Until I was asked to be a judge for a memoir competition, I did not spend a lot of time thinking about this topic. For years my general awareness about writing preferences included the knowledge that the writers I prefer and usually read rarely hit the best seller list and generally are not white, main stream USA. What do I read: Native American (American Indian), Indian as in the country of India, and Latin American writers, and writers from the Middle East, especially Iran. My favorite writer is Leslie Marmon Silko. My favorite book of hers is Storyteller. My favorite story, “Yellow Woman”, is in that book as well as numerous literary anthologies. I estimate I have read that story at least fifty times, maybe more. Why? In spite of asking myself that question, I remain somewhat clueless. Because of my current teaching assignment which includes British literature from Beowulf to now, I try my best to read a bunch of British literature. For instance, I just read I, Claudius by Robert Graves. Of course, it has nothing to do with Britain; perhaps it does not count. Next on my list is The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. This book won the Man Booker Prize in 2006. Although she writes in English, she obviously is not British unless you consider being in a former British colony counts as British.
Back to my contest assignment: Two of the books I was assigned to read nearly put me to sleep. One did not; in fact I liked it a lot–enough to mark pages with passages I plan to use when I need writing inspiration/ideas later. When I read a bunch of reviews recently, it came as quite a shock to find one of those put-me-to-sleep books favorably reviewed. Could I really have been that far off base? I consider the possibility that even though I have read some excellent memoirs, I find many of them impossible to read. Why? From my viewpoint, many memoirs whine, lament, and carry on about the past in a way I find highly objectionable. Who wants to read hundreds of pages about how someone overcame addiction or some hideous disease or a divorce? Apparently, a lot of people. Even though I consider The Glass Castle an excellent book, I even had a difficult time plugging through the last 50 pages of that one. Some of Storyteller is a memoir–a combination of poetry, vignettes, photos, but it also includes several enlightening short stories. While writing now and reflecting, I can only think of one other memoir type book, I actually recommend to people, Jimmy Santiago Baca’s A Place to Stand. While stopping by the library this morning, I did pick up Willie Nelson’s latest, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die. It even has a foreword by Kinky Friedman, who in my opinion would make a much better governor than any one we have experienced in Texas lately or will have for the foreseeable future. With a title like that, about Willie, and Kinky thrown in, surely it won’t be too boring.