Writing a book is not for the faint of heart. It requires hours of dedication, coupled with a strong vision comprising what an author desires to impart. Some books require much research, while others appear to be written nearly entirely off the cuff. There are narratives that languish, while others become an instant success. The book business is a rather unpredictable one; for, we never truly know what books will come to captivate our attention until we read them.
I recently read Blue Eyed Boy: A Memoir by Bob Timberg. The memoir focuses on the life of a man who experienced great tragedy. Suffering severe burns after riding in a van that encountered a landmine during the Vietnam War, the young Marine was forced to grapple with the implications of loss. His face nearly entirely distorted as a result, he endured dozens of surgeries, eager to restore his previous physical appearance.
Although his story may be rare, at least in comparison to the life of an average American, the words he offers are ones to which we can all relate. A tale filled with pain and regret, joys and success. He writes in a tone filled with sincerity, readily admitting to an extramarital affair, along with his penchant for wrecking marriages. Despite the pain inherent in his journey, he refuses to play the victim card. He owns his mistakes, leaving it up to the reader to decide whether or not they were carried out as a result of experiencing horrific trauma.
While books of all genres fill my bookshelves, there is something rather special about a memoir. A sentiment likely shared by countless readers. We long to delve into the stories of others, eager to connect and understand the human experience. “Truth is stranger than fiction,” as the saying goes.
Reading a memoir can help us identify our own thought patterns, making sense of the behavior we see in ourselves and those around us. Such a powerful genre, allowing others a window into the soul. All while providing an avenue for the communal consumption of shared human experiences. Memoirs help us make sense of the world, while offering insight into the complexity of human emotion that can often get lost in our twenty-four hour news cycle. Ultimately, these works help us better understand ourselves.
The power of such writing cannot be overstated. Hillbilly Elegy, written by J.D. Vance, helped a nation come to grips with the realities facing residents of the Midwest. Vance captures the plight of poor, white Americans trying to find their way in a country that has seemingly left them behind. His book coincided with the 2016 election, an aid in understanding the anger presumably felt by a wide swath of voters.
Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie showed us what it looks like for a human being to have empathy for another. It illuminated the need for the older generation to provide wisdom and insight to those of us still trying to find our way. James McBride’s The Color of Water helped redefine the meaning behind the color of our skin, paving the way for a more understanding culture in which human beings’ are judged and accepted by the character they display during the lives they live. A view of a nation to which so many of us aspire.
Admittedly, I may be biased, since I am in the process of completing a memoir. A gut-wrenching, difficult, excruciating project that has taken several years to complete. One which I have occasionally wished to walk away from, only to be pulled back in by the prospect of making an impact. My motivation for writing stemming from a desire to show others the lessons I have learned after enduring a traumatic experience, while offering hope to those who need it most. For how else can we influence others if we are unwilling to share our stories?
In a few weeks, I plan to attend the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. I will eagerly wait in long lines to meet fantastic authors, longing to hear the origination of the stories they so eloquently pen. I will readily listen to lectures given by both non-fiction and fiction writers alike, willingly getting lost in the stories they tell. Yet none will be as exciting as those offered by memoirists, offering tidbits along the way of the journeys they have traveled. The adventures they have lived, the demons they have conquered. The mountains they have climbed, and the tunnels they have burrowed. Here’s to hoping the next year brings a whole slew of new memoirs. For, so much would be lost if the sharing of beautiful, gut-wrenching, inspirational stories were to suddenly cease.
Samuel Moore-Sobel is a freelance writer. To read more of his work, visit www.