Saturday, January 05, 2013

Five notable memoirs

Calvin Trillin's books include Deciding the Next Decider, A Heckuva Job, Obliviously on He Sails, About Alice, and Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin.

One of his favorite memoirs, as told to Sophie Roell at The Browser:
Growing Up
by Russell Baker

Your next choice is by the long-time New York Times columnist Russell Baker.

Yes, I thought Growing Up was a model memoir. I know he was sort of stuck on it for a while, and then he found these letters that his mother had exchanged during the Depression. And there was a lot of reporting in that book. I think if you take somebody like Baker, who has spent his life mainly as a reporter, he has a different approach to memoir, than someone who has spent her life, say, as a poet. In the first place, he is much more concerned with, “Hey, did that really happen or am I just making it happen?”

Also, it’s establishing place that I often find the most satisfying part of any book. Good mysteries, for instance, I don’t find interesting because of the puzzle of “Who did it?” Really good mystery writers establish a sense of place and Mary Karr did that with The Liars’ Club. And, in the same way, Russell Baker did that with the era he’s writing about in Growing Up. You really felt a time in America from reading that book.

That time being the Great Depression?

Yes, and the years after it. He really gave a sense of the era that you couldn’t get from just a history book. I thought it was a marvellous book.
Read about another memoir Trillin tagged at The Browser.

--Marshal Zeringue