A generous and singularly insightful examination of memoir.



A bestselling nonfiction writer offers spirited commentary about memoir, the literary form that has become synonymous with her name.

Personal narrative has exploded in popularity over the last 20 years. Yet, as Karr (Lit: A Memoir, 2009, etc.) points out, memoir still struggles to attain literary respectability. “There is a lingering snobbery in the literary world,” she writes, “that wants to disqualify what is broadly called nonfiction from the category of ‘literature.’ ” In this book, Karr offers both an apology for and a sharp-eyed exploration of this form born from her years as a practitioner as well as a distinguished English professor at Syracuse University. She begins by considering classroom “experiments” she has conducted to show the slipperiness of memory and arguing the need to give latitude to writers tackling memoir. Writing with the intent to record what rings true rather than exact is one thing; writing with the intent to lie is another. Voice is another critical aspect of any memoir that manages to endure through time. By examining works by writers as diverse as Frank McCourt and Vladimir Nabokov, Karr demonstrates that it is in fact the very thing by which a great memoir “lives or dies.” Rather than focus on the narrative truism of “show-don’t-tell,” Karr thoughtfully elaborates on what she calls “carnality”—the ability to transform memory into a multisensory experience—for the reader. When wed to a desire to move beyond the traps of ego and render personal “psychic struggle” honestly and without fear, carnality can lead to writing that not only “wring[s] some truth from the godawful mess of a single life,” but also connects deeply with readers. Karr’s sassy Texas wit and her down-to-earth observations about both the memoir form and how to approach it combine to make for lively and inspiring reading.

A generous and singularly insightful examination of memoir.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-222306-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-448-42421-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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