So, I got most of my Portland issues out of my system yesterday
. Today, by God, the blogging begins in earnest! I'm here to talk about, among other things, The Memoir. With capital letters, just so. My memoir, Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses
, came out in December. I will be reading from it at Powell's on January 28
More specifically, I'm interested in the memoir of the ordinary person. I wrote one of those. It would be hard to imagine a more ordinary ordinary person than myself. (Though one of my feet is notably bigger than the other.) So I have spent a lot of time thinking about this genre.
Why do we read such books? For the same reason we read novels, or cookbooks, or ethnographies: Because we are nosy about how other people live.
Memoirs are excellent delivery vehicles for news of everyday life. We want to know what other people eat for dinner (pace Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking), and how exactly they fight with their spouses (Manhattan, When I Was Young by Mary Cantwell). We are interested to learn that their socks fall down inside their shoes (How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed by Theo Pauline Nestor), and that they have ridiculous work habits (Geoff Dyer's Out of Sheer Rage). It's a strange thing, but the homelier the detail, the happier the reader is. The memoir is the hobbit of the literary world; its lows are low, and so are its highs. The mundane becomes fascinating, and the reader becomes a voyeur of the ordinary. There's a deliciousness in that.
We are nosy, but at the same time, we don't actually want to find out that people are different from us. We want to find out the cosy truth that they are similar to us. We read such books — books that reflect our own lives back to us — with an access of relief. An exhale. I'm not going it alone. Not entirely.