Monday, December 4, 2017

Memoir or Oral History on Overdrive

I was listening to an interview about history and biography when the author mentioned oral histories and how important they were for putting together his book. I nodded my head in agreement and then stepped back as I realized how important oral history is to memoir. 

If we differentiate memoir from biography as told in the first person as opposed to the third, then memoir is really an extended oral history. More than that, memoir is oral history written down and edited, thought out and perhaps contextualized with background on important events in a person's life.  More importantly, memoir is the first person account of a person's life, a look back at how that person responded to events and actions around them. Memoirs are another name for auto-biography, writing from memory. 

Two authors stand out in my mind as writing excellent and engaging memoirs or autobiographies. The first is Jill Ker Conway whose The Road to Coorain recounts her life until she goes to university. It's a wonderful oral history writ large, a history of growing up in Australia. Jill Ker Conway, a president of Smith College, went on to write several autobiographies and a wonderful study on the subject called When Memory Speaks: Reflections on Autobiography

James McBride is the second author who writes down the history of his family, particularly his relationship with his mother in The Color of Water This memoir tells of his life in Red Hook and his struggles with issues of race, religion, and identity. 

In the AudioFile Magazine’s 2017 Best AudioBooks, particularly Memoir, we can listen to memoirs written and read by the author or interviewee, that is, the person who made an oral history come to life in print. Some of the memoirs are read by professional narrators. Does that make a difference? It depends upon the memoirist's ability to read for a long period of time and to capture the rhythm and tempo of their life. That's my opinion What do you think?

Take a listen to the audioclips provided by AudioFile Magazine

and make up your own mind.

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