Candid revelations for readers; useful advice and encouragement for aspiring writers.

WHY WE WRITE ABOUT OURSELVES

TWENTY MEMOIRISTS ON WHY THEY EXPOSE THEMSELVES (AND OTHERS) IN THE NAME OF LITERATURE

Memoirists reflect on why and how to write “a true-life tale.”

The enormous current popularity of memoirs inspired Maran (A Theory of Small Earthquakes, 2012, etc.) to ask 20 writers to share thoughts on motivation, morality, and craft. Although the editor writes that this book is aimed at readers as well as writers, the structure suggests that would-be memoirists are the intended audience. Maran prefaces each chapter with a sprightly introduction, along with “Vitals” such as birthdate, schooling, Twitter and website addresses, and bibliography. Each entry is divided into brief sections, beginning with “Why I write about myself” and ending with a boxed nugget of advice called “Wisdom for Memoir Writers.” Most of the contributors are likely to be familiar to readers: Edwidge Danticat, A.M. Homes, Sue Monk Kidd, Anne Lamott, Cheryl Strayed, and Ayelet Waldman are among the women; Pat Conroy, Nick Flynn, and James McBride are among the men. Some offer opinions about the value of memoir as catharsis, therapy, or revenge. All agree that crafting a memoir is different from keeping a diary. “You still have to write scenes and be engaging,” Danticat advises, “You have to edit mercilessly….Don’t just put things in because ‘they happened.’ ” Waldman echoes Danticat’s advice: “Writing memoir requires the construction of story and character in the same way that writing anything does. The trick with memoir is that the story and the character have to be true.” However, there’s considerable disagreement about memoirists’ responsibility to other people. “Memoirs hurt people,” Conroy writes. “Secrets hurt people. The question to ask yourself is, if you tell your story, will it do enough good to make it worth hurting people?” Strayed cautions, “You have to think about the personal consequences of writing about others on a case-by-case basis.” David Sheff declares simply, “Don’t hurt people.” Other contributors include Kate Christensen, Edmund White, and Jesmyn Ward.

Candid revelations for readers; useful advice and encouragement for aspiring writers.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-14-218197-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Plume

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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