Why We Write about Ourselves (★★★★★)


Edited by Meredith Maran  *  Plume  *  January 26, 2016  *  272 Pages

I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting from this book, but, wow, it blew me away. In Why We Write about Ourselves, twenty popular authors share their experiences of writing their own memoirs. They speak about revealing themselves, of being painfully honest, of protecting (or not) the ones they love (or don’t).

The themes in every chapter are similar (I’m guessing Maran asked specific questions of each author), but, surprisingly, their perspectives vary a lot–much more than I was anticipating. It seems that most authors have a very clear sense of right and wrong. They feel very strongly about when it’s okay to reveal and when they need to hold back, when they should protect and when they can let ‘er rip. The funny thing is that they don’t agree on when that is. They each have strong internal compasses, but they are definitely not all aiming North. It was interesting to see that variation.

I also liked that editor Maran includes what she calls a “vital statistics” section in each chapter. She gives a small intro to the author, then info like date of birth, hometown, a list of family members, schools, current job, and a list of publications. I have read books by about half of the authors featured here, but after reading this book, oh man, my to-be-read list just grew, like, exponentially.

Some of my favorite authors in Why We Write about Ourselves:  Ishmael Beah, Kate Christensen, Pat Conroy, Edwidge Danticat, Meghan Daum (she really surprised me with her insight and down-to-earth attitude, actually), Nick Flynn, and Anne Lamott.

On a side note, it occurred to me, as I was adding books to my to-read list on Goodreads, that I haven’t been making ANY time for non-newly-released books. This bugs me. There are so many books I want to read, you know? So since I can usually get through two books a week (and I can’t reasonably expect myself to increase that number right now), I am going to cut back to one new release a week, so I can also read another “older” book, too.

And now that I have a plan, my heart is happy.

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