AS A MEMOIR EDITOR, I read a lot. As a writer, I read a lot. As a thinking human, I read a lot. As a memoir teacher — yes, you get it — I read a lot. And I recommend it all the time as a way to learn to write. Read. And don’t dither about what to read. Read widely. Read the enemy. Read your friends. Read people who are younger than you are, and whose lives you cannot imagine, and for goodness’ sake, read the newspaper, and tons of fiction. In a phrase, to learn to write, read.
Just since yesterday, when I recommended three new reasons to read memoir, I’ve read some astonishing work. The first, sent to me by a friend, is his daughter’s foray into embedding herself in hostile territory. I love this piece by Dani Blum in The Daily Beast. Look how she skillfully characterizes herself without putting herself above the fray.
From The New York Review of Books online comes a piece about a woman who sounds far smarter than I am, who writes exquisite sentences, and whose work I knew nothing about. I now have two of her books on order. Let me introduce you to Sybille Bedford. And if you’ve already met her, why had you not introduced us?
Then comes the news that the book at the current number one slot on Amazon’s American biography list is by none other than Laura Ingalls Wilder, of Little House fame, and – wait for it – it’s not very good. How can it be that the woman who brought a little house on the prairie into sixty million print copies in some thirty languages is not very good at telling a tale? I’ll let you read the Judith Thurman piece in The New Yorker.
And last, this from writer and physician Seema Jilani. I’m sure after reading this piece you will agree that everything in the human condition is rolled up in here. What large, cosmic questions are not posed in this piece? How much did you learn about the plight of border babies, or “flight medical evacuation physicians,” or the horrors of the O.R.R? All of this is new to me, and all of it is written at a pace that felt like urgent care.
My advice? Read on.