Saturday, April 03, 2021

Seven autobiographies & memoirs that remind us of the messiness of memory

Whitney Otto's novels include the New York Times bestseller How to Make an American Quilt, which was later made into a movie of the same name, and Eight Girls Taking Pictures. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and in several anthologies.

Otto's new book is Art for the Ladylike: An Autobiography through Other Lives.

At Lit Hub she tagged seven autobiographies and memoirs in which "love, experience, ideas, and observations ignore the limitations of the linear story, building a more far more complex, complete narrative." One title on the list:
Marion Winik, The Big Book of the Dead

When I was in high school and hanging around its little theater with the other theater kids, our teacher gave us Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, a book I immediately loved for its thumbnail life dramas. The Big Book of the Dead is a compilation of Winik’s two previous “books of the dead” plus a few added obituaries, totaling 125 thumbnail tributes. I only mention this because the other books lacked narrative order, seeming like a pack of cards flung in the air, while this book is more loosely chronological, organized by geography.

I have loved Winik’s voice since reading her autobiographical essays collection, Telling. Here, we meet her friends, lovers, husband, parents, colleagues, neighbors, students, even a celebrity or two as she writes whimsically, movingly about their lives. Unlike Spoon River Anthology, this is a book of memory and the importance of memory, including the way those 125 memories all add up to the story of Winik herself.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue