I've been reading a lot of Ann Patchett's books lately.
This is because I love her with a fervent love. Bel Canto. The Magician's Assistant. Run. And, oh, that loveliest of them all, Truth and Beauty.
Since she's not prolific enough to suit me (she'd need about a hundred more books) I've been scouring our local library for everything she's written. And got to read an expanded version of the commencement address she gave at Sarah Lawrence.
The thing about Patchett is that her writing is so human. Her autobiographical stuff makes her come across as profoundly sane. Without sounding like she's covering up all of her deep dark secrets and being less than honest. Or making everyone else seem supremely wacky in comparison to herself.
In memoir, this is a tricky thing to do.
I have also been reading some David Sedaris, and while I love his humor and his dark take on the world, he's very good at making himself seem like he needs some good therapy. This is also true of some other memoirists that I like: Anne Lamott and Donald Miller. You read these people's work, and you sometimes wish you had funny things happen to you like that, and then you think, actually, no. No, I like being boring and not going through a cocaine addiction or alienating six housemates or working in a pathologist's lab where there's a bucket full of severed hands.
If you think about writing memoir, in other words, you wonder if you need to get much more eccentric. And maybe pick up a drug habit and a sordid past.
That's why I like Patchett. She seems pretty normal, but her writing still sparks. She's the kind of person that cleans up after the cocaine user, the terrible roommate, and the kooky pathologist's assistant.
So maybe the rule is: either you have to have a sordid past, or you have to get more interesting friends?