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Not a Memoir

by Ander Monson

Pub Date: April 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-55597-554-8
Publisher: Graywolf

A freewheeling assortment of essays that bring surprising weight to ephemera like Dungeon & Dragons, Doritos and household repair.

Monson (Neck Deep and Other Predicaments, 2007, etc.) loosely conceives the book as a commentary on memoir and how the act of storytelling permits writers to carefully structure their identities. The author deploys a number of metatextual flourishes to get that idea across. He places passages from dozens of memoirs together to undercut their claims of unique emotional experience, runs the text of one essay without margins to show how strictly framed many stories are and opens an essay on solipsism by filling two pages with the word “me.” Moreover, certain keywords are flagged as subjects for further discussion on his website,, implying that any statements made between the covers is unstable. Monson earns the right to much of his gamesmanship, bringing a sharp humor and intellectual rigor to his essays. In “Voir Dire,” a piece about his experience as a jury foreman, he performs a close study of how trials are similar to stories, and how we apply our own experiences to others’ in the courtroom. “Transubstantiation” opens with an appreciation of snack chips; instead of slipping into the self-obsession he dreads, the author provides genuine insight into the distinction between real and fake, both in Doritos and in personalities. Not all of Monson’s pieces reflect such ingenuity. The text is littered with paragraph-long scraps of analysis of memoirs that seem ripe for either expansion or removal. Though the essay on bad pop songs sung by collegiate a cappella groups is good for a good laughs, Monson fails to spin the piece into a larger statement. Role-playing games are right in his wheelhouse, though, and he successfully uses the 2008 death of Dungeons & Dragons creator Gary Gygax to consider the nature of obsession with creating “other” selves, and how easily we snap into those roles.

An imperfect grab-bag of ruminations that reflect a likable nerdy enthusiasm.