Friday, February 29, 2008

Glories of Memoir Writing

Last weekend in LAT book review section, Susan Salter Reynolds reviewed three books in short paragraphs, each stimulating my brain in different ways around the theme of memoirs. The first review was of Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away. From her book, the reviewer selected this line, “Writing is the act of reaching across the abyss of isolation to share and reflect.” Goldberg is not talking to me about where I am, but instead inspiring me to try to go where she is.

In the next section the review of Sven Birkerts’ book, The Art of Time in Memoir, shows him excoriating the navel-gazing of memoirists. He apparently feels that only the reflective insight, revealing “what Henry James called ‘the figure in the carpet’”, sets memoir above talk show chatter. I hate to be harangued and probably will not read this book, but Reynolds’ image from James is memorable and will stick in my mind. It’s so easy to walk over a carpet, even for years, without seeing the pattern. But if you describe the room for someone else, you look more carefully and it jumps out into view. How many times I’ve seen the pattern of what happened to me only when writing about it for the second or third time!

The final review was of Julia Cameron’s The Writing Diet. I wish that review matched my experience! It said creativity, as well as falling in love, takes the appetite for food away. Not so for everyone, more’s the pity.