I adore reading memoirs. If someone were to ask me today what genre of book is my favourite, memoirs would be my answer. I find that they are the most interesting stories because of how relatable they are in general. Across the range of fiction, there are some I love and some I could not be paid to read.
With memoirs, the premise is generally the same. The subject re-traces their steps and indulges themselves, and the reader, into what exactly they were thinking. It is much easier to connect with the person because often a memoirs focus is on the mundane, the everyday, and not the glitzed up narrative told by media. In that way, reading memoirs gives me a lot of hope. In more or less every one, the subject shatters the façade that they always knew what they were doing, and are just making it up as they go along like everyone else.
Memoirs deconstructs our perceptions of the subject. It is all too easy to marvel and romanticise someone’s achievements, what is readily overlooked is the journey to fulfil their promise. For example, prior to reading his travel diaries, I viewed Ché Guevara as a mythical figure of history. The mythic-quality I associated with him sprouted from an ignorance of is story. I, like the rest of the world, admired his successes of helping to liberate Cuba and fighting passionately for the working class. This perception, however, was too far removed from my own reality. It was the idealised, mass-printed, picture of a revolutionary.
Reading his travel diary gave me a much deeper appreciation of how he got to be the legendary champion for Marxism we know him to me. What I found was that his views at 23 were not dissimilar to mine. Does that mean that I will grow replicate his legacy? Probably not. But it helped to humanise him for me, I could see how Ché, and others grew into their destiny. The fact that memoirs show people to always be making it up as they go along gives me hope. Hope that my story will be as inspiring despite feeling like I am winging it.
Unlike other forms of expression like video, writing a memoir affords its subject a freedom from time. They can write with as much depth as they would like; they do not have to worry about writing too much or too little. The result is that the more impactful vignettes can last hundreds of pages, and be given the right amount of attention and treatment as the subject deems worthy. This is where a memoir differs from a biography: the former focuses on the story while the latter lacks the nuance and is more beholden to the history.
There are no boxes to tick, no word limit to be mindful of, and no defined structured to be influenced by. The result of this freedom is the ability to develop an intimacy in the writing and, therefore, with the reader as well. Sometimes, I feel uncomfortable reading vulnerable passages, like that sense I am reading someone’s personal diary and invading their privacy. This, however, is a big reason why I like memoirs, it is inherently personal.
Memoirs is a great alternative for fiction, sharing many of the elements that make the latter great. There are great characters and conflict to be found in memoirs. What puts it over the top of fiction for me is knowing that everything is real and is part of human history. Some of my favourite “characters” from memoirs include Woodell from Shoe Dog, Alberto from The Motorcycle Diaries, and Ezra Pound from A Moveable Feast. These three in particular rank higher than any of the characters I have been introduced to in works of fiction.
Memoirs distill the essence of the human experience – an intimate bearing of the mind and soul. This is why I adore reading them.