Tag Archives: memoir


Who We are in Memoir: A New Book

I am pondering who we are and want to be in memoir.

Maybe we have no choice. But writing takes time and revision and so, in fact, we always do.

Reading Joan Didion’s BLUE NIGHTS made me sad: for her daughter, for sure, but also for Didion herself, who has not entered old age with resilience or any care for wisdom. She’s frail, she tells us again and again. But she’s also Joan Didion and a killer writer still, though she claims not and relies more than may be wise on the repetition of key phrases. All through the book——a book about her daughter’s death——you keep wondering, what happened? What several things (for there seem to be several things) went wrong? It’s not that kind of memoir. Didion will not go there so you need to look back at THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING to hear more.

Francisco Goldman’s SAY HER NAME, which I thought wonderful and gripping, sent me on this memoir binge. Roland Barthes’ MOURNING DIARY kept me there since I had recently lost a mother and a brother too.

So I have been doing my own writing hoping to do it in way that feels true to me and speaks to others. I am processing my new book: PICNIC IN THE DARK: THE CLASSICS AT A TIME OF WAR AND LOSS. It’s a sequel to my earlier memoir about growing up in-between Italian and Jewish American cultures in New York. It’s also a meditation on why we read classic books at times of loss and how they speak to us at this time of ongoing wartime.

I’ll say more from time to on www.mariannatorgovnick.tumblr.com. I love this work and can’t wait to read more!


Roland Barthes: Writing Criticism, Writing Memoir

Roland Barthes gave us a model of the critique of mass culture that continues to be on point today.  I suspect he would have loved  Twitter and blogging, though we’ll never know.  He might have turned into a mandarin had he lived into our age and scorned the internet, though I rather suspect not.  In a Times Book Review article, Sam Anderson talks about his favorite pieces in Barthes.  They establish a goal, an ideal for writers:  that decades after we write someone will have favorite pieces to recall.  If you have a Barthes favorite, what’s yours?

Jeffrey Eugenides uses Barthes as a sign of the times in The Marriage Plot. The latest Barthes is his touching Mourning Diary — also on point for our time.  It may be the link between the personal and the critical that speaks most about Barthes today, that makes him still “surprisingly relevant today.”