Most of us get up in the mornings, get ready, work, eat, maybe spend some time with our families, sleep and repeat the whole process again. Then why would anyone want to read about our ordinary lives?
3 minute read
In my previous blog post on “What makes us pick up a book”, I talked about how we pick up books that answer our curiosity, present a possible solution to our struggles, provide a means of escapism or serve as a source of inspiration. However, memoirs, biographies and autobiographies have a charm of their own. It turns out our lives are an extraordinarily interesting read just because they are ordinary.
Readers Prefer Reality to Fiction
Unlike fiction, in memoirs we know that the tale presented before us has actually taken place. For example, the protagonist in Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart is Charlotte Brontë herself. On the other hand, the protagonist, Joe March, in Little Women is a fictional character that could inspire us but always with a lingering doubtful voice that tells us – but it’s just a story.
Even though we have felt the power of memoirs we argue that most memoirists have done something extraordinary that they have written about. Charlotte Brontë wasn’t just a poor woman aspiring to be a writer. She is a woman who created extraordinary masterpieces of English Literature. Indeed true. But take a moment to ask yourself; aren’t you interested in an ordinary life? Do you really feel people are looking for something extraordinary when they vegetate spending hours watching vlogs on YouTube?
The truth is, with a boom in social media, most of us feel drained and frustrated looking at or reading about lives that seem so far out of our reach. My big issue is not how to make a billion dollars but rather how to deal with an annoying neighbour who dunks his garbage right in front of my doorstep!
Readers Thrive on Fear and Courage
You may or may not have a solution to my garbage problems. Nevertheless, you absolutely have something to write about. But we delay our project wondering what would the world think? How will my family react? My friends could be upset by my revelations. Will they laugh? I can almost see my professors sighing and clicking their tongue in disapproval as they read my work! But the even bigger question is would anyone read my work?
Nobody can deny the existence of those sensitive relatives and friends who are waiting to take offence. And as Mary Karr says in her book, The Art of Memoir, it is also okay to be “paralyzed by fear of failure”. The best among us are and this is what we need to show our readers. We need to hook in and pull out our deepest most troubled self and present it to our readers. They thrive on it, not because they are sadistic beasts, but because each of them is trying to pull out, analyse and get rid of their own unique insecurities.
Memoirs are Cathartic for the Author and the Reader
In this way “memoir[s are] like therapy…you’re the mommy, and the reader’s the baby” (Karr). Even as I write this article, not only am I showing you reasons why you should write but also in a way I am striking out all my reasons for not embarking on a project of my own. Memoirs are for people like us: “worrier[s]…nail-biter[s]…apologizer[s]…[and] rethinker[s]” (Karr).
We crave to go back into the past and make sense of a humiliating moment. We want to understand why was it that someone could hurt us or uplift us. We are people who want to make sense of the life we have lived and are living. We are the ones artistically reproducing our lives on paper.
Memoirs too are artworks
Unlike the popular belief that readers prefer literature as it is a form of art and life writing is not, Mary Karr argues that writing memoirs involves “choos[ing] one event over another…cobbl[ing] together dialogue…[developing] a distinctive voice” and creating an ‘experience for a reader’”. “[A] memoirist starts with events, then derives meaning from them” (Don DeLillo, qtd in Karr).
Therefore, looking back on your life, you don’t just write:
“The British aristocracy felt the youngest child was useless”.
You rather try to craft something like:
“Unlike the male codfish, which, suddenly finding itself the parent of three million five hundred thousand little codfish, cheerfully resolves to love them all, the British aristocracy is apt to look with a somewhat jaundiced eye on its younger sons” (Wodehouse).
Marvellous isn’t it? And it is up to us to decide whether we paint the canvas with humour or with melancholy.
But are you any good?
As Karr says “If Angelou, born black in pre–civil rights Arkansas, and poor blind/deaf Keller each made it outta their own private hells to become that most exalted of creatures—a writer—maybe [you] could too”. However, in order to become a part of the clan of “exalted writers” we need to begin writing.
So, forget about making a list of things to write about, disregard the research for now and just write.
Thanks for reading and have a great day!
Harman, Claire. Charlotte Brontë A Fiery Heart. Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.
Karr, Mary. “Preface: Welcome to My Chew Toy” The Art of Memoir. Harper Collins Publishers, 2015. Kindle.
Wodehouse, P. G. (Pelham Grenville), and A. H. Campbell. Blandings Castle and Elsewheree. Herbert Jenkins Limited, 3 York Street St. James’s, 1935.
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash
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