Monday, June 6, 2011

A family review, and a lesson in how to write memoirs

While I was in England my brother gave me a copy of my Granddad's memoirs to read; I learned how a well-edited memoir can make a really fascinating, informative and uplifting book; and I'm hoping to use those lessons to improve a novel I've been working on. So here's my unpublished review of an unpublished memoir--who knows, maybe D will publish it publicly one day and let everyone else read it too:

Look Back in Joy, by TW with DC
I’m really not a great reader of memoirs, but this one grabbed my attention, and not just because the authors are my Granddad and my brother. The format offers an interesting mix of voices, information and research, which really makes for an interesting read.

TW was born, just about, in Victorian times; he describes his childhood in the early 1900s with a very honest eye for interesting detail. Meanwhile DC, born nearly four years before me and well-practiced in researching history, has checked Granddad’s facts and researched the world around them to fill in the gaps. The result is a memoir that’s rounded and real, bringing to life time and place with consistent context, and retaining the honest voice of the elderly man who penned the first words.

D’s comments are written in a different font, emphasizing changes in voice which turn reading into a conversation with the book, questions answered and asked. The organization into chapters by topic, rather than the usual slow telling of a road to growing old, is very nicely done. And the honest writing of my granddad, telling how it was without hiding anything, asking only our trust and never our sympathy, lifts the whole high above more regular memoirs, making it truly a memory of time and people rather than a lesson in survival.

There are lots of things I didn’t know in this book, things forgotten, things maybe never told. There are wars and bombs, air-raid wardens, church societies, boy scouts, soccer teams. And there’s a man whose times were hard, who made the most of everything and ended his life proud and happy in all the things his family achieved.

TW chose the title and looked back in joy, in spite of all the obstacles he'd faced. There’s something profoundly joyful in being able to share his perspective as I now look forward. Thank you D—you’ve done a brilliant job!

Disclosure: This one’s an unpublished draft, and it’s great!

1 comment:

Cold As Heaven said...

Cool that you have a memoir writer in your family.

My father is the same type. Since he got retired, he's sharing his time between cross-country skiing and writing (mostly poems). I hope he will write his memoirs some time, cause he has a lot of interesting stuff to tell >:)

Cold As Heaven