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I just finished reading Pamela Jane’s engrossing memoir, An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story. This memoir found its way into my heart because it combined so many of the (heretofor) unconscious qualities I seek in memoir. I’d never before articulated my exact list, but thoroughly enjoyed doing so. Here they are. Peter’s 5 Qualities for a Great Memoir.
5 Qualities for a Great Memoir
1. Great story telling – just like fiction. Doesn’t need to be a total page turner, but I gotta’ want to turn the pages. Incredible Talent kept me reading late into the night
2. Psychological Insight. – A character that I care about, who is struggling with challenges and open to talking about them. I have to feel the vulnerability and the honesty of the writer. I love it when I finish a memoir and think that I know that author, like a friend. Jane’s is disarmingly vulnerable and open. By the end of the book, I felt like I had a new friend.
3. A+  prose – I love it when a sentence or phrase or para just knocks my socks off because of its beauty, its humor or its insight. “I, on the other hand, demonstrated no special talents or even intelligence, and most of the time I felt invisible. My main accomplishment, as I saw it, was the novelty of my own consciousness and my awareness of it. I am here and I know that I am here was tremendously significant, but no one, including me, saw how I was going to amaze the world by the stunning fact of my existence.”
4. Reference to the familiar but forgotten and/or the totally new, e.g.when I discover some morsel in a memoir that I know personally.  Pamela Jane talks about the TV show, “I Remember Mama.” I too watched it regularly and loved it. It was an important part of my childhood, and reminiscing about watching that show (stimulated by this book) gave me a lot of pleasure.
5. The story makes me reflect on my own personal life, perhaps see some aspect differently. As a memoir writer myself (King of Doubt, 2017), I was always interested in Pamela’s motivations and struggles with writing, how long she nurtured the dream, how true she was to it. Most any writer can relate.
So that’s my list. – I demand a lot, but for me, “An Incredible Talent…” delivered on all of those criteria. And that’s why I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads.
I’d love to hear your reaction to these, or even better, your own personal list. What do you wish for in a memoir? What does it take to get a five star rating from you? What’s the best memoir you’ve read in the past year?