Our current seminar on writing food memoir, The Hungry I, has me knee deep in reading memoir and reading about memoir. I’m halfway through Judith Barrington’s book, “Writing the Memoir,” for the third time.
Ms. Barrington is a poet. She levies a merciless eye for detail to accessing, imagining, shaping and constructing personal history. Yet, she has boundless compassion for the courage it takes to use the “I word”.
Her tone alternates between the spare and the lyrical, with occasional bursts of language that make everything — the soup that is simmering as I read, the snow that is falling outside the window, the itch of the blanket on my lap, the warmth of the dog’s head on the blanket reminding me that its time for dinner — more vivid.
I swoon for a second — why didn’t I read this before I wrote a memoir? And then I remember, well, I did read it before, and then after, and now after again and perhaps before another. Writing changes how you read as certainly as reading changes how you write.
In a world of precious few mentors, other people’s books remain the most reliable teachers, writes Ms. Barrington:
“Today, the would-be writer must patch together an apprenticeship. If you are serious about the craft, your learning may be helped along by various writing teachers, through writing programs or workshops, or sometimes through less formal meetings or correspondence. If you are very lucky, you may find one teacher to see you through all or part of a long apprenticeship, but more likely you will work with several teachers, as well as peer groups that offer support and critique. But remember that extensive reading is probably the most important ingredient of your apprenticeship, whether or not you have a teacher. You will never become a good writer if you urgently want to write but do not have an equal passion of reading.”