We can call this Memoir Monday - but it won't be a recurring theme. I finished two memoirs this past week, both enjoyable pieces of writing by authors whose voices I have to admire. Still, I’m afraid memoir just isn’t my genre. I found that even though I liked pieces of the books, I wasn’t all that interested in the plot of either one. Maybe it's because memoirs don't really have plots the way novels do -- and maybe that's why I have a hard time being pulled into the stories.
The first was Q’s Legacy by Helene Hanff. I suppose I was expecting a bit more of the "Q" in there – a bit more of how she taught herself to appreciate literature and to write thanks to a series of books-based-on-lectures written by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, a Cambridge don. I guess I wanted more of a blow-by-blow account of what books she’d read and what lessons she’d learned. Instead, the "Q" recollection was just a bit of intro to lead us into a tale of how and why she wrote 84, Charing Cross Road and the twists and turns her life took following the book’s success.
I loved 84, Charing Cross Road. That’s how I came to be interested in this memoir in the first place. But I wasn’t looking for a simple behind-the-scenes glimpse of the writing of the book with a peek at Hanff’s peripheral involvement in the various stage adaptations that came afterward. Hanff is a charming writer, but I much preferred her interactions with her friends in her letters. This seemed more forced.
I enjoyed the second book more. This was one that a friend lent to me but I put off reading because, well...I don’t read memoirs. But, coincidentally, my book club picked it for our January meeting, so I plucked it off the shelf: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen.
Rhoda is a college professor, an intelligent, professional woman. She’s used to supporting herself and her husband. However, she can’t afford her house payments without her husband’s contribution. Devastated and at her wit’s end, she returns to the Mennonites.
More specifically, she returns to her parents’ home to recuperate with her Mennonite mother and father and with the support of the community of wonderful family and friends. In course of the book, while poking gentle fun at them and at herself, she embraces and dispenses with stereotypes about Mennonites. She also allows the story of her marriage to haltingly unfold, showing the reader how very much better off she is without the guy, no matter how much she loved him. It’s complicated.
Janzen is funny and can get the most out of an anecdote. It’s an entertaining book and I’m sure I’ll enjoy the book club discussion. Still, all-in-all, I’d rather read a novel.