For someone who’s fanatical about fiction, I’ve always had a soft spot for biographies and memoir (of course, a good account of an interesting life has much in common with the best fiction). Losing oneself in the pages of a novel full of invented characters is a delicious way to spend an afternoon, but there is a particular kind of pleasure in reading about real people’s exploits and experiences and especially how they describe themselves and what they’ve gone through. I find that willingness to share one’s humanity and the courage it takes to air one’s laundry and leave it flapping in the breeze pretty irresistible.
I’ve been charmed by Laurence Olivier’s diffident, self-deprecating take on his prodigious talent and by John Bayley’s loving account of his relationship with the great Iris Murdoch. I’ve been blown away by Paul Monette’s gorgeous Becoming a Man and Elie Wiesel’s devastating Night. I’m desperate to read Keith Richards’ surprisingly well-reviewed Life and Antonia Fraser’s ode to her love affair with Harold Pinter. But, I’ve also got a night table buckling under the weight of memoirs by the likes of Mary Karr, Jeannette Walls and Anne Lamott.
Samuel Johnson, himself the subject of a great biography and the author of the wonderful Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets, put it thusly, “I have often thought that there has rarely passed a life of which a judicious and faithful narrative would not be useful; for...every man has, in the mighty mass of the world, great numbers in the same condition with himself, to whom his mistakes and miscarriages, escapes and expedients, would be of immediate and apparent use.” He went on for a while after that, but you get the idea. Everyone has a story to tell. Their own.
So, I’d like to propose a memoir contest. Give us a couple of sentences that tell us the gist of your memoir and we’ll put it to a vote and decide whose story has the most potential. (Please keep in mind that this is not a referendum on your life…just on your ability to craft a good pitch for it.) We’ll come up with prizes for first, second and third place entries and let you know what those are as soon as we’ve figured them out.
I look forward to reading.
Update: Thanks for all the good stuff, guys. Keep the entries coming until Monday, Nov. 8, at midnight. We'll announce the winners (and prizes) on my Wednesday blog post.