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What is a Memoir?. Memoir, autobiography, biography

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what is a memoir
What is a Memoir?

Memoir, autobiography, biography

  • A memoir is a special kind of autobiography, usually involving a public portion of the author’s life as it relates to a person, historic event, or thing. The text is about the personal knowledge and/or experiences of the author. There is generally a clear lesson learned by both the author and the reader.
  • In contrast, an autobiography covers the author’s entire life to the present, and is expected to include details about his or her public and private life. A biography is someone’s life story written by another person.

Examples of a memoir

  • Elie Wiesel’s Night relates true stories of fellow concentration camp sufferers during the Holocaust of WWII based on the author’s shared experiences with them. He limits our glimpses of his own ordeals, including them reluctantly as a vehicle to chronicle the others’ suffering, perhaps due to survivor’s guilt.
how to write a memoir
How to write a memoir…
  • A memoir is written in first person from the author’s point of view.
  • It is narrative nonfiction written in story form like fiction. Dialogue can be included, but since few people can remember precisely every word spoken, the dialogue is not literally true; instead the author attempts to recreate it as accurately as possible.
how to write a memoir1
How to write a memoir…
  • Each memoir has a particular theme or focus
    • A memoir does not contain everything from this particular slice of the author’s life, but rather, events are selected and examined for meaning relative to the purpose of the book.
  • The author has questioned what happened and come to some kind of new understanding or lesson learned by it. The author shows us how he or she was affected by this experience, how it has profoundly changed the way he sees the world.
    • And by extension, reading the book will change the way the reader sees the world.
memoirs fact or fiction

Memoirs: Fact or Fiction?

Obviously, a memoir should be true. The author should not alter the truth in telling his or her story. In fact, Elie Wiesel checked the text and made minor corrections in his book, Night, before it was published in the US to make it as truthful as possible.

Memories are faulty, so a little leeway is given to authors of memoirs, but they are expected to be honest and to check their facts for accuracy. Many people believe that creating fiction and passing it off as nonfiction, as apparently was done by James Frey in his controversial “memoir” A Million Little Pieces, is completely unacceptable.

a m i l l i o n l i t t l e p i e c e s

AMillion Little Pieces


A Million Little Pieces is a semi-fictionalmemoir by James Frey. It tells the story of a 23-year-old alcoholic and drug abuser and how he copes with rehabilitation in a Twelve steps-oriented treatment center.

A badly tattered James awakens on an airplane to Chicago, with no recollection of his injuries or of how he ended up on the plane. He is met by his parents at the airport, who take him to a rehabilitation clinic. We find out that James is 23 years old, and has been an alcoholic for ten years, and a crack addict for three. He is also wanted by the police in three different states on several charges.

As he checks into the rehab clinic, he is forced to quit his substance abuse, a transition that we find out later probably saves his life, but is also an incredibly agonizing event. As part of this, he is forced to undergo a series of painful root canals, without any anesthesia because of possible negative reactions to the drugs. He copes with the pain by squeezing tennis balls until his nails crack. (When challenged on this incident, specifically, during his second Oprah appearance, Frey said that it may have been "more than one" root canal procedure and may or may not have included Novocaine, as he remembers it.)


The book follows Frey through the painful experiences that lead up to his eventual release from the center, including his participation in the clinic's family program with his parents, despite his strong desire not to. Throughout the novel, Frey speaks of the "Fury" he is fighting, which he sees as the cause of his desire to drink alcohol and use drugs. The "Fury" could be seen as the antagonist of the novel, because he believes that he will not be able to recover until he learns to ignore it or "kill it."

  • Frey meets many interesting people in the clinic, with whom he forms relationships and who play an important role in his life both during and after his time in the clinic. These people include a mafia boss who plays a vital role in his recovery (subject of Frey's subsequent book My Friend Leonard), and a woman drug addict with whom he falls in love, despite strict rules forbidding contact between men and women at the clinic. James finally recovers and never relapses.
  • A notable feature of Pieces is its lack of quotation marks to indicate direct discourse. Instead, a new line is started each time. The fact that the author uses this same style to indicate his internal thoughts, often interspersed between direct discourse from himself and others, gives the book a unique and sometimes confusing writing style, purportedly reflecting the nature of his experience in the treatment center. Frey makes frequent use of this stream of consciousness writing technique, which allows the reader to better understand his version of the events. Frey's unique writing style also involves his capitalizing nouns throughout the book for unclear reasons. Frey also uses heavy repetition of words throughout the text.
a million little pieces controversy
A Million Little Pieces- Controversy!!

Who is James Frey? Did he do wrong?

  • http://www.bing.com/videos/watch/video/oprah-goes-on-the-attack/6f6kfq7
  • http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/James-Frey-on-Promoting-His-Book-as-a-Memoir-Video
  • http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Oprah-on-Criticism-That-She-Was-Too-Harsh-on-James-Frey-Video
  • http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Oprah-Apologizes-to-Author-James-Frey-Video