Truth is stranger than fiction

My mother loves mysteries. My sister loves Jodi Picoult, author of fictional, heartbreaking dilemmas.

I read non-fiction. And I love memoirs.

It’s not as bad as the chasm between Republicans and Democrats, but I’ve found readers of fiction and non-fiction often don’t cross the aisle.

I would argue, however, that well-written memoirs offer all the suspense, compelling description and fascinating dialogue of any good fiction novel.

As I’m out and about talking about my new memoir, I’ve encountered a certain amount of bias against the genre.

Perhaps the word “memoir” evokes the idea of quickly written, self-serving celebrity tell-all books that trash former lovers and are designed to polish the legacy of a has-been star.

I don’t think that’s entirely fair. Even Loni Anderson’s “My Life in High Heels,” which spent a fair amount of time ripping Burt Reynolds and burnishing her own legacy, was worth reading for the lessons she learned in Hollywood (you can get a used copy for 1 cent on Amazon; it’s definitely worth that and the time to read it, especially if you have any cruises or beach time in your future).

And maybe when people hear someone say, “I’m writing my memoirs,” they imagine a crusty old geezer who starts a book with “I was born in 1922, and my parents were poor farmers.”

Though those books have colored people’s views, that’s not entirely fair either. Both “Star Trek” star George Takei and O.J. Simpson prosecutor Christopher Darden spend a fair amount of time in their memoirs addressing their formative years, but that information is relevant to their stories and interesting to read:

  • “For my father, Takekuma Norman Takei, that long, hot trip through the southwestern desert [to a Japanese-American “relocation” camp] was more than the end of all that he had built of his life. It was a journey into uncertainty with a wife, three small children, and nothing else.” To the Stars: The Autobiography of George Takei, Star Trek’s Mr. Sulu
  • “There was this white kid with a crooked leg who lived near where my father grew up in Gilmer, a dusty farming town on the eastern side of Texas, near the city of Tyler. … It says something that, in America, a lame white boy would suffer a beating just for the chance to spit on a black kid.” In Contempt by Christopher Darden with Jess Walter

Good memoirs describe and enlighten “the other”: The person on the fringes, the one who finds herself in a strange situation, the person who has overcome great difficulties. They’re fascinating and uplifting, if done right.

I appreciated Rhoda Janzen’s “Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home” about a divorcée who picks up the pieces of her life back in the quirky home of her Mennonite family, Julie Metz’s “Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal” about a widow who discovers her dead husband led a secret life, and Jennifer Lauck’s “Blackbird: A Childhood Lost and Found,” the story of a girl who experiences “bad things” after her mother dies.

If you’re interested in zombies, vampires and old ladies who solve murder mysteries, OK, you probably won’t find them in the memoir section of the bookstore or library, but you might find something even better: A true story about real people that makes you think, count your blessings or change your perspective. Give memoir a try.

Monica Lee’s memoir, “The Percussionist’s Wife: A Memoir of Sex, Crime & Betrayal,” is available in paperback from Amazon or you’ll find it on KindleNook and Kobo (for iPad). Kindle versions of “The Percussionist’s Wife” are also available in English from Amazon in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and India. The hardcover is available from Lulu. Monica Lee is neither a celebrity or a crusty old geezer; there are no alien abductions or postapocalyptic war games in her book. But you might like it anyway.

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3 thoughts on “Truth is stranger than fiction

  1. Although I am mainly a fiction reader, I have to agree with you that memoir’s can be very interesting. They are my first choice if I ever swim over to the non-fiction side of the book river!

  2. Great post! As a memoir writer myself, I could identify with many points. I think all those stigmas you mentioned are a little seed in some people’s heads about how they judge a memoir. But yes, written with a strong message and sharing survival or stories of overcoming are very inspiring for many readers. 🙂

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