Thursday, February 09, 2006

Memoirs

The extent to which memoirs are true does matter to me. But, when I pick up a memoir, be it Moehringer’s wonderful The Tender Bar or Julia Scheeres’ riveting Jesus Land (about which I expect to have more to say next week), I find that one of the pleasures I seek is wholly narcissistic: I love reading memoirs by people my age, by people who went to one of my schools, came from my town.

The pleasure decreases, however, when I actually know the author. To me, hearing Dave’s beautiful podcast of his memoir and to know exactly where his dad took him and his sister to feed the ducks and talk about the divorce just hurts. I fed the ducks there, too. And, since we’re about the same age, I know that I fed the ducks there exactly then. That’s not a pleasurable identification but a distressingly uncanny one. I feel like I should rush back with a big bag of stale bread from the QFC and stand beside him, chucking hunks of it at the mallards.

In another case, I found myself changing my opinion of a newish friend upon learning how unethically she had once behaved. Still once more, I was confirmed and disappointed to see that I wasn’t even a separate character—just one of many—in the memoir of someone I had had a Titanic-sized crush on.

I asked for Scheeres’ book for Christmas and my motive, as ever, was narcissistic and impure: she had been miserable—truly, deeply, abused and miserable—in two places where I, too, have been unhappy. We’re the same age—a plus, as I said before—but we were not in these places at the same time, nor does my mild depression compare with the actual abuse she suffered. Still, part of what drew me in and pulled me through the book was the perverse pleasure in reading along and being able to say, wholly speciously—but privately—I knew that was a bad place…

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Anne,

Thanks for the nice things you said about my memoir. It really is a different experience, reading the memoirs of someone you know, isn't it?

I guess that's part of why famous people's memoirs sell so well. People want to feel like they know the person they're reading about. My aunt sat in line for six hours waiting for Bill Clinton to sign her copy of his book, because she felt such an intimate personal connection with him.

I'm like you, though. I prefer reading the memoirs of people I don't know, and I like it even better when I don't know any of the other characters either. When a famous person intrudes on an "anonymous" person's memoir, to me it starts to become a news story, instead of a personal reflection.

Dave Munger said...

Oops! accidentally published anonymously. That was me!

Anne said...

You're welcome, Dave.

I don't mind the moments when famous people "intrude": they often remind me of that old great Letterman skit, the "brush with greatness." Of all of those, my favorite one was when I guy I'd dated (at GHS) was the person who'd HAD the "brush with greatness"! It was very po-mo.

I think your perception has more integrity than mine, but then, I spend time at Gawker and Go Fug Yourself....I have a little bit of that celebrity bug...

Cheers, Anne