By Mary Karr
- Date finished: Jan. 4, 2014
- Genre: Memoir
- Year: 2009
- Projects: n/a
- Reading List: Winter 2013-14; 65 Books to Read In Your 20’s
- Grade: A-
- Thoughts upon reading:
If there’s one thing I tend to dislike about memoirs, it’s the fact that in the past decade or so, it’s become a “genre”. OK, well if we’re talking literally, memoirs have always been a “genre” of literature, but since the 90’s, memoirs have become a choice, trendy genre for writers of all stripes. No longer is it required for you to be an exceptional person who’s done something different and interesting for you to write a memoir; no, writing your life story – no matter how boring – is expected from all writers nowadays. I mean, there are entire MLA courses on writing memoirs. Shouldn’t you be expected to do something with your life before you even consider writing your memoir?
All that being said, for some reason, I still find myself reading memoirs and, despite my annoyances with the genre, loving them. Who is David Sedaris but a funny gay man, but for some reason, I can’t get enough of his weird anecdotes about growing up in middle class America. Along those same lines, I can see myself becoming similarly obsessed with Mary Karr, who brings readers her third memoir in Lit. Her THIRD memoir, folks. Geez, I couldn’t help thinking, this lady sure does feel that her life is important if it’s worth writing three books about. And who is Karr anyway? A poet and professor?
But oh, I could not help but love Lit, which picks up where Karr’s last two memoirs left off (The Liar’s Club detailing her turbulent childhood in Texas, Cherry discussing her early sex life), describing Karr’s failed marriage, becoming a mom and her decades-long battle with alcoholism. Karr writes with the grace and aplomb expected from an award-winning poet (though sometimes to the point of fault), as she weaves a tragic, sometimes disturbing and yet strangely comic tale of abuse and addiction, tied together by Karr’s guilt over and attempts to be a good mother. As I described it to a friend, Karr’s life is pretty fucked up at times, but in Lit, you see this very intelligent woman haunted by plenty of demons, just trying to find some sanity and peace, all the while coming to terms with her past. It’s a compelling story, and oftentimes, I couldn’t put it down. Did I like it? You bet.
I still think the memoir genre is a stupid fad at times, one of which has been abused by plenty of bad and lying writers (James Frey, anyone?). But when there’s good stories involved, I guess the line between truth and fiction is muddied just enough to where it doesn’t even matter. Those are the good memoirs, I guess, and ones that I want to keep reading. And guess what just went to the top of my memoir reading list? Karr’s other two memoirs, damn it.