book review: Memoir Revolution

In the twenty-first century, memoirs have exploded from a specialized niche into a central feature of our literary and popular culture. Aspiring memoir authors fill writing classes, and published authors appear on talk shows. We’re in the age of the memoir. This book reveals the roots and importance of the trend, and the value it can have in our individual and social lives.

Jerry Waxler's Memoir Revolution is notable, first and foremost, for its energy. The energy radiates out from the text and soaks into the reader like sunlight.

It's funny: if someone were to ask me if I ready memoirs regularly, I'd say "no". I've never much been one for any type of biography. And yet I've read many of the books which Waxler uses as examples (and there are many examples — the bibliography makes a great reading list). His thesis that memoirs are taking centre stage in culture is strong based on the sheer volume of bestsellers which are associated with the genre.

Memoir Revolution is a mix of Waxler's own memoirs, a survey of the form, and thematic groupings of many different example memoirs. One thing I really appreciated was the use of the same example memoirs for exploring different aspects of the genre in different chapters. Instead of the pigeonholing that's so common in surveys, the examples are held up as rich, multifaceted works. One finishes the book with better understanding of how diverse and well-rounded memoirs can be.

On our journey from infancy to adulthood, all of us must construct our stories. First we learn from our parents, community, and teachers. Then we try things. We play sports, explore sexuality and relationships, earn diplomas and degrees, get jobs. After each experiment, we decide if we want to continue along this line or try something different. From the very beginning, we gather this information into a story about who we are and how we fit into the world. That story continues to direct us for the rest of our lives.

In Memoir Revolution, memoirs aren't just memoirs: they're opportunities for all of us, writers and readers together, to connect, learn from each other, expand our understanding. It's heady, thought-provoking stuff, sourced directly from the 1960s American college scene Waxler experienced first-hand. That positivism, and the looking-inward-becomes-reaching-outward worldview that goes with it, has receded so much from the cultural discourse that when found in this book it felt fresh again.

Above all, this is a book which encourages one to think critically about story-telling. For those interested in writing a memoir, it is a wealth of advice and examples, and a great tool with which to start community-building. For those who enjoy reading memoirs, it's a way to read a memoir while learning to appreciate the genre even more.

About the Author

Jerry Waxler teaches memoir writing at Northampton Community College, Bethlehem, PA, online, and around the country. His Memory Writers Network blog offers hundreds of essays, reviews, and interviews about reading and writing memoirs. He is on the board of the Philadelphia Writer's Conference and National Association of Memoir Writers and holds a BA in Physics and an MS in Counseling Psychology.





About the Book

Memoir Revolution is Jerry Waxler’s beautifully written story as he integrates it with his deep and abiding knowledge and passion for story. In the 1960s, Jerry Waxler, along with millions of his peers, attempted to find truth by rebelling against everything. After a lifetime of learning about himself and the world, he now finds himself in the middle of another social revolution. In the twenty-first century, increasing numbers of us are searching for truth by finding our stories. In Memoir Revolution, Waxler shows how memoirs link us to the ancient, pervasive system of thought called The Story. By translating our lives into this form, we reveal the meaning and purpose that eludes us when we view ourselves through the lens of memory. And when we share these stories, we create mutual understanding, as well. By exploring the cultural roots of this literary trend, based on an extensive list of memoirs and other book, Waxler makes the Memoir Revolution seem like an inevitable answer to questions about our psychological, social and spiritual well-being.