I started reading Sean Wilsey’s new memoir, Oh the Glory of It All, yesterday. He grew up in San Francisco in the 1970s and 1980s. I grew up there a decade earlier. Yet we have these things in common:
1) His father frequently sang the song: “Toura Loura Loura” My mother did the honors.
2) His father had an affair with his mother’s best friend. So did my father.
3) His father later married that best friend. Ditto.
4) That best friend's former husband had once been married to the romance novelist Danielle Steele. My cousin had once been married to Danielle Steele.
5) He went to Trader Vic’s on Cosmos Place regularly and ate in the Captain’s Cabin. He got the spareribs. I remember the lamb with peanut-dipping sauce.
6) San Francisco columnist Herb Caen wrote frequently about his society parents, Al Wilsey and Pat Montandon. I lived next door to Herb Caen on Pacific Avenue.
7) His mother was drop-dead beautiful. So was mine.
8) He took cooking classes at the Jewish Community Center on California Street. So did I.
And I am only on page 56. I have 422 pages to go.
Reading a memoir is a lesson in self-identification. “Oh, that rings true for me,” the reader ponders. “Nope, that’s not my life, thank God.”
William Grimes has a long story in Friday’s New York Times about the continuing flood of memoirs. He has a huge stack waiting to be read, a stack he at first calls a mountain, but then revises his metaphor:
Actually, it's more a plain than a mountain, a level playing field crowded with absolutely equal voices, each asserting its democratic claim on the reader's attention. Everyone has a life, and therefore a story that should be told and, if possible, published.
The memoir has been on the march for more than a decade now. Readers have long since gotten used to the idea that you do not have to be a statesman or a military commander - or, like Saint-Simon or Chateaubriand, a witness to great events - to commit your life to print. But the genre has become so inclusive that it's almost impossible to imagine which life experiences do not qualify as memoir material.
I say bring ‘em on.