The top 100 memoirs list we are constructing here is not a scientific one.  At the rate we are going, 81 posts in 9 months, and only 18 reviews so far, it will take five years to get to 100 memoirs! I’ve read many more than I have reviewed and have an entire bookcase of read and unread memoir waiting to be revealed to my gentle readers.  But since Ms. Memoir is already 60 years old, she needs some guidance about what subjects readers most want to know about.

Originally I thought I would review books almost exclusively.  Now, however, I have developed a whole list of other diverting memoir topics–see categories on the right-hand side.  The political campaign provided more grist for the memoir mill than I could every have imagined.  And then there’s life.  I notice in the tag cloud that mini-memoir has become the largest category.  I also notice that I seem to get more comments on mini-memoir than on reviews.  Hmmmm.

Since this is the second Rick Bragg book I read in a little more than a week, I won’t write as much about this one as I did his first memoir, All Over but the Shoutin’. The bottom line:  this one is just as good as the first.

You can tell a lot about a book by the kinds of review excerpts gleaned from other writers and printed on the back cover or opening pages of a book.  Here’s a sample.  Notice how many people try to come up with Southern witticisms to match Bragg’s own style:

“As toothsome as a catfish supper: [Bragg] is every bit the equal of Harper Lee and Truman Capote.”–People

“Rick Bragg has once more gone to the well of his family’s history and drawn readers a story that goes down like a long drink of sweet spring water–with a little taste of whiskey on the side.”–Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Rich in the raw materials of character and local color, enhanced by language marked with extravagance and economy–and the born storyteller’s gift for knowing when to be lavish with words and when to be lean.”–St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Bragg writes like his grandfather drank. . . .He cuts loose with wonderful flowing descriptive floods. . .that can cripple another writer with envy.”–The Miami Herald

It’s as though these reviewer’s remember their own granddaddy telling them to avoid a pissing contest with a skunk–but they can’t help themselves.  And in fact, they admire the skunk’s perfume.

So, this “review” is not much more than a teaser this time.  All you need to know is that Rick Bragg tells a great story and that his innovation in this book is to “create” a grandfather he never knew out of family reunions, photographs, and interviews with his relatives and friends.  He illustrates one more motive for writing a memoir–getting to know the ancestor you never met in life.

Readers, I’d love some feedback to the categories on this blog:

Is the mix of reviewing, reflecting, and commenting on the news:

A. About right

B.  Too much reviewing

C. Too little reviewing

D. Too many mini-memoirs

E.  Not enough mini-memoirs

F.  Too much social commentary

G. Not enough social commentary

Shirley Showalter


  1. amishguitar on April 20, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    A. About right. But I spend a lot of my time reading reviews for my job so I find it refreshing to come here and read your other content.

  2. Gutsy Writer on April 20, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    I think I'd like to learn more about what you teach during your workshops. Techniques for memoir writers. Tips that can make our writing stand out. I don't have time to read as much as I'd like so althought reviews are interesting, I personally can't keep up with too many. Also many blogs review different books and I enjoy hearing more personal stories and receiving tips that I can apply to my writing. Perhaps this isn't your intention with your blog, but I thought I'd mention it. Thanks.

  3. Eyal on April 21, 2009 at 6:21 am

    I think I am new to 100 Memoirs and I rather enjoy the mix. As long as you enjoy it, I hope you will continue to share the way you do.

  4. Phyllis on April 21, 2009 at 6:50 am

    I love reading your entries. If I were going to invest a read in “Ava” this review is too brief for me. However, I read your review on “All Over but the Shoutin'” and ended up purchasing the book to read. I don't speed read and have to try and prioritize the many books that keep getting added to my list.

  5. Lisa Williams on April 21, 2009 at 7:21 am

    One of my favorite passages is that about a statue in tribute to grandfathers. I can't read that paragraph out loud without crying. It gets me every time.

  6. Karin Krisetya on April 21, 2009 at 8:03 am

    I have to go with E and B. I'm all about YOU, not so much about the authors of the books you are reviewing. So I am only interested in the reviews to the extent that it gives me a window into how you think. That is valuable. I love the mini-memoirs the best (obviously!) and hope that you will continue to use this page to churn the beauties out! Did I ever tell you that way back in college I thought about how great it would be to write your biography? –yours is a story that must be told! I know so little of it, and still I find it gripping. If you write your own memoirs then I can have the pleasure of reading them instead of writing them!

  7. Betty on April 21, 2009 at 10:21 am

    B & E. I would like to read more about you.

  8. Chelsea on April 21, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    I like everything, but especially the personal commentary and reflections.

  9. shirleyhs on April 22, 2009 at 5:05 am

    Thanks, Lisa. For the benefit of other readers, I will quote from the book–assuming this is the passage you mean: “I spoke to distant cousins and tiny, frail great-aunts, to old men with no reason to lie and some, my aunts warned me, who lied with every quavering breath. They all said the same thing–that he was a damn rascal, all right, but he was their damn rascal, and they ought to stick a statue of him up smack-dab in the middle of the square in Jacksonville, Alabama, next to the Confederate soldier.”

  10. shirleyhs on April 22, 2009 at 5:06 am

    Thanks, amishguitar, looks like you have company in the other responses below. I really appreciate the feedback.

  11. shirleyhs on April 22, 2009 at 5:09 am

    Gutsy Writer, I don't teach that many workshops. But I can think more about tips. The one from Rick Bragg to me in the last post says a lot–drama, color, and detail. You get drama from good structure, color from listening to how real people talk and thinking analogically, and detail from observing instead of just looking. Maybe I'll write a post on that. Thanks for the feedback!

  12. shirleyhs on April 22, 2009 at 5:10 am

    Thanks, Eyal. It's fun having a reader in Israel. Glad you are enjoying. Keep making peace! We need you.

  13. Shirley on April 22, 2009 at 5:48 am

    Thanks, Phyllis. I will try to review one or two books/month–thoroughly enough for a reader to make a decision about whether to invest the time and money in a book. Thanks for the feedback!

  14. Shirley on April 22, 2009 at 5:52 am

    I'm blushing, Karin. And wondering what you were curious about way back in college. That kind of question might be very helpful in the construction of a memoir. And I'm fascinated by your biographer's impulse, too. If you go for a PhD, you might consider making your dissertation a biography. Assuming, your discipline allows it.Thanks for the feedback all the way from Indonesia!Shirley

  15. Shirley on April 22, 2009 at 5:54 am

    Thanks, Betty from Paraguay. It seems that the most far-flung readers had the most to offer to my questions. You are such a warm, feeling, people-person. I can tell that from reading your blog. And it is a compliment to me that you would like more mini-memoirs. Thanks.

  16. Shirley on April 22, 2009 at 5:56 am

    Thanks, Chelsea. You will probably hear many stories over the years ahead, and I look forward to hearing yours also! I love your own blog and have learned a thing or two from reading it. :-)Shirley

  17. Swing Trading on October 24, 2009 at 6:11 am

    Insightful read. I have stumbled and twittered this for my friends. Others no doubt will like it like I did.

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