Memoir mine: Creating your memoir experience

Can you create your own memoir experience? Millions of readers shared the experience of Frances Mayes as she fell in love with Italian food and rebuilt a rundown Italian farmhouse. Under the Tuscan Sun, her memoir, topped bestseller lists for months. She followed it with a string of books on her subsequent experiences in Italy.

A. J. Jacobs’ The Know-It-All documents a year trying to become the world’s smartest person by reading all of Encyclopedia Britannica. (Jacobs also followed up with several other comic memoirs documenting various efforts.)

Mayes, Jacobs, and many other memoirists set about very intentionally to create the experience that would become their memoir. Readers enjoy vicariously the personal challenges recounted in such books. Whether learning a new skill, pushing through a physical challenge, or exploring an unfamiliar culture, writers learn about themselves along the way and tap into valuable truths for all of us. Here’s a great resource to get you started.

A favorite of mine

One of my favorites in this category is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Part memoir and part investigation of America’s typical food supply, Kingsolver records her family’s one-year experiment in eating local–consuming food produced within 100 miles or so from their Appalachian farm. They grew or raised much of the food themselves. Canning, freezing, and preserving allowed them to eat local even through the winter months. Originally published in 2007, the tenth anniversary edition (which I have not read) includes updates on how their experiment carried forward through subsequent years.

I recommend this book for its beautiful writing and challenging message, one that applies to any of us who likes to eat food.

Coming soon…

My own memoir, The Drive in ’65, is based on a similar, very intentional experience. My mom and aunt set out with their five children and their mother from Anchorage, Alaska to show their kids America, covering 22,000 miles during the summer of 1965.

Mom and Aunt Phyllis intended to write about our travels and discoveries. They worked at it for a few years, sending chapters back and forth. But life interfered, and they lost momentum. Instead, nearly fifty years later I gathered all the letters, notes, and paraphernalia from our travels, and wrote the story. What might have been their book became my own. Watch for its mid-2020 publication.

Does our epic road trip sound like a good read? I invite you to follow along by signing up for my occasional newsletter here.

So what is YOUR potential memoir experience? Are you brave enough to try something new–and to create a memoir from it? Do tell, in the comments, please!