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If living is an art, it must be practiced with diligence before being done with ease. Yet almost nothing in our culture prepares us for reflection on the great themes of existence: courage, friendship, listening, dignity—those everyday virtues that can transform our world. Because AARP believes it’s never too late (or too early) to learn, they, together with Sterling Publi If living is an art, it must be practiced with diligence before being done with ease. Yet almost nothing in our culture prepares us for reflection on the great themes of existence: courage, friendship, listening, dignity—those everyday virtues that can transform our world. Because AARP believes it’s never too late (or too early) to learn, they, together with Sterling Publishing, have created the About Living series to address these crucial issues. Each entry will be written by only the best authors and thinkers. Thinking About Memoir, the first of these volumes, helps adults look back at their past and use writing as a means of figuring out who they used to be and how they became who they are today. It’s written by Abigail Thomas, whose own memoir A Three Dog Life was selected as one of the Best Books of 2006 by the LA Times and the Washington Post and called “perfectly honed” (Newsweek), “bracingly honest” (Vanity Fair), and “stunning” by the Los Angeles Book Review. Thomas writes that memoir can consist of looking back at a single summer or the span of a whole life. Through her experience as a writing teacher, she knows how difficult that can be; this book is about the habit of writing as a way to keep track of what’s going on in the front and the back of your mind. It inspires different ways for us to look at the moment we’re in right now and will help would-be memoirists find their own “side door” into a subject. Thomas writes eloquently about how to get started and find that jumping-off point for your work, and provides exercises that liberate our creativity, enable us to get the distance and perspective we need, and open our eyes to possibilities that may not at first seem obvious. Whether your words are for publication, for your loved ones, or for you alone, Thomas makes the process fulfilling, thoughtful, and even fun.


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If living is an art, it must be practiced with diligence before being done with ease. Yet almost nothing in our culture prepares us for reflection on the great themes of existence: courage, friendship, listening, dignity—those everyday virtues that can transform our world. Because AARP believes it’s never too late (or too early) to learn, they, together with Sterling Publi If living is an art, it must be practiced with diligence before being done with ease. Yet almost nothing in our culture prepares us for reflection on the great themes of existence: courage, friendship, listening, dignity—those everyday virtues that can transform our world. Because AARP believes it’s never too late (or too early) to learn, they, together with Sterling Publishing, have created the About Living series to address these crucial issues. Each entry will be written by only the best authors and thinkers. Thinking About Memoir, the first of these volumes, helps adults look back at their past and use writing as a means of figuring out who they used to be and how they became who they are today. It’s written by Abigail Thomas, whose own memoir A Three Dog Life was selected as one of the Best Books of 2006 by the LA Times and the Washington Post and called “perfectly honed” (Newsweek), “bracingly honest” (Vanity Fair), and “stunning” by the Los Angeles Book Review. Thomas writes that memoir can consist of looking back at a single summer or the span of a whole life. Through her experience as a writing teacher, she knows how difficult that can be; this book is about the habit of writing as a way to keep track of what’s going on in the front and the back of your mind. It inspires different ways for us to look at the moment we’re in right now and will help would-be memoirists find their own “side door” into a subject. Thomas writes eloquently about how to get started and find that jumping-off point for your work, and provides exercises that liberate our creativity, enable us to get the distance and perspective we need, and open our eyes to possibilities that may not at first seem obvious. Whether your words are for publication, for your loved ones, or for you alone, Thomas makes the process fulfilling, thoughtful, and even fun.

30 review for Thinking About Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Like a lot of other people, I like to think that there is a writer buried somewhere deep inside me. Unlike a lot of those people, though, I don't ever do anything -- like, say, write -- to let that inner writer out! I do, however, enjoy reading books about writing, and I hold out hope that I'll internalize enough of it so that someday something will reach critical mass and words will start spouting forth. I read Abigail Thomas's memoir A Three Dog Life last year and was profoundly moved by it, so Like a lot of other people, I like to think that there is a writer buried somewhere deep inside me. Unlike a lot of those people, though, I don't ever do anything -- like, say, write -- to let that inner writer out! I do, however, enjoy reading books about writing, and I hold out hope that I'll internalize enough of it so that someday something will reach critical mass and words will start spouting forth. I read Abigail Thomas's memoir A Three Dog Life last year and was profoundly moved by it, so I was interested in reading her insights on writing memoir. This book is billed as the first in a series of AARP titles meant to appeal to, well, AARP-aged readers -- I guess that makes sense, since who better to write memoirs than the older generation? -- but Thomas's words are not, in any way, limited to people of a certain age. She interweaves writing tips, flashes of her own memories, and writing prompts that take off on the vignette she's just shared. As someone with a memory that can charitably be described as "dim," I appreciated her commentary about how we can embellish our memories without even realizing it, and the observation (which I've made many times myself) that a certain sight or smell can trigger an avalanche of memories we didn't know we had. I didn't do any of the prompts while reading this, nor did I jot any down for later, but I did come away from the book wanting to write more. Maybe that Inner Writer will get to come out to play someday after all.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Debbi

    This could be my favorite book on writing. At 108 pages it's possible to breeze though the book in a single sitting, however, I'm sure I will revisit it often. The structure is simple: short anecdotes followed by one line prompts or questions to explore."Write two pages in which your enthusiasm rapidly waned...write two pages of a fading memory- something you have to squint to see" Some of the prompts are deep while others give memory and reflection an easy place to land. Although the book is ge This could be my favorite book on writing. At 108 pages it's possible to breeze though the book in a single sitting, however, I'm sure I will revisit it often. The structure is simple: short anecdotes followed by one line prompts or questions to explore."Write two pages in which your enthusiasm rapidly waned...write two pages of a fading memory- something you have to squint to see" Some of the prompts are deep while others give memory and reflection an easy place to land. Although the book is geared to memoir I can also see it being a great help to fiction writers who want to polish their character development. I found Thomas charming. For writers as well as those interested in contemplating their life's path this is an excellent book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lindsey

    If I could give this book six stars, I would. It is the only book about writing that I have absolutely devoured. Amazing. Abigail Thomas is my hero.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Khulud Khamis

    Thomas writes with gentleness and honesty "It’s about clarity. Clarity usually involves a good deal more humility than you started out with. And humility is accompanied by generosity. And clarity is dependent on a generosity of vision. I’m not saying we let villains off the hook. There is evil out there. I’m just saying a shift in the way we look at ourselves and our lives is one of the benefits of writing memoir. So keep an open mind, leave room for surprise." I took up this book after reading Th Thomas writes with gentleness and honesty "It’s about clarity. Clarity usually involves a good deal more humility than you started out with. And humility is accompanied by generosity. And clarity is dependent on a generosity of vision. I’m not saying we let villains off the hook. There is evil out there. I’m just saying a shift in the way we look at ourselves and our lives is one of the benefits of writing memoir. So keep an open mind, leave room for surprise." I took up this book after reading Thomas's A Three Dog Life, which was written with so much love, honesty, and gentleness. I love they way Abigail Thomas approaches her writing; there is so much tenderness and honesty there, and reading her words, you trust her completely. This book is not an instruction manual for writing a memoir. Instead, Thomas shares entries from her own diary to show us how we can write our own stories, and the importance of writing down even the most trivial details, because we never know where these details may lead us and what they may spark. The book is also sprinkled with one-line writing prompts.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kristin Boldon

    I flat-out full-on loved this tiny sparkling gem of a book that mixed memoir with writing prompts. If you write memoir, this belongs on your permanent shelf alongside Bird by Bird, Writing Down the Bones, and On Writing.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Not just for memoir writers. The exercises would benefit writers of any type.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I love this book. To say I've read it seems strange... it's not something you read and then put aside. I've read it, and now I'm working my way back through the prompts. But you needn't want to write to read this. It's a great exercise in memory itself, and you'll find that Thomas pulls up things from your own past that you'd thought you'd forgotten. Really, really lovely.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Garden

    THIS IS SO GOOD.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Candice

    If you utilize this wonderful book, you will have volumes of essays. She is one of my favorite writers , so insouciantly directing her arrows to the heart, and the collected prompts will be one of your most revelatory guides for discovering who you are. I believe it is out of print, but hunt it down, it's golden.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Brooke

    I read this once, but suspect I'll dip back into it to work on the exercises every now and then. Love her writing style.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alice

    I loved this little book; packed full of thought provoking suggestions, teasers, and tempting subjects, and how to look at them. And how to turn them into stories. Memories are something we all have. We can forget them or turn them into pictures, exciting tales, melancholy glimpses of your past; scenes to last forever on the page and not lost to the winds when you leave this earth. Don't say goodbye to your past; say Hello, and How are you?, and where have you been? Hey, let me write about you an I loved this little book; packed full of thought provoking suggestions, teasers, and tempting subjects, and how to look at them. And how to turn them into stories. Memories are something we all have. We can forget them or turn them into pictures, exciting tales, melancholy glimpses of your past; scenes to last forever on the page and not lost to the winds when you leave this earth. Don't say goodbye to your past; say Hello, and How are you?, and where have you been? Hey, let me write about you and let my descendants know what I experienced, and what kind of a person I really was. When we get old and downsize from that big house, rummaging through the closets and drawers and forgotten corners of the attic, don't we get sad to find things that remind of our our youth, that childhood park where we played in the dark after the lights went out, or the lover who brought spice to your life, or the first time you looked into your firstborn's eyes... You may have to throw the material things away, due to lack of storage, but never throw them away from your mind. Write them down. Make them funny. Make them sad. Make them angry...just make them, just say them, just sing them from the rooftops!! We have lived a life like no other. When our body leaves the earth and our descendants don't remember us anymore, or recognize our picture anymore, we are gone...unless we have left our written legacy. Our words can last... Do more than think about memoir...write it down.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Angela Randall

    Found this book because of an interesting quote from it. Take any ten years of your life, reduce them to two pages, and every sentence has to be three words long—not two, not four, but three words long. You discover there’s nowhere to hide in three-word sentences. You discover that you can’t include everything, but half of writing is deciding what to leave out. Learning what to leave out is not the same thing as putting in only what’s important. Sometimes it’s what you’re not saying that gives a Found this book because of an interesting quote from it. Take any ten years of your life, reduce them to two pages, and every sentence has to be three words long—not two, not four, but three words long. You discover there’s nowhere to hide in three-word sentences. You discover that you can’t include everything, but half of writing is deciding what to leave out. Learning what to leave out is not the same thing as putting in only what’s important. Sometimes it’s what you’re not saying that gives a piece its shape. And it’s surprising what people include. Marriage, divorce, love, sex—yes, there’s all of that, but often what takes up precious space is sleeping on grass, or an ancient memory of blue Popsicle juice running down your sticky chin. When you’re done, run your mind over everything the way a safecracker sandpapers his fingers to feel the clicks. If there is one sentence that hums, or gives off sparks, you’ve hit the jackpot. Then write another two pages starting right there. — Abigail Thomas, Thinking about Memoir

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jean Carlton

    I am not particularly interested in writing memoir at this point but I do have 'stories' of my life I might want to put into written form someday and this helped me consider doing them as they come to me and not worrying about a full-fledged memoir or chronology. I get something out of every book I read about writing and this little book had some good ideas along with examples of the author's own snippets;after which each has a exercise for the reader to do. Just write. Daily.One thing leads to I am not particularly interested in writing memoir at this point but I do have 'stories' of my life I might want to put into written form someday and this helped me consider doing them as they come to me and not worrying about a full-fledged memoir or chronology. I get something out of every book I read about writing and this little book had some good ideas along with examples of the author's own snippets;after which each has a exercise for the reader to do. Just write. Daily.One thing leads to another. Prompts of various sorts follow almost every entry saying 'Write two pages on the thing you wanted to be" or "...about your treasures." Got to be a bit much. I had planned to 'do' them all but that quickly changed. I was motivated to do a few; I would by no means take them as assignments but one gets the idea.I liked the one suggesting using "It's not funny." as the 2nd sentence. I was surprised where that took me.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    I have loved and been inspired reading Abigail Thomas. If you have not read Abigail Thomas, you must. This book, parsed, is an easy read if you are thinking about writing memoirs (as I am.) While it is about writing memoir, how to connect the dots of your life to tell your story, or not, it is more importantly, an invitation to write. Using examples from her own life, Thomas plays with the many writing prompts she recommends for getting started and for continuing. Some are a few sentences; other I have loved and been inspired reading Abigail Thomas. If you have not read Abigail Thomas, you must. This book, parsed, is an easy read if you are thinking about writing memoirs (as I am.) While it is about writing memoir, how to connect the dots of your life to tell your story, or not, it is more importantly, an invitation to write. Using examples from her own life, Thomas plays with the many writing prompts she recommends for getting started and for continuing. Some are a few sentences; others, a few pages. Her voice comes through each one, sometimes with humor, sometimes with sadness, always honest. I have used three of her prompts this past week and have found them surfacing memories from deep within my past. I thought her chapter on "Writing From Loss" was the most profound until I thumbed back through "Memory" and "Structure" and realized what they had given me. Dig deep or don't bother.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

    What an engaging little book! Thomas presents part "how-to," part workbook, part work of her own in this part of a series by AARP to "provoke thinking about some of the personal and public disciplines and graces that have fallen into disuse in our recent history." Looking at personal memories and refining them through the vehicle of stories is a good start. With little subject headings reminiscent of The Pillow Book, Thomas shares some of her own observations and memories and then throws in prom What an engaging little book! Thomas presents part "how-to," part workbook, part work of her own in this part of a series by AARP to "provoke thinking about some of the personal and public disciplines and graces that have fallen into disuse in our recent history." Looking at personal memories and refining them through the vehicle of stories is a good start. With little subject headings reminiscent of The Pillow Book, Thomas shares some of her own observations and memories and then throws in prompts for the reader to delve into theirs. There is much humor, much encouragement and the basic advice to "pay attention." Subject matter is omnipresent. This would be a really fun project to take on with a small group.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    This is, to be cliché, a little gem of a book. Great writing prompts, engaging lessons, laugh-out-loud anecdotes, and here's the thing: It's a memoir masquerading as a writing book. Or is it a writing book masquerading as a memoir? Not easy to get a hold of a copy - yes, it's at our library, TM ;) - but I highly recommend you track it down if you are at all interested in thinking about and/or writing memoir.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Russell Ricard

    Such a wealth of information and exercises to inspire any writer, whether it be memoir or other form of prose, or poetry for the matter. Abigail Thomas guides you to think about life's process and, at the same time, your creative process. This is a book I'll retune to again and again both reader and writer.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Nanni

    I read this little book for the first time while I was in grad school—I’m glad I revisited. It’s not preachy or formulaic & it certainly doesn’t give us much insight to “process.” What it does do though is encourage us to get that pen to the paper and start working on finding our way in. Thomas begs us to set up camp wherever our thoughts lead us back to time & time again and go from there. I read this little book for the first time while I was in grad school—I’m glad I revisited. It’s not preachy or formulaic & it certainly doesn’t give us much insight to “process.” What it does do though is encourage us to get that pen to the paper and start working on finding our way in. Thomas begs us to set up camp wherever our thoughts lead us back to time & time again and go from there.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Skye

    This book is filled with clever two-page exercises. The one I like is to take some decade of your life and write two pages with ONLY three-word sentences. Not two, not four. Subject, verb, object. Go!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ineke

    .A book full of inspiration. Some of the writing exercises are difficult to put in words but it makes you dig deeper into your memories from your past. Her examples of life are real and I could associate with many of them. A good book to use for extra memoir writing.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    I'm giving this a 5 with a purpose--to let those who wish to develop memoir writing skills know that this is a good one. The "write two pages" of exercises will take a new writer far. After checking it out of the library, I ordered it from Amazon.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    Short little book with interesting memoir-writing prompts along with stories from Abigail Thomas' own life. A fun and helpful companion if you're interested in writing down some of your own life stories.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Vicky Griffith

    I love, love, love Abigail Thomas. This is short but it's still as beautiful as her others.

  24. 5 out of 5

    David Bossert

    This was a quick read and well done. It conveys inspiring text that is concise and to the point.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Elise

    I love this little book, read it in one sitting. It’s rambling and funny and shares some really good insights into memoir writing.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    I'm so happy to have found Abigail Thomas. Her writing speaks to me. Currently reading everything of hers I can get my hands on!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Good read for a budding writer - or someone wanting to remember or write about their lives.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    The BEST craft book I've read on memoir to date. Highly recommend for other professors/teachers for CNF courses.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    Started reading a new book today. It's called "Thinking about Memoir" by Abigail Thomas. I purchased this on Amazon. I read the first two chapters this morning; however, I'm writing about the first exercise she presents in the book. I'm sharing because I found it exhilarating. The first chapter is Writing Memoir. It's about getting started. Let me quote from the book… "But the jumping-off place isn't always so obvious. You can't always find the way in. Sometimes you need a side door. That's where t Started reading a new book today. It's called "Thinking about Memoir" by Abigail Thomas. I purchased this on Amazon. I read the first two chapters this morning; however, I'm writing about the first exercise she presents in the book. I'm sharing because I found it exhilarating. The first chapter is Writing Memoir. It's about getting started. Let me quote from the book… "But the jumping-off place isn't always so obvious. You can't always find the way in. Sometimes you need a side door. That's where the exercises come in. Here's the one I give all my writing students the first week of the class. Take any 10 years of your life, reduce them to two pages, and every sentence has to be three words long – not two, not four, but three words long. You discover there's nowhere to hide in three-word sentences. You discover that you can't include everything, but half of writing is deciding what to leave out. Learning what to leave out is not the same thing as putting in only what's important. Sometimes it's what you're not saying that gives a piece it shape. And it's surprising what people include." Of course, there's more to that paragraph; however, I thought this was the most important part. I did choose a ten-year period. In order to help trigger my memory, I wrote down the years by where I lived at the time. This made the exercise easier for me. The first three-fourths of the page fairly easy. Then I had to really start thinking. Sometimes I even wrote down what I was thinking and it was four words; thus, I had we work into three words. I completed this in a three word per line list. I added the year I remembered it happening in parenthesis after the three words. By adding the years I felt more organized. Now, if I want to redo the last I can organize it by year to help trigger my memories. I hope you enjoyed learning about Ms. Thomas' exercise and book today. Try it you might find it is helpful as well.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Leslie Reese

    3.5 stars In this compact book of less than 120 pages, Abigail Thomas says that writing memoir is a way to examine how you got to be the person you are today; or how has your trajectory shaped you? She shares vignettes from her life experiences and ways for the reader to access their own memories. A sampling of the [100+ plus] ideas: Write two pages about a time when you felt compassion unexpectedly. (page 16) Write two pages of when you knew you were in trouble. (page 27) Write two pages in which y 3.5 stars In this compact book of less than 120 pages, Abigail Thomas says that writing memoir is a way to examine how you got to be the person you are today; or how has your trajectory shaped you? She shares vignettes from her life experiences and ways for the reader to access their own memories. A sampling of the [100+ plus] ideas: Write two pages about a time when you felt compassion unexpectedly. (page 16) Write two pages of when you knew you were in trouble. (page 27) Write two pages in which you got the wrong reaction from someone you hoped to impress. (page 43) Write two pages of what goes through your mind while you’re packing for a trip. (page 60) Write two pages of a responsibility you’d rather have ducked. (page 75) Published in 2008, Thinking About Memoir was the first volume in an AARP “arts of living” series which “is intended to provoke thinking about some of the personal and public disciplines and graces that have fallen into disuse in our recent history: such virtues as civility, conversation, listening, courage, loyalty, remembering, patience, and love.” However, it looks as though only two titles made it to the printers’ —- another, Patience: Taking Time in an Age of Acceleration by Akiko Busch, 120 pages, was published in 2010. Abigail Thomas has authored three memoirs —- Safekeeping (2001), A Three Dog Life (2006), and What Comes Next And How to Like It (2015) and I would like to read at least one of these in order to get a feel for how her honesty and sense of humor work in longer form.

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