4. Half the House by Richard Hoffman
5. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
6. Jarhead by Anthony Swofford
7. Expecting Adam by Martha Beck
8. The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber
9. Annie’s Ghosts by Steve Luxemburg
10. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
11. Farm City by Novella Carpenter
12. Madness by Marya Hornbacher
Laura Davis is the author of seven bestselling books including The Courage to Heal, Becoming the Parent You Want to Be, and I Thought We’d Never Speak Again. She teaches writing in Santa Cruz and around the country. There are still a few spaces left in her upcoming Memory to Memoir Retreat at a beautiful retreat center above Santa Cruz, on the weekend of November 4th-6th.
Laura Davis: http://www.lauradavis.net
Memory to Memoir Retreat: http://lauradavis.net/roadmap/?page_id=302
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