Too Much Memoir

April 23, 2010

A strange thing happened to me this week.

On Wednesday, after a surprise boat ride in Central Park and a homemade dinner for my 21st birthday, my boyfriend took me to Strand to pick out any book I wanted, his treat. As soon as we walked in I went to the back corner of the store and started flipping through the Ks until I found Karr.

The store had Mary Karr’s second and third memoirs, but they were out of her first: “The Liar’s Club.” I made my way back to the front of the store to see what new memoirs they had. I started to pick up a few, quickly reading the back covers, when a weird feeling came over me.

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Second in my series on the favorite memoirs of my family and friends is my boyfriend, Eric Horvath. We’ve been dating for almost three years (33 months, but who’s counting?), but it’s only in the past year or so that I’ve seen him develop a real love for reading. When I asked him what his favorite memoir was, I honestly didn’t know the answer I would get because of all the books he’s read recently. (I also want to thank him for keeping his response within the allotted 2-3 sentences, not an easy feat for an English major.)

Haruki Murakami - Photo: Wikipedia

Name: Eric Horvath

Age: 20

From: Long Island

Currently: Studying English and Economics at Fordham University

Favorite Memoir:What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” by Haruki Murakami

Why: “Murakami’s memoir about his preposterous streak of running marathons (something like one every year for over 25 years) and writing best-selling novels really spoke to me. When I read it (last fall) I was training for a 9 mile race of my own and just admitting to myself that I wanted to write for a living. His intertwining of the two, along with his translatable work-ethic, made his book all the more resonant.”

This weekend, my boyfriend and I took our weekly trip to the Strand. For you non-New Yorkers, the Strand is the greatest bookstore ever. 18 miles of books for low prices make it my favorite place to shop in all of Manhattan.

Photo: Wikipedia

Since we visit the store at least once each week, we try not to make a purchase every visit. Although I try very hard to follow our goal, I often have to go back the next day without my boyfriend to buy a book I was eyeing the night before (just don’t tell him).

On Friday, for a total of $12.50, I picked up two books—two memoirs—that I’ve wanted for quite some time:

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Memoirs are not new, but they’ve recently become quite popular.

In Ben Yagoda‘s “Memoir: A History,” Yagoda writes:

“According to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 70 percent of U.S. book sales, total sales in the categories of Personal Memoirs, Childhood Memoirs, and Parental Memoirs increased more than 400 percent between 2004 and 2008.”

In an April 15, 2008 article, “Everybody has a story — but is it worth telling?” for CNN, Todd Leopold wrote:

Photo: Wikipedia

Memoirs rose in popularity during the ’90s on the backs of such books as Frank McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes.” Now they’re in such demand that, in 2007, more memoirs were accepted by publishers than debut novels, according to Michael Cader’s Publishers Lunch newsletter, reported USA Today.

Current memoirs in the top 10 of The New York Times’ hardcover list include Julie Andrews’ “Home,” David Sheff’s “Beautiful Boy,” Jose Canseco’s “Vindicated,” Tori Spelling’s “Stori Telling” and Valerie Bertinelli’s “Losing It.” The top two books on the Times’ paperback nonfiction list are also memoirs — Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin’s “Three Cups of Tea” and Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love.” Both have been on the Times list for more than a year.”

Since Leopold wrote that article, not much has changed. Almost two years later, “Eat, Pray, Love” is sitting at number 4 on the Paperback Nonfiction Bestseller list. The movie adaptation of the book, starring Julia Roberts and James Franco, is set to be released this summer.

So why now, more than ever, are memoirs so popular?

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Welcome to famemoir

March 21, 2010

Main Entry: mem·oir

Pronunciation: \’mem-ˌwär, -ˌwȯr\

Function: noun

Etymology: Middle French memoire, from memoire memory, from Latin memoria

Date: 1571

1 : an official note or report : MEMORANDUM

2 a : a narrative composed from personal experience b: AUTOBIOGRAPHY —usually used in plural c : BIOGRAPHY

3 a : an account of something noteworthy : REPORT b plural : the record of the proceedings of a learned society

– Merriam-Webster.com

Out of Merriam-Webster’s definition of memoir, it is the 2a definition which most closely matches my own thoughts on the genre. I consider a memoir a way for a person to share a private memory with the world. Memoirs are often accounts of “something noteworthy;” however, I am most intrigued by memoirs of seemingly typical people who lead seemingly typical lives.

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