Monday, January 25, 2010


Over at The New Yorker, Daniel Mendelsohn takes an interesting look at America's recent obsession/sickness for memoir.  With a few striking exceptions - modern memoirs make me feel somewhat ambivalent.  I understand the need and the desire for the author, and I also understand why the public likes to read stories of redemption.  Still, something about the modern memoir often turns me off. 

In an interview I read in the fall 2009 issue of The Missouri Review with Alexander Hemon, Hemon calls memoir a particularly American phenomena as well.  Hemon, for one, is less than entranced with memoir.  He points to a story - which I half believe he made up - of a British vicar who chronicled, minute by minute, the ever-plodding days of his life.  The point, for Hemon, is that fiction is where it's at because it's possibly true, while with memoir, which is actually true, you lose out on the fantastic possibilities found in fiction.  Or something like that.

In any case, Mendelsohn, while ostensibly reviewing Ben Yagoda's new book, Memoir: A History, delves into the illustrious (or, depending on your sensibilities, depraved) past of memoir, and argues that the modern memoir has indeed changed, because modern life has changed.  In an age where "reality shows" provide the same thrills as Emma Bovary, but with extremely fat people or The Situation taking place of the wilted lover on the page, in other words, with "reality" so crazed, so fictionalized, why would one want to read something that isn't true?

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