Memoir Manifesto by Deb Olin Unferth Guest editor Deb Olin Unferth offers insights into the art of the memoir and introduces the present and future stars of the genre. Photograph via Flickr by Alice Carrier Let’s have no more insults hurled at the memoir, shall we? A few years ago, when I began writing a memoir, I read piles of them to get a feel for the genre. In the final decades of the twentieth century, the autobiography transformed, as writers began to see the disadvantages of writing blanket summaries of their lives and comprehensive lists of events: the messiness involved in such a project, the inevitable incompleteness, the necessary lack of an arc (if one was going to be honest). Then we begin to see the pivotal classics, such as Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family (1982), Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life (1989), Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club (1995). When Meakin Armstrong of Guernica brought up the possibility of my guest-editing a section, I immediately knew what I wanted to do: a section on innovative memoir.
Snoopy's Guide to the Writing Life: Ray Bradbury on Creative Purpose in the Face of Rejection by Maria Popova “The blizzard doesn’t last forever; it just seems so.” Famous advice on writing abounds — Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 tips on how to make a great story, David Ogilvy’s 10 no-bullshit tips, Henry Miller’s 11 commandments, Jack Kerouac’s 30 beliefs and techniques, John Steinbeck’s 6 pointers, and various invaluable insight from other great writers. The amazing Blackstone came to town when I was seven, and I saw how he came alive onstage and thought, God, I want to grow up to be like that! What a fine complement to this recent omnibus of wisdom on how to find your purpose and do what you love. Donating = Loving Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount: Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. Share on Tumblr
'The Black Dog' by W. H. C. Pynchon The Dog, J. Laurent, 1874. From Archivo Ruiz Vernacci, Fototeca del IPCE, Madrid. by W. “And if a man shall meet the Black Dog once it shall be for joy; and if twice, it shall be for sorrow; and the third time he shall die.” In a corner of our country not far removed from two of its great cities, there is a low range of mountains, the hoary evidences of ancient volcanic action. The West Peak stands at an angle of the range. It was late in the spring of 18— that I visited West Peak for the first time. The old horse knew that he was bound for home and he took the road at a very good gait. And this is how I met the Black Dog the first time—for joy. I don’t know just how we came to do it. We talked till late that night, and, as the fire died down to a mass of glowing embers, he told me how he himself had twice seen a black dog upon the mountain, but he laughed at the legend, saying that he did not believe in omens unless they were lucky ones. “I did not believe it before. Transcriber’s note:
Six Tips on Writing from John Steinbeck By Maria Popova If this is indeed the year of reading more and writing better, we’ve been right on course with David Ogilvy’s 10 no-nonsense tips, Henry Miller’s 11 commandments, and various invaluable advice from other great writers. Now comes Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel laureate John Steinbeck (February 27, 1902–December 20, 1968) with six tips on writing, originally set down in a 1962 letter to the actor and writer Robert Wallsten included in Steinbeck: A Life in Letters (public library) — the same magnificent volume that gave us Steinbeck’s advice on falling in love. Steinbeck counsels: Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. But perhaps most paradoxically yet poetically, twelve years prior — in 1963, immediately after receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception” — Steinbeck issued a thoughtful disclaimer to all such advice: ↬ Open Culture
Web Film & Video: Georges Perec - Récits d'Ellis Island, Part 1: Traces (1978-1980) Duration: 60 minutes Part 1: Traces Part 2: Mémoires, 60 min Produced by: Institut National d'Archives (INA) Written by: Georges Perec Directed by: Robert Bober Sound: Jean-Claude Brisson In 1978, Robert Bober and Georges Perec set out to in the search of traces of Ellis Island, that is, as Georges Perec put it, of "the very site of exile, the place of the absence of place, the non-place, the nowhere." They traveled to New York to film what was left of this "Golden Gate", nicknamed "the Island of Tears" by the immigrants. One of the objectives of the filmmaker and the writer was to gather testimonies of survivors who, as children, passed through Ellis Island. However, they also wanted to understand how and why they both felt that this place concerned them personally. Georges Perec in UbuWeb Sound
The Ultimate Guide to Writing Better Than You Normally Do. Writing is a muscle. Smaller than a hamstring and slightly bigger than a bicep, and it needs to be exercised to get stronger. Think of your words as reps, your paragraphs as sets, your pages as daily workouts. Think of your laptop as a machine like the one at the gym where you open and close your inner thighs in front of everyone, exposing both your insecurities and your genitals. Because that is what writing is all about. Procrastination is an alluring siren taunting you to google the country where Balki from Perfect Strangers was from, and to arrange sticky notes on your dog in the shape of hilarious dog shorts. The blank white page. Mark Twain once said, “Show, don’t tell.” Finding a really good muse these days isn’t easy, so plan on going through quite a few before landing on a winner. There are two things more difficult than writing. It’s no secret that great writers are great readers, and that if you can’t read, your writing will often suffer.
K. Thomas Kahn on Imre Kertész Imre Kertész. Photograph by Csaba Segesvári by K. Thomas Kahn Dossier K: A Memoir, by Imre Kertész, Melville House, 224 pp. Nobel laureate Imre Kertész is certainly no stranger to controversy. In Dossier K. (2006), published by Melville House this month in a fresh English translation by Tom Wilkinson, Kertész departs from his usual terrain of fiction for that of memoir. The sheer impudence that the book denoted through its mere existence, its style, its independence; a sarcasm inherent in its language that strains permitted bounds and dismisses the craven submissiveness that all dictatorships ordain for recognition and art. Central to this notion is a perpetual reinvention of the self: “being a writer I am constantly working on my identity, and as soon as I come across it I lose it straight away… It’s not always easy to be in full possession of ourselves.” Related to this is Adorno’s famous dictum: “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” About the Author:
5 Common Writing Mistakes to Avoid Wait ‘til the boss sees this! With a cursory glance at your office masterpiece on the screen, you put your finger on the send button. Yep, everything looks pretty good with just a couple of squiggly lines under a few words where you transposed a letter or two. You easily fix them, and you’re good to go! Not so fast. Interchanging “your” and “you’re”: “Your” is a possessive, as in, “This is your email” and “Do you like sugar in your latte, sir?” Another pesky mistake is switching “than” and “then”: “Than” is a word that is used when comparing two or more things, as in “I would rather be bowling than writing this email,” or “My cubicle is smaller than his.” In order to affect change in your writing, you must be effective in correcting your mistakes, so you should know the difference between “affect” and “effect”: “Affect” is a verb, used to denote action, as in “The telephone affected my internet chess game” or, “I often affect a British accent to sound smarter.” Commas can be overused.
James Wood · On Not Going Home · LRB 20 February 2014 I had a piano teacher who used to talk about the most familiar musical cadence – in which a piece returns, after wandering and variation, to its original key, the tonic – as ‘going home’. It seemed so easy when music did it: who wouldn’t want to swat away those black accidentals and come back to sunny C major? These satisfying resolutions are sometimes called ‘perfect cadences’; there is a lovely subspecies called the ‘English cadence’, used often by composers like Tallis and Byrd, in which, just before the expected resolution, a dissonance sharpens its blade and seems about to wreck things – and is then persuaded home, as it should be. I wish I could hear that English cadence again, the way I first properly heard it in Durham Cathedral. I was 11 years old. In my memory this is exactly what happened: the radiance of the music, the revelation of its beauty, the final cadences of the Tallis, and my happy glimpsing of my mother. But real life is a different matter.
Moving beyond the Charles Bukowski American lowlife cliche When Charles Bukowski died in San Pedro 20 years ago, the obituaries in the next day's papers typically began with some iteration of Time magazine's stock description of the writer as the "laureate of American lowlife." In the decades since, the drinking, brawling, gambling, whoring cliche has become so entrenched and widely propagated it can be hard to see Bukowski's words for his shadow. The "Barfly" legend, sprouted from the self-mythology Bukowski cultivated in countless quasi-autobiographical works including his celebrated movie screenplay and fed by his real-life drunken bouts of abusiveness, has only grown posthumously. Hordes of websites are devoted to Bukowskiana, his poems are recited in TV spots to sell bluejeans and Scotch, and a biopic written and directed by James Franco is due in theaters this year. In December, a Bukowski-themed bar, called Barkowski, opened in Santa Monica. Bukowski's long reign as a Los Angeles icon can lead us back to the old mythology.
Grand Mal At the end of 1997 I was thirty-two, living in Richmond, Virginia and in a relationship that was approaching its third anniversary. My boyfriend and I were happy enough, I thought. We shared a rented house, cooked meals; accumulated electronics, bad art and two dogs. Then one day I realized I wasn’t happy at all. A week later, my ex called and said we needed to meet. Something was afoot, I knew. We met in the food court at the mall (my idea; I thought the public setting would negate the possibility of an argument). And so we argued in that public place I’d thought would obfuscate arguing. Minutes later, barrelling down Monument Avenue in my pickup truck, I began to experience the mental flashes neurologists call auras. Auras are a symptom of temporal lobe epilepsy. I drove to work, couldn’t have told you where I’d come from, whether I’d stopped at the last three intersections or hit all the lights green. An hour into my shift, the awful scene in the mall came flooding back to me. No.