Mary Karr’s “The Art of Memoir”

I’m well aware that Mary Karr doesn’t need me to plug her books. But guess what? I’m going to do it anyway. I can’t resist.

The Art of Memoir is an absolute page-turner for anyone who’s interested in writing their stories – or even just covering a subject about which they simply can’t be objective.

Karr discusses the characteristics of people who should and should not write a memoir, how to find that headspace that gets us in the right mood to delve into the past, the importance of finding one’s own voice, and how she crafted her amazing book, The Liars’ Club, and her subsequent memoirs, Cherry and Lit.

(I must add here that I was so obsessed with The Liars’ Club for a while that when I was covering arts and entertainment for the Bloomington Herald-Times, I called Karr’s office at Syracuse University, where she teaches. I was going to pretend I had some work-related reason to call her, just to chat with her for a bit, but thankfully – in retrospect, anyway – she didn’t answer the phone.)

Any writer who was taken with Karr’s incredible characters in those books will learn so much about how they went from real life to the page.

It’s funny; I’m always amazed at how most things that are so pleasing to read could have been so tough to put together. But that’s the nature of most good writing, isn’t it? Crafting great sentences is not easy to do. What we read in a couple of days often took someone months or years to write.

Karr’s honesty about her own writing will encourage anyone struggling to get those intimate details and memories down on the page. I’m so grateful to her for sharing her process.

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