I was at a little soiree the other evening- Cheryl Strayed and Bernard Cooper on a lawn in Altadena. The main event was Ms. Strayed and her new book, WILD. They’re both essayists and memoirists. And, in a sense, memory-ists. One of Bernard’s books has this hilarious premise, his father sends him a bill for raising him. Food, clothes, schooling, etc. Bernard has a light touch, but the book is also very moving. CS’s WILD is about this arduous and dangerous journey she took after her mother’s death. She hiked alone pretty much the coast of California.
All of their books are worth reading, and/but what I wanted to pass on this morning was CS’s advice about memoir. She teaches Creative Non-Fiction and gets a lot of what she called “My Trip to Paris.” Her simple question to her students (the disappointed ones clutching their Paris journals) was this: Why should I care?
What a good question! It comes up in poetry all the time — this is pretty but why should I care? This certainly rhymes but why should I care? And, of course, it comes up in fiction where it’s more of a whack upside the head. Someone works for months on a novel and then comes The Question. The stuttering answer often is, “I worked hard on this.” “It really happened.” “I’ve always wanted to tell this story.”
Those answers wouldn’t cut it with Ms. Strayed. And if you’re given to self-interrogation (the shiny boot, the leather glove, the hot lights) they might not be good enough for you, either.
And probably shouldn’t be.