Plinky: Start the first chapter of your memoir

Call me Ishmael…

…no, that’s taken, and my name’s not Ishmael.

Hmmmm…

In my younger and more vulnerable years…

…damn! That’s taken too. Bummer. That’s a really good one.

Hmmmm…

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like…

…nope, taken, and also really, really good.

Ok, so I don’t feel very original right now. Besides, all three of those are from novels, not memoirs…

I was born a poor black child…

…OK! I confess, I’m not black.


It’s interesting that this Plinky should come up now, since I’ve just finished Dave Eggers‘ novel, “You Shall Know Our Velocity!”. Eggers, is the author of “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”, a book known for blurring the lines between memoir and fiction. And “Velocity”, though a novel, finds Eggers continuing to play around with first person narrative, exploring how just such a narrator can dabble in embellishment and wholesale fabrication.

Purists probably have all kinds of criticism for Eggers. “Fiction is fiction and non-fiction should be factual,” you can hear them say. “If he wants the freedom to fictionalize, he should just write fiction.” And yet there are few words as stifling to a writer than the word should.

Perhaps what the purist needs to do is better distinguish between memoir and autobiography, the latter being a more literal, chronological, and historical literary form, and at the same time consider that the Latin root of memoir is memoria, meaning “memory”, or “reminiscence”. Memories are incredibly unreliable things, so why not embrace this fact? Why not have fun with it? What an exciting prospect it seems, to scribe one’s memoir with the memories we have and fill in the gaps with the memories we wish we had…or perhaps those we are thankful we don’t have.

I, for one, found “Velocity” to be a wonderfully experimental book, a book that convinced me to bump “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” to the top of my reading list.


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