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William Zinsser - «Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir» - Kirkus Review - portions of this piece are excerpted from «Umpteen Essays in Search of a Novel (1983-2023)»

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William Zinsser - «Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir» - Kirkus Review - portions of this piece are excerpted from «Umpteen Essays in Search of a Novel (1983-2023)»

Abstract

The anthologist of «Extraordinary Lives» repeats his formula in this collection of writers' reminiscences of how their books of memoir came into being.
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Kirkus Reviews
INVENTING THE TRUTH:
The Art and Craft of Memoir
By
Pub Date: Sept. 23rd, 1987
ISBN: 0395901502
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
The anthologist of Extraordinary Lives repeats his formula in this
collection of writers' reminiscences of how their books of memoir came
into being. The art's as old as St. Augustine's Confessions, but the
mechanics of the craft are less than exhaustively explored. According to
contributor Annie Dillard's definition, a memoir is ""any account, usually in the first person, of events
that happened a while ago."" Simple enough. But the real difficulty is aesthetic: what to put in? what to
leave out? It is to various aspects of this formal crux that these five contributors, each the author of a
noted book of memoirs, address themselves. New York Times columnist Russell Baker reveals the
similarities--and critical differences--between autobiography and investigative journalism, as learned
firsthand in the writing of his Growing Up. Toni Morrison, in ""The Site of Memory"" (a lovely lyric piece
that forms the centerpiece of the collection), probing the boundaries between the traditionally nonfiction
mode of memoir and her work in fiction like Song of Solomon, envisions the art of memoir as an
excavation of buried life--an archeology of the interior. Alfred Kazin, recalling how he came to write A
Walker in the City, traces his debt to two subgenres of memoir (the intellectual autobiography and the
spiritual autobiography) whose masterpieces are The Education of Henry Adams and Walden. And finally,
Lewis Thomas, the gentle poet of science, thinking back on the creation of his Lives of a Cell, delivers a
coda of learnedly baroque meditation on time and cellular memory, so much contrapuntal cytology to
Morrison's site-ology--natural philosophy at its best. An admirable idea for a book, filled with admirable
ideas. It both salvages individual precious gems (these essays were originally presented as a series of
lectures at the New York Public Library), and also brings us closer to the work of the memoirists
themselves.
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