Mary Karr at the Brattle Theatre

by E.B. Bartels

Today was a great day for women who write nonfiction.

Not only did Fiction Advocate publish the September edition of Non-Fiction by Non-Men today, featuring my interview with Jennifer Finney Boylan (more on that later), but I also heard Mary Karr speak about her new book The Art of Memoir at the Brattle Theatre, sponsored by the Harvard Book Store and GrubStreet!

Mary Karr at the Brattle Theatre on September 14, 2015.

Mary Karr at the Brattle on September 14, 2015.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from Ms. Karr’s talk:

Every memoir is a survival story by dint of the fact the person who wrote it is still alive.

Reading memoir makes me feel less alone.

Don DeLillo said fiction starts with meaning and then you manufacture events. With memoir, you start with events and look for meaning.

Memoir lives or dies based on voice.

You need an inner life the size of Lake Superior to write a book.

The art of memoir is how we bullshit ourselves.

The well-bred American WASP can ignore reality better than any heroin addict.

How do I choose what memories to cut? That’s easy. You cut anything that’s boring.

Things that I thought would be whole chapters ended up being two sentences, and things that I thought would be two sentences ended up being whole chapters.

For the sake of truth, if someone disagrees with my memory I feel compelled to mention that, but not to represent her point of view. My sister can write her own damn book.

I became an overnight success after writing for twenty years.

Anybody who writes anything is narcissistic. Any artist is narcissistic. If you can spend eight hours alone with your own mind, that is the definition of narcissism.

Social media narcissism is shallow and in the moment. A book, a memoir, should last forever. It’s like the difference between a Tic-Tac and a steak.

A book is a bomb that doesn’t go off until a reader reads it.

Yeah, it was a great night. Every time I hear her speak (the first time I did was back at a Columbia Writing Program Nonfiction Dialogue in April 2013), I feel much better about writing and life. Ms. Karr is pretty much perfect.

Well, except for this:

Major book-signing fail.

Major book-signing fail.

Whoops.

But, hey, it’s hard to maintain eye contact and keep up small-talk with a stuttering fangirl reader, while also signing a book. If I’ve learned one thing from reading and listening to Mary Karr, it’s that all humans make mistakes, and that’s what makes us interesting and worth writing about. We’re likeable especially when we’re unlikeable.

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