A couple of years ago, I was having lunch with a friend and telling him about the memoir I was writing.

“What makes you think anyone would want to read about your life?” he asked.

It was a reasonable question because I’m not famous, drug-addicted, bulimic or any of the other things that some people look for in a memoir.

“Well,” I said, “You could have asked the same question of Frank McCourt before he wrote ‘Angela’s Ashes’ and in fact, you could argue that, up to the point when he became famous, I’d had a more interesting life than a high school English teacher.”

Now we all know that McCourt, whose writing I adore, certainly had an interesting tale to tell but, except for his friends, family and drinking buddies, who knew that before he published his memoir?

My point is that most of the memoirs I read are by people I’ve never heard of and I prefer it that way. I would never read an autobiography of say, former President George Bush and, likewise, I’d never read one by former President Clinton either. Who cares? In my mind, they’re too well known.

People think you have to be a raging narcissist to write your memoir but, you know what, all writers are narcissists! But that is not the point of memoirs. For me, it’s all about story — presenting them and preserving them.

The reason I wrote my memoir — “Leaving Story Avenue: My journey from the projects to the front page” and being published today –– is that I didn’t want the stories of growing up in a Bronx housing project in the 1960s and 1970s and working for a daily newspaper before the age of computers, I didn’t want those memories to just disappear. They are to be valued.

That’s what the best memoirs do — tell stories of lives you’d otherwise know nothing about. One of the best memoirs I’ve ever read — it was at least ten years ago but it sticks with me to this day — is “Road Song” by Natalie Kusc. Never heard of her, right? But her memoir of growing up in Alaska and having her face nearly bitten off by Alaskan huskies is one damn great piece of writing, vulnerable and memorable. If that description turns you off, pick up the book and bathe in her struggle and ultimate triumph.

Other memoirs that I loved in recent years: “The Orchard” by Theresa Weir (my vote for best book of 2010) a love story that takes place in a pesticide-laden field of dreams, “Twisted Head” the hilarious story of growing up Italian-American in the Bronx (sounds familiar) by Carl Caportorto, “The Bookmaker” by Michael J. Agovino, a memoir about growing up in Co-op City in the Bronx with a father who has one foot in the world of classical culture and the other in world of bookies and numbers, “Her Last Death” by Susanna Sonnenberg about a mother who is craaazy, and the classic “Fierce Attachments” by the powerful writer Vivian Gornick.

These books do what the best memoirs are supposed to do — bring us into another’s life to understand what makes them tick. I can hear the doubters saying “Who cares about these unknown people? I don’t give a rat’s ass about their lives!”

If that voice is you, nothing I can say will convince you otherwise. All I know is that every life is extraordinary.

  1. Amy says:

    I so agree! Hope yours is a great read and thanks for the recommendations, just requested 3 from the library!

  2. Paul LaRosa says:

    i’m sure you’ll enjoy them…

  3. Anita Joy says:

    OK, this is eerie. Your writing on the 1960 Park Slope air-disaster led me to your blog – thought I’d look around.

    Trivial tidbit: Pat Sawyer is/was widow-wife of Capt. Robert “Bob” H. Sawyer of UAL Flight 826, who was found guilg of ‘contributory negligence as a matter of law’ in March 1969.

    In September 1969, the Sawyers were living in Hemet California and Pat was selected from 10,000+ applictans to do a road-trip to Alaska for some Missionary Trip. Maybe connected with Catholic Indian Missions up there.

    I read this post referencing “Road Trip” by Natalie Kusc and….

    …..things that make you go hmmmm.

    You going to finish writing that book?

  4. Paul LaRosa says:

    Doesn’t look like it….

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