One-Minute Book Reviews

December 27, 2007

What’s the Difference Between Writing a Memoir and Writing Fiction? Quote of the Day (Mary Gordon)

The boundaries between memoirs and fiction are becoming more porous. Here’s how the novelist and memoirist Mary Gordon responded when an interviewer asked, “Is memoir writing not that much different from fiction writing?”

“It is and it isn’t. It has formal demands, demands of shapeliness in the way that fiction does. There are some things, which, if left out, would make an untruthful record. Memoir has a responsibility to the truth, or the truth as best you can tell it. That is to say, if you willfully suppressed something – well, there is no point writing a memoir if you don’t want to tell the truth as you see it. To deliberately fudge something that made you look better, or made someone else look better – that’s the kind of issue that comes up in memoir that does not come up in fiction.”

Mary Gordon in “Writing to Understand Yourself,” an interview with Charlotte Templin, in The Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction: Inspiration and Discipline (Writer’s Digest Books, $19.99), edited by Susan Burmeister-Brown and Linda B. Swanson-Davies Gordon’s most recent memoir, Circling My Mother (Pantheon, $24), was published in August

Comment by Janice Harayda:

If only more memoirists shared Gordon’s view that there’s no point in “fudging.” You see much more distortion in memoirs today than a generation ago. Some memoirists say that they have to fudge to protect the privacy of friends or relatives, or that if they didn’t, they couldn’t tell their stories, because they lack too much essential information. Other writers contend that memoirs are inherently subjective. All of that may be true. But I’ve argued on this site that if memoirists set aside the truth – for example, by inventing scenes or using composite characters — they have a responsibility to say so in their books.

What do you think?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 4, 2007

Do Emily Dickinson’s Poems ‘Make a Virtue Out of Collapsing’? (Quote of the Day/Philip Larkin via John Bayley)

I just reviewed John Bayley’s Good Companions this morning, but I like this anthology so much I can’t resist quoting from it again. Here’s Bayley on Emily Dickinson:

“A wonderful poet at her best; but, unlike Blake, Emily Dickinson seldom keeps going to the end of what is always a short poem. Philip Larkin observed that her poems sometimes seemed to make a virtue out of collapsing, as if the weight of inspiration could no longer be borne. That is certainly not true of either of these poems [‘Tell All the Truth But Tell It Slant’ and ‘Safe in Their Alabaster Chambers,’ both included in Good Companions].

John Bayley, the former Oxford professor and author of Elegy for Iris (Picador, 1999), in Good Companions: A Personal Anthology (Little, Brown/Abacus, 2002).

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 2, 2007

How Do Symbols Work in Literature? Quote of the Day (John Ciardi)

Filed under: Poetry,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:58 pm
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Flannery O’Connor talked about the purpose of symbols in fiction in the Quote of the Day for March 21, 2007 Here the late poet John Ciardi talks about how symbols work in poetry, a description that also applies to other kinds of literature:

” … a symbol is like a rock dropped into a pool: it sends out ripples in all directions, and the ripples are in motion. Who can say where the last ripple disappears? One may have a sense that he at least knows approximately the center point of all those ripples, the point at which the stone struck the water. Yet even then he has trouble marking it precisely. How does one make a mark on water?”

John Ciardi in his classic textbook, How Does a Poem Mean? (Houghton Mifflin, 1959), widely used in high schools and colleges in its day.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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