Memoirs

The extent to which memoirs are true does matter to me. But, when I pick up a memoir, be it Moehringer’s wonderful The Tender Bar or Julia Scheeres’ riveting Jesus Land (about which I expect to have more to say next week), I find that one of the pleasures I seek is wholly narcissistic: I love reading memoirs by people my age, by people who went to one of my schools, came from my town.

The pleasure decreases, however, when I actually know the author. To me, hearing Dave’s beautiful podcast of his memoir and to know exactly where his dad took him and his sister to feed the ducks and talk about the divorce just hurts. I fed the ducks there, too. And, since we’re about the same age, I know that I fed the ducks there exactly then. That’s not a pleasurable identification but a distressingly uncanny one. I feel like I should rush back with a big bag of stale bread from the QFC and stand beside him, chucking hunks of it at the mallards.

In another case, I found myself changing my opinion of a newish friend upon learning how unethically she had once behaved. Still once more, I was confirmed and disappointed to see that I wasn’t even a separate character—just one of many—in the memoir of someone I had had a Titanic-sized crush on.

I asked for Scheeres’ book for Christmas and my motive, as ever, was narcissistic and impure: she had been miserable—truly, deeply, abused and miserable—in two places where I, too, have been unhappy. We’re the same age—a plus, as I said before—but we were not in these places at the same time, nor does my mild depression compare with the actual abuse she suffered. Still, part of what drew me in and pulled me through the book was the perverse pleasure in reading along and being able to say, wholly speciously—but privately—I knew that was a bad place…