Yeah, it’s ironic that a person who was (emphasis on was) writing a memoir actually doesn’t like reading memoirs. I guess I read one too many bad memoirs and trust me, there are lots of them. I will read just about anything until completion but there are so many memoirs I started and put down QUICKLY. I’ve found that I’m not a big fan of the gimmicky ones where someone decides to stop or start doing something for a year and I’m also not a fan of…well, memoirs. I prefer good old-fashioned fiction, sometimes with a twist of fantasy, a dash of vampires, true love or whatever makes me want to send several HEAVY copies to family members in Santo Domingo.
Someone told me that the parts in my now deceased (don’t ask, won’t tell) memoir where I talked about my childhood were riveting. Someone else more important told me to cut them all out because “child abuse memoirs had been done to death.” Someone else said it was “too Dominican.” So, really, has anyone else read a book where a Dominican-American girl runs away from home, kidnaps her sisters, fights her mother for custody and wins, then decides to convert to Judaism and falls in love and then marries a rabbinical student? Anybody? Seen it on the shelf? Anyone?
Memoir is so over that The New Yorker devoted an endless piece (okay, all The New Yorker pieces seem long after gobbling up soundbites in Time and Entertainment Weekly) to why it’s soooo over: BUT ENOUGH ABOUT ME: What does the popularity of memoirs tell us about ourselves? It all started with St. Augustine (good memoir, available on Kindle even) and ended with…everyone who Oprah featured on her show who later confessed their memoir was less than truthful or incredibly fictional (bad memoir). Of course, it ends with Oprah. Everyone who really believed I could write a great book said that I had to promise to take them on Oprah when she “discovered” me.
I met a writer recently who said that she was begging off of speaking engagements to focus on her book. Real writers know that writing a book, any book, is all-consuming. Writing belies any schedule because even when you find that you’ve put in the hours you promised, you still find yourself climbing out of the shower, soaking wet to jot down your latest innovation. G-d forbid you finish the shower and realize your idea went down the drain.
When you tell non-writers that you are writing a book, they blink back at you as if you’ve said you collect My Little Pony Stickers for a living (I’m not judging) and you are not really a person unless you have a publisher…or even if you do. Writers are not people, by which they mean people who make lots and lots of money or who have been “discovered” by Oprah and then gone on to make lots and lots of money.
Thankfully, I try to take all this with a grain of Kosher salt. When I read the reviews for people’s memoirs, I look for the indictments critics like to throw around: whiny, self-indulgent, too many tics, woe-is-me and a new one “middle-class woman who needs more real problems but then she’d just write about those.” Luckily, I ignored most of the reviews for Dani Shapiro’s new book, Devotion. I did what I find myself doing all the time whether or not I like a review, I go to Amazon.com, see if it’s available for Kindle and zap a “Sample” reading from the book into my Kindle. Based on that I decide whether a book is “Kindle-worthy,” bookshelf-worthy, only library-loan-worthy, etc. Yes, I have been converted into the cult of Kindle (and everything that doesn’t make the Kindle-worthy cut gets read on regular old paper on Shabbat).
I read the “Sample” for Shapiro’s book and I didn’t hesitate to click “Buy Now” at the end. I don’t know very much about middle-class anybody but I know a little about writing, a little bit about Judaism and a lot about searching for spirituality in the midst of everything mundane. Shapiro, a novelist whose books I’ve never read, grew up Orthodox, went “off-the-derech” (which to Orthodox people means going in any direction away from Orthodoxy) and finds her heart clenching when she realizes her young son can’t identify a mezuzah.
Now it’s time to go finish my (her) book.