New Book Traces the History of Memoir Writing

blog16The urge to write memoirs has long been part of the human psyche, according to a new book, Memoir: A History, in which author Ben Yagoda connects the dots through 2,000 years of memoirs. In tackling the question of whether an autobiography must be 100 percent true and accurate, Yagoda concludes that telling your story in good faith is more important than getting every fact perfectly straight, according to the New York Times review of the book.

The aspect of memoirs that interests me more, however, is the widespread desire to write one. Why put so much energy into this task? I don’t believe that a hope to get rich from publishing their story is what drives people to write about themselves. The Times reviewer, Judith Shulevitz, theorizes that it’s a universal need to tell our side of things—to explain why we’ve done what we’ve done. Shulevitz quotes philosopher Hilary Putnam: “We are, most of us, interested in justifying at least some features of our own style of life, in the sense of giving a defense of them that would appeal to others.???

This strikes a chord with me; most of us want to be liked or, at least, understood. The latest big-deal autobiography to hit the bookstores, Going Rogue, would not have been written if author Sarah Palin hadn’t felt the need to tell her side of what went on during last year’s presidential campaign. As you write your memoirs, you may experience some of that “justification satisfaction??? yourself.