Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Mary Karr: 'The Art of Memoir' (2015, 2016)

Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir. New York: Harper Perennial, 2016; originally published by HarperCollins Publishers in 2015. 

Karr is primarily known as a poet and memoirist; she also teaches, which is how this tome originated, through years of teaching experience. One of the book's "takeaways" (in the shady parlance of our day) is her list of "Required Reading - Mostly Memoirs and Some Hybrids" (pages 221-227). The core text is more pick-and-choose -- whatever may help.
Mary Karr's advice on how to get going with the writing process: "The idea is to unclench your mind's claws . . . don't judge how your thoughts might jet around at first. Eventually you'll start identifying . . . with that detached, watcher self and less with your prattling head." (page 31).

On voice: "The voice should permit a range of emotional tones -- too wiseass, and it denies pathos; too pathetic, and it's shrill. It sets and varies distance from both the material and the reader -- from cool and diffident to high-strung and close." (page 36).

Keep it real: "You'll need both sides of yourself -- the beautiful and the beastly -- to hold a reader's attention. . . Sadly, without a writer's dark side on view -- the pettiness and vanity and schemes -- pages give off the whiff of bullshit." (page 38).

On revision: "the best revisers often have reading habits that stretch back before the current age, which lends them a sense of history and raises their standards for quality." (page 211).

"For me, the last 20 percent of a book's improvement takes 95 percent of the effort -- all in the editing. . . In the long run, the revision process feels better if you approach it with curiosity . . . Writing . . . means celebrating beauty in an often ugly world . . . you do that by fighting for elegance and beauty, redoing or cutting the flabby, disordered parts." (page 215). Amen to that. 

Today's Rune: Initiation.

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

Great quotes. Although I've written memoir I've not read much about it. This looks like a good place to start.