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Thinking About Memoir (AARP) by Abigail…
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Thinking About Memoir (AARP)

by Abigail Thomas

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From the dust jacket:  "What is memoir? How do you write one? What if you can't remember anything, or worse, what if you remember it all?"
So begins this insightful and reassuring meditation on crafting the story of one's life.  Abigail Thomas shares a lifetime of lessons about how to get started-- and stay motivated-- in recapturing your own uniquely personal history.
Memoir can consist of looking back at a single summer, she reflects.  It can scrutinize an isolated but formative decade.  It can weigh the span of an entire life.
To help would-be memoirists find their own jumping-off point-- a "side door" that lets you find your way in, she calls it-- Thomas sprinkles her account with inventive writing exercises, but spells out the goal of each one only after deftly complete it before our eyes.  "Trust the work to find its own way," Thomas concludes, and the shape of your memoir will appear.  In a typically illuminating challenge, she exhorts the reader to "take any ten years of tyour life and reduce them to two pages.  Every sentence has to be three words long--not two, not four, but three words long.  You discover there's nowhere to hid in three-word sentences.
"Thinking about Memoir" also counsels the habit of daily writing as a way to seed the clouds in the front and in the back of your mind.  Keep a note book handy (call it a diary if you must, but never a journal!) and scribble in it everywhere, even if your story is so mundane as how long it is taking to get your sandwich.  The practice might just transport you back in time to that greasy spoon where you and your friends hung out, and to that moment trapped in amber when you noticed how thoroughly cracked the red vinyl seats were in the booths-- and how exotic were the cooks barked commands of "Adam and Eve on a raft-- hold the raft!"  
You may no longer recall what the raft was but you recognize a side door when one opens.
Go through it.
Start writing your story
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If living is an art, it must be practiced with diligence before being done with ease. Yet almost nothing in our culture prepares us for reflection on the great themes of existence: courage, friendship, listening, dignity—those everyday virtues that can transform our world. Because AARP believes it's never too late (or too early) to learn, they, together with Sterling Publishing, have created the About Living series to address these crucial issues. Each entry will be written by only the best authors and thinkers. Thinking About Memoir, the first of these volumes, helps adults look back at their past and use writing as a means of figuring out who they used to be and how they became who they are today. It's written by Abigail Thomas, whose own memoir A Three Dog Life was selected as one of the Best Books of 2006 by the LA Times and the Washington Post and called “perfectly honed (Newsweek), “bracingly honest (Vanity Fair), and “stunning by the Los Angeles Book Review. Thomas writes that memoir can consist of looking back at a single summer or the span of a whole life. Through her experience as a writing teacher, she knows how difficult that can be; this book is about the habit of writing as a way to keep track of what's going on in the front and the back of your mind. It inspires different ways for us to look at the moment we're in right now and will help would-be memoirists find their own “side door into a subject. Thomas writes eloquently about how to get started and find that jumping-off point for your work, and provides exercises that liberate our creativity, enable us to get the distance and perspective we need, and open our eyes to possibilities that may not at first seem obvious. Whether your words are for publication, for your loved ones, or for you alone, Thomas makes the process fulfilling, thoughtful, and even fun.… (more)

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