Is all memoir, by definition, self-involved?


mirror, mirror on the wall,
who’s the fairest of them all?

When Luca Spaghetti (yes, that’s really his name) was asked to show a writer named Elizabeth Gilbert around Rome, he had no idea how his life was about to change. According to Gilbert, Luca became her “guardian angel” and was determined that his city would help her out of her personal crisis.

Spaghetti’s memoir Un Amico Italiano: Eat, Pray, Love in Rome expounds on several “fish-out-of-water” moments while visiting the United States.

It culminates with the episodes in Gilbert’s bestselling memoir, told from his side of the counter and, without a doubt, is a book that fans of Eat, Pray, Love will relate to as its companion. But, to pick up his book in hopes of reading a compelling, stand-alone memoir will surely disappoint.

Some readers might think Luca Spaghetti should stick with what he knows rather than broach the world of writing memoir. After all, he knows a lot about a lot of other things. He was born and lives in Rome. He loves Roman cooking, American music, and the Lazio soccer team. Before embarking on his own travel memoir in America, he was a practicing accountant. As the work reveals, this memoir is his first attempt of writing a book.

There are more than a few of us who would not be called “eat, pray, love” fans.

I have often asked myself, “Is all memoir, by definition, self-involved?” Sam Anderson offers us a brilliant review of Luca’s book in contrast to Gilbert’s. Anderson wondered if reviewing such a book might be too strange, i.e., writing about a book that’s about the experience of being in another book that was all about the experience of writing a book, “the whole thing might collapse under the weight of so much self-reflection.”
I’m convinced Anderson’s review will offer readers (and would-be memoirists) several points to consider when reading/writing in this genre.

Sam Anderson’s recent New York Times article Eat, Pray, Love, Rinse, Repeat claims, “If novels are mirrors held up to nature, memoirs are mirrors held up to mirrors. Gilbert has a thing for mirrors. At one point, in the world’s greatest pizza shop in Naples, she turns to her reflection and whispers, solemnly, “Thank you.” This isn’t a flaw; it’s what makes the form [of memoir] great, at least when it’s properly done.

“We know, in this life, nothing but selves—our own and others’ projections, endlessly multiplying, coming at us from every direction at once. Memoir is the most direct form of capturing that complexity.

“Gilbert more than other memoir writers, has managed, somehow, to push the genre’s built-in self-involvement to a whole new level. The truly special thing about Eat, Pray, Love is not its humor or its wisdom or its perky invocation of “exotic” local color—all of which are real, and often enjoyable. It’s that it is a completely inescapable vortex of recursion: a self-generating, self-sustaining, self-replicating machine of perpetual self-reference.

“It feels practically avant-garde in its determination to pull itself out of its own belly button. Its cover should have been an M.C. Escher painting of Jorge Luis Borges riding on a snake eating its own tail.”

Read more of Anderson’s review HERE.

Want to write a different kind of memoir? Why don’t you take up my offer to have a complimentary sample session to see what we might create together. Call today to set up a 30-minute appointment: 206.617-8832 or pick a package.

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