Wednesday, January 24, 2007


The death of Barbara Seranella shook me. I know she's been sick for a long time, having weathered two liver transplants. I know she put up a brave fight and that some fights you can't win. But she was only 50 years old. A successful mystery author, she was also a friend to many and a wonderful and funny lady.

Fifty might sound old to some of you out there. But in the scheme of things, or rather, from my perspective of 57, it is not. My mother died at the age of 34 – believe me, that's way too young for a mother to die. I have outlived her by many years and my health is not what it used to be, but I am not ready to go. I think of her every day – and my father, who was killed at age 58 – but I am not ready to go.

There is no age that seems right – maybe there is only a time when we are too tired to open our eyes again.

So what is it with writing memoirs? I do like reading interesting memoirs, especially if there is World War One or Egypt or a lot of love interest involved. Or if they are really *more* than memoirs (T.E. Lawrence comes to mind) and have other interesting things going on. But how do you decide if you have a memoir worth writing?

Well, I'm not going to put a minimum age limit on it – but I think you should have had a chance to live through something if you want your readers to live through it through you. And that something – whatever it is – needs to be either extraordinary or ordinary told in an extraordinary way. Stephen King's On Writing is both of these. His childhood was unusual and his writing is some of the best I have ever read.

I don't know what prompts people to write their memoirs – maybe a sense of sharing an unusual life, or imparting a life message of some sort, or just a nice ramble along the lines of "write what you know." Well done, they can be a treat to read. Not well done, and they can be as boring as Grampa Simpson's disjointed reveries.

So, what memoirs have you read and liked? Memoirs of a Geisha doesn't count, as fabulous as it was.


The plans for the new spa at my house, meticulously hand-colored by the pool guy, Evan, with colored pencils.

All the pets lined up on the back patio for breakfast, momentarily forgetting their territorial squabbles as they gazed expectantly at the glass door where the food bowl is brought out to them.

My Dear Husband eating Swedish Meatballs at IKEA the other night. He has recovered enough from his hip surgery to get out and about and we walked around looking at those cute little model rooms.


Sonnjea B said...

To date, I don't believe I've read any memoirs. I prefer biographies because I somehow have gotten the idea in my head that when people write about their own lives, they lie. Not intentionally, but they remember things inaccurately, whereas a biographer (ostensibly) spends a lot of time fact-checking.

Beyond that, I wouldn't care to read the memoirs of someone who is utterly self-serving or who has done the world more harm than good or who is just plain boring.

Memoirs I would read:
The Dalai Lama
Marie Curie
Bill Gates

Memoirs I would NOT read:
George W. Bush
James Frey
Paris Hilton

And I don't think 50 is old. 57 isn't old. 62 isn't old. I'm not sure what age is "old" -- but it's WAY up there, as far as I'm concerned.

Kate Thornton said...

sonnjea b - You said it!

And I like your lists, too.

ORION said...

It's funny. At each writing conference I go to there's a huge number of people writing their memoirs. At 53 i am STILL not ready to write mine...and only if I get a crack at George Clooney or win the Nobel Prize for Literature or something! Jeez!
Great blog!

Kate Thornton said...

Thank you, Orion!

I'm just not ready yet myself!

anna said...

hey Kate, found you through Bernita
and had to read the 3 beautiful things. love em! specially the hubby with the new hip. Hooray for him.
as for memoirs I don't read them much either as I think most people tend to colour them the way they'd like to be or at least the way they'd like you to think they are.

I'll come back and read a few old posts when i have time

Bernita said...

I usually prefer biographies to memoirs.

Talia Mana, Centre for Emotional Well-Being said...

Awwww I didn't know Barbara Seranella had passed away. I thought she okay after her last liver transplant.

I will miss her books and her courage in handling a very difficult situation. I don't even know why she needed the liver transplants but I remember reading about her recovery.