I have a friend who reads almost no fiction. Although she isn’t much of a reader, when she does choose a book it’s either non-fiction or a memoir. I suppose she might secretly believe reading fiction is a waste of time, since it isn’t an account of actual happenings. Reading a novel, after all, takes a lot more time than escaping into a two-hour movie, so justifying that much time spent for pure enjoyment might not make it on the to-do list.
Being a fiction writer, I like to think there is a lot of truth between the pages of most novels. We can learn not only about various settings, historical or contemporary, familiar or exotic, but also about people and why they do things. Through fictional characters we can deepen our faith or expand our education, we can learn compassion for a different experience or point of view, feel emotions as we step into the shoes of someone entirely different from ourselves.
Memoirs can do this, too, but one thing I’ve come to warn myself when reading a memoir is that the author can fall into an easy pitfall – letting too much pride show, whether intentionally or not. In the memoir I’m reading now, the person is usually one step ahead of everyone else, recounting things that make her look just a tad bit better than those around her, either smarter, more selfless, or more brave. Of course memoirs are usually written by people who have admirers of one sort or another, so there is likely something to – well, admire – about that person to begin with. But when memoirs feel like the world spins with this person at its axis, that’s when a memoir stops working for me.
Maybe if more of us, myself included, ever wrote a story of our lives we too might be tempted to describe our experience as just a little bit better than reality. Or worse, depending upon the point of the memoir. We’re all so naturally self-centered, and of course memoirs feed this.
Can you guess I’m not the biggest fan of memoirs? I should probably apologize to those who love them. But there may be hope for me – perhaps I just haven’t read the right ones yet!