Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Memoir--Record or Revenge?

Memoir writing is big and seems to be getting bigger. Celebrities are writing memoir books and so are everyday folk like you and me. I read a review of Donald Rumsfield's newly-released memoir Known and Unknown, and the reviewer contended that while this memoir is filled with annotations and a historical record, it comes across as being more about revenge.

Revenge? Is this a valid reason for writing a memoir? The book is 815 pages. I'm beginning to think each memoir writer is competing for the longest book, and I wonder how many people Mr. Rumsfield is trying to pick on.  A celebrity who writes a memoir is trying to set the record straight. Here's what happened--it's from the horse's mouth. It makes sense that someone who has been roundly criticized for their actions and thoughts would want to set the record straight, but give consideration that they are looking at facts from a single viewpoint. They might be able to tell us what happened, but the why of the event is a single perception.

Donald Rumsfield is certainly not the only person who has written a memoir with revenge as part of the reason to do so. Nor will he be the last. But I hope that revenge is not the main reason for undertaking such a large project. I must say that I am only discussing this today because of what the reviewer wrote. I have not read the book myself.

I much prefer that people write memoirs to leave a record for their families, to highlight their lives and present a picture of the era in which they grew up, and because they want to share their stories with others.


  1. I agree with you, Nancy. Writing about our lives isn't about getting revenge on those who, in our opinion, have wronged us. Right now I'm trying to decide how to handle my first marriage in my memoir. I can't leave it out totally, but I don't want those stories to be negative. After all, my children love him, as do my grandchildren. So, I'm focusing on the good times.

  2. Good for you, BJ. It would be so easy to take out hard feelings in our memoirs. It takes a big person to write about it objectively.

  3. Nancy, revenge is a terrible reason to write a memoir. I am surprised that Rumsfeld's book is labeled "A Memoir" because it deals with his life from childhood to late career, and that would be an autobiography. A memoir examines a particular period or theme in one's life; it's not a reckoning or a presentation of "my side of the story."

  4. BJ - have you read Mary Karr's most recent memoir "Lit"? Even though she writes, in part, about her marriage falling apart, she manages to never paint her ex-husband as the bad guy.

  5. Annette--I hope I was not mistaken in the reviewer labeling the book a memoir. It's possible, I'll readily admit. I think I tossed that paper out already but will look and see if I can find it. And yes, revenge is a terrible reason to write a book.