Since television was not allowed in my Mennonite home when I was growing up, magazines, newspapers, and radio were an important link to the outside world.
The magazines I read from cover to cover included The Saturday Evening Post, Boy’s Life, and Life. But these were special treats not always available. Usually, they followed some magazine drive that were standard fundraisers at school.
We always had Farm Journal, Hoard’s Dairyman, The Gospel Herald and Christian Living, which I read only when desperate.
However, we had one tried-and-true, omni-present consumer magazine friend. Can you guess which one?
Of course, it was The Reader’s Digest. I gobbled up a new copy as soon as I found it in the mailbox, and the old copies found their way to the single bathroom our family of seven shared.
“Humor in Uniform” and “Real Life Drama” were some of my favorite sections, taking me into places far outside my small, Mennonite world. I sometimes did the “Word Power” puzzles and loved to find witty quotations I could try out with my friends. In some ways, the magazine predicted the future of mass media. It valued the pithy, poignant, sound bite before that word was coined and before USA Today and Twitter carried those values to their logical conclusions.
So, when I found this essay about memoir from the online version of Reader’s Digest, I was led to a little reverie about the past, not only of my own early reading habits but of the cultural role played by this magazine. If a little Mennonite girl found a window to the world here, imagine how many other Americans did also? The stories reflected the conservative values of the founders, Lila Bell and Dewitt Wallace, but they refrained from political endorsement and had none of the shrill ideological language of today’s media.
The magazine was, and is, filled with memoir–real people’s stories with names of the authors attached. I used to pore over the page that described how anybody could become an “author” in one of the many special sections devoted to real life humor and drama. Again, the popularity of these mini-memoirs may have forecast today’s reality television and enlarged memoir section in libraries and bookstores.
The article below, from a recent issue of Reader’s Digest online, does a great job of describing some critical memoir issues, especially psychological ones, and includes quotes from Jeannette Walls and other famous memoirists. So I guess you can say that even today Reader’s Digest is enlarging my world.
You won’t be able to read the article in the bathroom, however, unless you print it out or view this post on a smart phone. Ah, the benefits of print media.
How to Write Your Memoir
By Joe Kita January 2009
“I was terrified,” says Walls. “I had this great life, a husband who loved me, a great job, a house with flush toilets, yet I felt like a fraud. I had a compulsion to write about this embarrassing stuff even though I knew I was risking everything.”
Walls made false starts on her memoir four times over 20 years, on each occasion growing so frustrated and fearful that she threw out the entire manuscript. Finally, when she was 44, The Glass Castle was published. It’s been on the New York Times bestseller list for almost three years, has sold more than two million copies, has been translated into 23 languages, and will soon be a movie.
“One of the lessons I’ve learned from writing this memoir is how much we all have in common,” says Walls. “So many of us think that certain things only happened to us and somehow they make us less of a person. I’m constantly urging people, especially older folks, to write about their lives. It gives you new perspective. It was hugely eye-opening for me and very cathartic. Even if the book hadn’t sold a single copy, it would still have been worth it.”
Read the rest of the article here.
Do you have any Reader’s Digest memories from childhood? Please share!