Another Top Memoir List! Dinty Moore Picks Top Six to Illustrate Variety

I love when friends send me memoir lists, because they are helping to build a community of readers and writers. This time, my friend Susan Blackwell Ramsey, award-winning poet and literary cheerleader, sent me the link. Others are welcome to do the same!

Dinty Moore, the author of many nonfiction books, editor of Brevity, and faculty member at Ohio University, found it hard to pick the top six memoirs for Amy McDaniel’s post on the Author’s Spotlight blog until he decided to pick his favorites as a way to emphasize six different approaches to the genre.

Here is a teaser to the whole post. I recommend you follow the link so that you can read about all six. You’ll have a pro to guide you–Dinty Moore.

“Narrowing my list of representative memoirs down to six was an agonizing task, because there are so many solid examples.  To keep the undertaking manageable (barely), I’ve limited myself to the last twenty years or so, and instead of a ‘favorites’ list, I’ve chosen six examples that I think show the range of what memoir can do.

My concise description of memoir is “the truth, artfully arranged.”  Now we can argue about the meaning of the word truth for weeks, but I’d rather not.  I think – despite all of the weakness of memory (and for that matter, observation) – that sophisticated readers understand that the truth they are given in memoir is the author’s subjective truth.  There is no hope of objective accuracy, nor would that be as interesting to read.  But you go after your truth, with honest intent.  That means that an author who is willingly, consciously subverting what he remembers is not writing memoir, by my definition. Cross that line, and you are writing fiction.  Which is fine, but it is another project entirely.

So I’ve pulled these six memoirs down from my shelves to illustrate how a life can be presented artfully. Starting with:

This Boy’s Life, Tobias Wolff (1989): Wolff’s memoir is the first that I remember reading.  I had read autobiography, of course, and long-form journalism, but Wolff’s brutally-honest, cinematic childhood memoir was the first to give me what previously I had only found in novels: the ability to escape into someone else’s life and another world, another time. Wolff wasn’t the first to write memoir in this way, but This Boy’s Life remains a touchstone to me and many other writers.  I love the opening note to the reader: “I have been corrected on some points, mostly of chronology.  Also my mother thinks that a dog I describe as ugly was actually quite handsome.  I’ve allowed some of these points to stand, because this is a book of memory, and memory has its own story to tell.”

Read the whole post here.

Posted in

Shirley Showalter


  1. Wayne Groner on May 13, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Dinty Moore was among those you recommended during yesterday’s outstanding teleconference on Place. Thanks a million, Shirley! I have a lot of exploring to do.

  2. shirleyhs on May 13, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Hi, Wayne! Thanks so much for coming to! And for your incisive questions and comments on the May 12 teleconversation about place at NAMW. By leaving this comment you are allowing readers to check out your excellent website by clicking on your name. You are generous in offering your time and expertise to those who are interested in leaving a legacy by telling their stories. Let’s stay in touch!

Leave a Comment