Two Great Memoirs

I don’t know whether I intentionally, always, return to memoir, but I do, and I just busted out two great reads in less than a week: Augusten Burroughs’s recovery memoir Dry and Anne Lamott’s journal of the first year of her son’s life, Operating Instructions.

DryReading both reminded me why I love personal narrative. There are so many ways to tell your story. Burroughs does it with clipped honesty and humor, with edginess, with sarcasm, and throughout, with this amazing and very real sense of self-deprecation, like: “You won’t believe how badly I fucked up, but keep reading and I’ll tell you.” You’ll want to keep reading. His fuck-ups are epic.

Lamott hits the same nerve, but her writing is much more raw, and so intensely personal it’s at times almost cringe-worthy. As a mother who survived the first year of her own son’s life, I was laughing and gasping and remembering the whole way, remembering the wonderful parts and the soul-crushing parts, and at the end I had a big, big old cry. In part this is because in addition to the story of the baby Sam, the book is about addiction and loss and tragedy, and it just filled me with fear. It’s very well done.

They both are. Add them to your list!

Plugcorn

Hi everyone,

I just wanted to make a plug for what’s happening over on popcorntheblog these days. Last week Tara Conklin posted a beautiful essay called Keep Writing that you’ve got to check out. And today I am blogging about Magical Realism and the History of Fiction (which is wayyyy more interesting than it sounds!). Reading recommendations included (George Saunders and Karen Russell, anyone?).

Have a wonderful week.

Susie

La VIDA Feminina

Well, as soon as I saw this post from The Living Notebook in my email this morning, I knew what I was (re) blogging about today.

VIDA: Women in Literary Arts has released The Count 2012, a look at the numbers in publishing as they break down along gender lines. Probably not surprisingly, many more men than women are published in some of the nation’s top literary journals and magazines. Check out The Count here.

This is, obviously, an issue that affects me. In college I wrote my senior thesis about the notion of the “woman writer” and anthologies of women’s writing. Is the moniker “woman writer” reductive, I asked? Did anthologies of women’s writing highlight and give space to women’s voices, or did they reinforce the idea that women writers are inferior (separate and thus, not equal)?

I never successfully answered those questions; I still haven’t. They’re complicated. My own publishing history is spotty, and I wonder if I attempted to publish as SE Meserve, gender ambiguous, whether I’d have graced a few more literary journals in my day. Quite honestly, I don’t think about my sex that much when I write. But when I look at The Count I feel more aware of the ways that the already uphill battle of being a writer is exacerbated by being female.

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Woman Writer. Looking…shocked at the findings from VIDA?

Maybe this explains why I always get rejections from Boston Review.

Of course, one has to investigate further: how do these statistics play out in terms of numbers of memoirs published by women and men, respectively, every year? In literary fiction and poetry? Do newer, smaller journals do better at gender equality than Harper’s and Boston Review?

Next time you pick up a literary journal or a magazine, look at the number of women published in it. And in the meantime, I’ll try to get some statistics from the book publishing industry to share.

Keep the faith, ladies.

Plug: This American Life’s Harper High School series

I’ve rekindled my love for the great storytelling that takes place on This American Life, and recently listened to parts one and two of the episodes about Harper High School. TAL spent five months at this Chicago school, where last year, 29 current and recent students were shot. As TAL explains, “We went to get a sense of what it means to live in the midst of all this gun violence, how teens and adults navigate a world of funerals and Homecoming dances” (thisamericanlife.org).

The episodes are not easy to listen to, but I suggest you do. They’re timely, for one thing, and for me they really helped explain how difficult it is for kids living in poverty to make any other choice than to be in a gang and get involved in gang life. In fact, you’ll learn in the first episode that kids don’t choose to be in gangs: the choice is made for them.

Give it a listen.