Oh the food writer, chef, or foodie memoir. I am a sucker for them. I love food. I love shows about food. FOOD!
Julie & Julia was the food memoir for my generation. It includes all the key elements of a 2000 era memoir:
- post 9/11 questioning your life
- references to Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- child-free years of marriage (for most couples, but not all)
- hoped for, but unexpected success
- a challenge that seems easy, but turns out to drive you bonkers.
I loved this book despite the snark you just read. Julie & Julia happened to be a book that started a trend. People started all types of challenges because of what Julie Powell did. Hell, even my own Book Lust challenge started because of it. I certainly wasn’t going to cook lobster or beef brains. I was, on the other hand, more than happy to read books. I maintain I made the right decision here.
Julie & Julia is what I think of as a micro-memoir. Before this, most biographies seemed to focus on the life of a person. That a young person would write about a small portion of their short life was not often done. Even Home Cooking, which I discussed on Monday, was more short-essay form, rather than memoir. Now memoirs and biographies are distinctly different things. Both are chronological, but biographies tend to focus on the entire life rather than a period.
I don’t want to imply that memoirs are new. Walden was a memoir, after all. I think that they have found a stronger foothold in the last 20 years. You don’t need to be famous to write one. You have to do something worth writing about. A lot of memoirs are from people who are considered internet-famous. In other words, they have a strong following on the web, typically a blog, and can write a collection of essays or stories about themselves. Even famous people write memoirs more than they ever seem to before. How many actors have multiple memoirs? I read both Mindy Kaling’s (and they were fantastic).
At the same time, I see fewer biographies beyond those of dead people. I mean, the best time for a biography is when someone has nothing more they can actually do in the world. In the 80s there seem to be an epidemic of unauthorized biographies. They still seem to be done now, but primarily about pop stars. I read my fair share of those when I was a teenager and wanted to learn more about Joe McIntyre from New Kid on the Block. I don’t see them making the news these days, even though Kitty Kelley is still publishing them. The same is true for an auto-biography. Nobody wants to wait until the end of their life to write about it. The memoir is the modern way of writing about yourself so that you can share these details well before you are on your death bed.
I personally enjoy a memoir as opposed to a biography or autobiography. I feel they allow a writer to focus on details without making the work too overwhelming in length and breadth. I wish more people wrote these about others to allow for a different point of view. Writing about yourself is highly biased and another writer can bring balance or reflection that one can’t have about him/herself.
Is there a memoir, biography, or even autobiography you love? Tell me about it in the comments.