Social Sciences: Writing Lives | May 15, 2013

Borg, Mary. Writing Your Life: A Guide to Writing Autobiographies. Prufrock. 2013. 204p. illus. ISBN 9781618210265. pap. $16.95. COMM

In this updated edition of her 1998 how-to, Borg continues her more than 20-year mission to introduce senior citizens to the joys of writing their personal histories. The book, which was developed from class materials early in her workshop career, walks readers through the practical elements of writing a life story. No longer a spiral-bound offering with blank sheets, this edition can stand up to library circulation. Borg relies heavily on question prompts and writing samples from former students to guide the reader in creating a mostly chronological written-memory journey. Reading suggestions and writing tips are sprinkled throughout, and recommendations for using digital technology and employing online materials as writing aids are also included. Borg’s style is informal; she focuses heavily on generating the memories to be recorded. An appendix lists key historical events and keywords by decade for the 1920s through 2010s to assist writers in setting their autobiographies in historical context. VERDICT This title is ideal for those who want some basic help in getting their life story on paper, whether simply for the benefit of friends and family or for a broader public.—Stacey Rae Brownlie, Harrisburg Area Community Coll. Lib., Lancaster, PA

Library Journal Reviews starred review Kephart, Beth. Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir. Gotham Bks. Aug. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9781592408153. pap. $16. COMM

National Book Award finalist for A Slant of Sun, one of her several memoirs, Kephart (creative nonfiction, Univ. of Pennsylvania) has composed a gorgeous meditation on memoir. The author has achieved what few do in the crowded field of writing guides: she has created a work of art simply by reflecting on her own art—the writing and teaching of memoir. In four eloquent parts, Kephart introduces readers to the basic principles of memoir construction, suggests many writing prompts for navigating memories, and discusses the issues of describing living relatives and friends and of striving for accuracy. The book’s highest value lies in the author’s long experience with the memoir genre and its students. She writes with the same lyricism found in her own works and offers here passionate encouragement for would-be memoir writers to embrace truth and empathy, mystery and exploration. Drawing from classroom and personal examples, Kephart introduces readers to the delicate balance that creates the most honest and accomplished memoirs. An appendix of suggested memoirs for reading, grouped by category with generous annotations, is included. VERDICT Highly recommended for anyone interested in the anatomy of a successful memoir and for all writers of literary nonfiction.—Stacey Rae Brownlie, Harrisburg Area Community Coll. Lib., Lancaster, PA