The great wack-a-doo in the memoir world over the weekend had to do with this article in the New York Times Book Review section.
Neil Genzlinger is over his head in memoirs, believes we’re all over our heads in memoirs and, frankly, we don’t need to be. We all think our stories are too important to go not written, but the stories aren’t worth the recycled paper stock they’re printed on.
A quick lick of Genslinger’s advice:
1.That you had parents and a childhood does not of itself qualify you to write a memoir.
2. No one wants to relive your misery.
3. If you’re jumping on a bandwagon, make sure you have better credentials than the people already on it.
4. If you still must write a memoir, consider making yourself the least important character in it.
Since I’m prone to taking things personally, I pounced on the article ready to rumble. Then, I agreed. Then, I thought about my story.
I had a childhood, lived through some misery and still feel compelled to write about it. Genslinger isn’t going to stop me. Neither is my family. The only one qualified to stop me is me–I received special accreditation from the Stopping-of-me School at the University of Stoppage–and I give myself the go-ahead.
I find two things interesting in the article. The first being that Genslinger complains of a glut of memoir written by any old person with a story. Okay, I see, the genre has taken off in recent years, but isn’t every genre pretty much fit to bursting? I don’t know, I’m new in these parts. Just seems to me there’s a ton of speculative fiction, romance, nonfiction, historical fiction, poetry, young adult fiction, mystery, what I ate for dinner with whom and how I cooked it.
There are a lot of writers.
The second point of interest is this: There was a time when you had to earn the right to draft a memoir, by accomplishing something noteworthy or having an extremely unusual experience or being such a brilliant writer that you could turn relatively ordinary occurrences into a snapshot of a broader historical moment.
“Being such a brilliant writer that you could turn relatively ordinary occurrences into a snapshot of a broader historical moment.” This is what Genslinger wants: brilliance.
So do I.
I don’t see the article as being the snobby, dodgy, shut-your-pie-hole critique it may have been served up as. I think it’s a call to brilliance.
We have to be extraordinary.