So You Want to Write a Memoir? |


So You Want to Write a Memoir?

Before you do, make sure your life hasn't already been lived, and written about by someone else. Here's an exhaustive guide -- for would-be writers and readers alike -- to years of autobiography overload

Ever since the memoir boom began back in 1995 with The Liars’ Club, Mary Karr’s unflinching examination of her East Texas childhood, everyone who’s ever had a life seems to have published a book about it. The genre shows no signs of slowing down, though it’s difficult to imagine a narrative that’s left unexplored. ”The bar keeps going higher,” says Sara Nelson, editor in chief of Publishers Weekly. ”Well, you were a drug addict, but did you kill anybody? Well, you killed somebody, but did you do it with your bare hands? Well, you were hungry, but were you as hungry as Frank McCourt? The more that’s written, the harder it is to come up with something new or dramatic to say.”

What follows is a selective list — believe it or not, we actually left some stuff out — of memoirs that have been written since 1995. (Sorry, Ms. Walters, one of the things we’ve omitted is celebrity autobiographies.) So take a look and see if your life, or something resembling it, has already been spoken for. Maybe there’s still a niche you can fill. For instance, there’s still room for an intergalactic chocoholic who was saved from zombies by wild alpacas — at least for now.

Grew up…
In Texas: A Strong West Wind, by Gail Caldwell (2006)
In the Midwest: Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships, by John T. Price (2008)
In Pittsburgh: Hoop Roots, by John Edgar Wideman (2001)
In Wisconsin: Falling Through the Earth, by Danielle Trussoni (2006)
In youth shelters: Girlbomb, by Janice Erlbaum (2006)
In foster care: Hope’s Boy, by Andrew Bridge (2008)
On a Depression-era Iowa farm: Little Heathens, by Mildred Armstrong Kalish (2007)
In WWII-era Singapore: The Thorn of Lion City, by Lucy Lum (2007)
In rural Appalachia: All Over but the Shoutin’, by Rick Bragg (1997)
In Hawaii: Light Years, by Susanna Moore (2008)
In Ireland: Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt (1996)
In Jamaica: From Harvey River, by Lorna Goodison (2008)
In Peru: American Chica, by Marie Arana (2001)
In Japan: Yakuza Moon, by Shoko Tendo (2007)
In Rhodesia: Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, by Alexandra Fuller (2001)
In a Havana slum: No Way Home, by Carlos Acosta (2008)
In war-torn Sudan: They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky, by Benjamin Ajak, Alephonsion Deng, and Benson Deng, with Judy A. Bernstein (2005)
In war-torn Kabul: The Other Side of the Sky, by Farah Ahmedi, with Tamin Ansary (2005)
In a polygamous sect: Stolen Innocence, by Elissa Wall, with Lisa Pulitzer (2008)
In a Hmong refugee camp: The Latehomecomer, by Kao Kalia Yang (2008)
In a remote Himalayan village: Leaving Mother Lake, by Yang Erche Namu and Christine Mathieu (2003)
In a neighborhood tavern: The Tender Bar, by J.R. Moehringer (2005)
In a psychiatrist’s home: Running With Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs (2002)
In the Playboy Mansion: Playground, by Jennifer Saginor (2005)
In Macbeth’s castle: A Charmed Life, by Liza Campbell (2007)
In a haunted house: I’m Looking Through You, by Jennifer Finney Boylan (2008)

Family History
Father was part black: One Drop, by Bliss Broyard (2007)
Father was Jewish: When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, by Peter Godwin (2007)
Prominent father was secretly gay: The Bishop’s Daughter, by Honor Moore (2008)
Father cheated and was a morphine addict: Who Do You Think You Are?, by Alyse Myers (2008)
Father was a petty criminal and mother was caught up in the Red scare: Crisis, Pursued by Disaster, Followed Closely by Catastrophe, by Mike O’Connor (2007)
Mother left a convent and assumed a false identity: Family Romance, by John Lanchester (2007)

Reunited with…
Ailing brother: Apples & Oranges, by Marie Brenner (2008)
Biological parents: The Mistress’s Daughter, by A.M. Homes (2007)
Long-lost identical twin: Identical Strangers, by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein (2007)

Loved ones (human and animal)
Rich: Oh the Hell of It All, by Pat Montandon (2007)
A polygamist: Shattered Dreams, by Irene Spencer (2007)
A gay man: First Comes Love, by Marion Winik (1996)

Dealt with…
Divorce: Split, by Suzanne Finnamore (2008)
Bad relationships: Seducing the Demon, Erica Jong (2006)
Coming out: Mississippi Sissy, by Kevin Sessums (2007)
A troubled niece: Breakfast With Tiffany, by Edwin John Wintle (2005)
Becoming a mother figure to a homeless teenaged girl: Have You Found Her, by Janice Erlbaum (2008)
Double-dating with his recently widowed father: Assisted Loving, by Bob Morris (2008)

Fell in love with…
A married man: Necessary Sins, by Lynn Darling (2007)
A capuchin monkey: Kasey to the Rescue, by Ellen Rogers (2009)
His dog: Marley & Me, by John Grogan (2005)
Her pet pig: The Good Good Pig, by Sy Montgomery (2006)
His truck: Truck: A Love Story, by Michael Perry (2006)
His garden: The $64 Tomato, by William Alexander (2006)

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