Thinking about memoir

I had the lovely opportunity to read Thinking About Memoir by Abigail Thomas today in a single sitting. This is not as amazing a feat as it sounds given that it is a small book of just over 100 pages. Nevertheless, it is an absolute gem for anyone considering writing memoir of any kind.

Throughout the book, she shares little snippets of memories, sharp photographs painted in words of moments from her life. Interspersed among these remarkably beautiful stories are writing prompts of all kinds to probe the corners of our memories for almost forgotten moments waiting to be rediscovered. There is also a larger collection of these writing prompts listed at the end of the book for additional practice. She suggested that the very act of pulling up a memory brings more memories associated with the first one along for the ride. Before you know it, all kinds of memories you didn’t know you had will come into view to provide more material for your memoir project.

One of the things I treasured in her writing was her exploration of the illusive nature of memory by comparing her memories of certain moments, events, or locations with the memories her sisters have of the same things. These were quiet, common little moments that none of them would have had cause to lie about, but each of their memories had shifted over time to create a different past for each of them. I am fascinated by the way that our minds fill in missing spaces and tamper with details over time without our conscious awareness, but I am also relieved by the freedom this brings to write memoir as I remember it without needing to verify every detail. In the end, I am shaped by my memories of the past more than I am of the past itself because my memories are what I bring along with me to the present.

I have also just started reading her memoir A Three Dog Life about her husband’s accident and living with his resulting brain injury. This gives me a chance to see the suggestions from Thinking About Memoir put into practice in her longer work of memoir. She is truly an amazing writer, and I am amazed that I had not discovered her work before now.

Anyone who has any interest in writing memoir—whether for publication or for family history or for personal enrichment—will find this beautiful book to be an inspiration and a help on the journey.

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