Welcome to Bookmarker!

This is a personal project by @dellsystem. I built this to help me retain information from the books I'm reading.

Source code on GitHub (MIT license).

xiv

In memoir, one event follows another. Birth leads to puberty leads to sex. The books are held together by happenstance, theme, and (most powerfully) the sheer, convincing poetry of a single person trying to make sense of the past.

—p.xiv Preface: Welcome to My Chew Toy (xiii) by Mary Karr 1 year, 1 month ago

In memoir, one event follows another. Birth leads to puberty leads to sex. The books are held together by happenstance, theme, and (most powerfully) the sheer, convincing poetry of a single person trying to make sense of the past.

—p.xiv Preface: Welcome to My Chew Toy (xiii) by Mary Karr 1 year, 1 month ago
11

Forget how inventing stuff breaks a contract with the reader, it fences the memoirist off from the deeper truths that only surface in draft five or ten or twenty. Yes, you can misinterpret—happens all the time. “The truth ambushes you,” Geoffrey Wolff once said. (More on those hair-raising reversals in a later chapter.) But unless you’re looking at actual lived experience, the more profound meanings will remain forever shrouded. You’ll never unearth the more complex truths, the ones that counter that convenient first take on the past. A memoirist forging false tales to support his more comfortable notions—or to pump himself up for the audience—never learns who he is. He’s missing the personal liberation that comes from the examined life.

—p.11 The Truth Contract Twixt Writer and Reader (9) by Mary Karr 1 year, 1 month ago

Forget how inventing stuff breaks a contract with the reader, it fences the memoirist off from the deeper truths that only surface in draft five or ten or twenty. Yes, you can misinterpret—happens all the time. “The truth ambushes you,” Geoffrey Wolff once said. (More on those hair-raising reversals in a later chapter.) But unless you’re looking at actual lived experience, the more profound meanings will remain forever shrouded. You’ll never unearth the more complex truths, the ones that counter that convenient first take on the past. A memoirist forging false tales to support his more comfortable notions—or to pump himself up for the audience—never learns who he is. He’s missing the personal liberation that comes from the examined life.

—p.11 The Truth Contract Twixt Writer and Reader (9) by Mary Karr 1 year, 1 month ago
31

You’re seeking enough quiet to let the Real You into your mind. Inspiration—the drawing into the body of some truth-giving spirit ready to walk observantly through the doors of the past. Then, with eyes still closed, approach the memory you’re scared to set down. Start by composing the scene in carnal terms—by which I mean using sensory impressions, not sexual ones. Smell is the oldest sense—even one-celled animals without spinal cords can smell—and it cues emotional memory like nothing else. If you can conjure the aroma of where you are—fresh-cut grass or lemon furniture oil, say—you’re halfway there.

What can you see, hear, touch, taste? What do you have on? Is the cloth rough or smooth? If you’re on the beach, there’s a salt spray, and you need a sweater. In the trench, sweat snails down your spine. What taste is in your mouth?

I always liken the state I’m in before I write to waking too early to rise and looking for a wormhole to corkscrew down into that more honest place. You want a clear sense memory, a treasured (or despised) object. And most of all, you want your old body. Your cold hand wrapped around a jelly glass of grape juice. That toy monkey with the switch on its back that banged cymbals and—when smacked on its head—hissed at you. You need a point of physical and psychic connection, a memory you’d swear by to start with. Then allow the memory to play itself. It won’t be video footage, of course, only jump cuts, snippets, an idea here and there, an image.

Now open your eyes. If you’re doing this right, the whole thing should’ve been arrestingly vivid, maybe even a little awful. Many students open their eyes with tears welling up.

—p.31 Why Not to Write a Memoir: Plus a Pop Quiz to Protect the Bleeding & Box Out the Rigid (27) by Mary Karr 1 year, 1 month ago

You’re seeking enough quiet to let the Real You into your mind. Inspiration—the drawing into the body of some truth-giving spirit ready to walk observantly through the doors of the past. Then, with eyes still closed, approach the memory you’re scared to set down. Start by composing the scene in carnal terms—by which I mean using sensory impressions, not sexual ones. Smell is the oldest sense—even one-celled animals without spinal cords can smell—and it cues emotional memory like nothing else. If you can conjure the aroma of where you are—fresh-cut grass or lemon furniture oil, say—you’re halfway there.

What can you see, hear, touch, taste? What do you have on? Is the cloth rough or smooth? If you’re on the beach, there’s a salt spray, and you need a sweater. In the trench, sweat snails down your spine. What taste is in your mouth?

I always liken the state I’m in before I write to waking too early to rise and looking for a wormhole to corkscrew down into that more honest place. You want a clear sense memory, a treasured (or despised) object. And most of all, you want your old body. Your cold hand wrapped around a jelly glass of grape juice. That toy monkey with the switch on its back that banged cymbals and—when smacked on its head—hissed at you. You need a point of physical and psychic connection, a memory you’d swear by to start with. Then allow the memory to play itself. It won’t be video footage, of course, only jump cuts, snippets, an idea here and there, an image.

Now open your eyes. If you’re doing this right, the whole thing should’ve been arrestingly vivid, maybe even a little awful. Many students open their eyes with tears welling up.

—p.31 Why Not to Write a Memoir: Plus a Pop Quiz to Protect the Bleeding & Box Out the Rigid (27) by Mary Karr 1 year, 1 month ago
36

The secret to any voice grows from a writer’s finding a tractor beam of inner truth about psychological conflicts to shine the way. While an artist consciously constructs a voice, she chooses its elements because they’re natural expressions of character. So above all, a voice has to sound like the person wielding it—the super-most interesting version of that person ever—and grow from her core self.

Pretty much all the great memoirists I’ve met sound on the page like they do in person. If the page is a mask, you rip it off only to find that the writer’s features exactly mold to the mask’s form, with nary a gap between public and private self. These writers’ voices make you feel close to—almost inside—their owners. Who doesn’t halfway consider even a fictional narrator like Huck Finn or Scout a pal?

The voice should permit a range of emotional tones—too wiseass, and it denies pathos; too pathetic, and it’s shrill. It sets and varies distance from both the material and the reader—from cool and diffident to high-strung and close. The writer doesn’t choose these styles so much as he’s born to them, based on who he is and how he experienced the past.

Voice isn’t just a manner of talking. It’s an operative mindset and way of perceiving that naturally stems from feeling oneself alive inside the past. That’s why self-awareness is so key. The writer who’s lived a fairly unexamined life—someone who has a hard time reconsidering a conflict from another point of view—may not excel at fashioning a voice because her defensiveness stands between her and what she has to say. Also, we naturally tend to superimpose our present selves onto who we were before, and that can prevent us from recalling stuff that doesn’t shore up our current identities. Or it can warp understanding to fit more comfortable interpretations. All those places we misshape the past have to be ’fessed to, and such reflections and uncertainties have to find expression in voice.

—p.36 A Voice Conjures the Human Who Utters It (35) by Mary Karr 1 year, 1 month ago

The secret to any voice grows from a writer’s finding a tractor beam of inner truth about psychological conflicts to shine the way. While an artist consciously constructs a voice, she chooses its elements because they’re natural expressions of character. So above all, a voice has to sound like the person wielding it—the super-most interesting version of that person ever—and grow from her core self.

Pretty much all the great memoirists I’ve met sound on the page like they do in person. If the page is a mask, you rip it off only to find that the writer’s features exactly mold to the mask’s form, with nary a gap between public and private self. These writers’ voices make you feel close to—almost inside—their owners. Who doesn’t halfway consider even a fictional narrator like Huck Finn or Scout a pal?

The voice should permit a range of emotional tones—too wiseass, and it denies pathos; too pathetic, and it’s shrill. It sets and varies distance from both the material and the reader—from cool and diffident to high-strung and close. The writer doesn’t choose these styles so much as he’s born to them, based on who he is and how he experienced the past.

Voice isn’t just a manner of talking. It’s an operative mindset and way of perceiving that naturally stems from feeling oneself alive inside the past. That’s why self-awareness is so key. The writer who’s lived a fairly unexamined life—someone who has a hard time reconsidering a conflict from another point of view—may not excel at fashioning a voice because her defensiveness stands between her and what she has to say. Also, we naturally tend to superimpose our present selves onto who we were before, and that can prevent us from recalling stuff that doesn’t shore up our current identities. Or it can warp understanding to fit more comfortable interpretations. All those places we misshape the past have to be ’fessed to, and such reflections and uncertainties have to find expression in voice.

—p.36 A Voice Conjures the Human Who Utters It (35) by Mary Karr 1 year, 1 month ago
41

This talent for truth includes a voice’s bold ability to render events we find unbelievable elsewhere. On the first page of Hilary Mantel’s Giving Up the Ghost—for my money a book as worship-worthy as any of her prizewinning fiction—we hear about her encounters with the spirit world. On a staircase, she passes through a shimmer in the air that contains a ghost: “I know it is my stepfather’s ghost coming down. Or, to put it in a way acceptable to most people, I ‘know’ it is my stepfather’s ghost.” First off, she states the mystical experience as simple fact, but because she knows many readers in our skeptical culture will adjudge her bonkers, she spends a subsequent sentence traveling to where those readers’ more rationalist belief systems hold sway. She rephrases, putting know in quotes. So she starts inside her mystical experience, then briefly jogs to where the dubious reader stands prepared to discount her. And from that instant, we trust this most sensible of voices to incorporate both the irrational and our doubt about it. In doing so, she’s invited us into the supernatural experiences so common to her. She speculates a few paragraphs later about the auras of eye migraines that torment her—allowing neurological possibilities for her ghost-related experiences. Above all, we’re convinced of her firm curiosity about her encounters with the supernatural, her willingness to explore any explanation for them.

—p.41 A Voice Conjures the Human Who Utters It (35) by Mary Karr 1 year, 1 month ago

This talent for truth includes a voice’s bold ability to render events we find unbelievable elsewhere. On the first page of Hilary Mantel’s Giving Up the Ghost—for my money a book as worship-worthy as any of her prizewinning fiction—we hear about her encounters with the spirit world. On a staircase, she passes through a shimmer in the air that contains a ghost: “I know it is my stepfather’s ghost coming down. Or, to put it in a way acceptable to most people, I ‘know’ it is my stepfather’s ghost.” First off, she states the mystical experience as simple fact, but because she knows many readers in our skeptical culture will adjudge her bonkers, she spends a subsequent sentence traveling to where those readers’ more rationalist belief systems hold sway. She rephrases, putting know in quotes. So she starts inside her mystical experience, then briefly jogs to where the dubious reader stands prepared to discount her. And from that instant, we trust this most sensible of voices to incorporate both the irrational and our doubt about it. In doing so, she’s invited us into the supernatural experiences so common to her. She speculates a few paragraphs later about the auras of eye migraines that torment her—allowing neurological possibilities for her ghost-related experiences. Above all, we’re convinced of her firm curiosity about her encounters with the supernatural, her willingness to explore any explanation for them.

—p.41 A Voice Conjures the Human Who Utters It (35) by Mary Karr 1 year, 1 month ago
68

Still, using devices more common to other memoirists, Nabokov can draw tears from me at certain passages as predictably as if turned on by a spigot. Students who fear sentimentality as death have to study Nabokov, who proves that sentimentality is only emotion you haven’t proven to the reader—emotion without vivid evidence. For Nabokov, memory itself is a country, and his tender reflections, coupled with longing, move us even more perhaps in coming from a speaker who can be so cool.

I see again my schoolroom in Vyra, the blue roses on the wallpaper, the open window. Its reflection fills the mirror above the leathern couch where my uncle sits, gloating over a tattered book. A sense of security, of well-being, of summer warmth, pervades my memory. That robust reality makes a ghost of the present. The mirror brims with brightness: a bumblebee has entered the room and bumps against the ceiling. Everything is as it should be, nothing will ever change, nobody will ever die.

—p.68 Don’t Try This at Home: The Seductive, Narcissistic Count (55) by Mary Karr 1 year, 1 month ago

Still, using devices more common to other memoirists, Nabokov can draw tears from me at certain passages as predictably as if turned on by a spigot. Students who fear sentimentality as death have to study Nabokov, who proves that sentimentality is only emotion you haven’t proven to the reader—emotion without vivid evidence. For Nabokov, memory itself is a country, and his tender reflections, coupled with longing, move us even more perhaps in coming from a speaker who can be so cool.

I see again my schoolroom in Vyra, the blue roses on the wallpaper, the open window. Its reflection fills the mirror above the leathern couch where my uncle sits, gloating over a tattered book. A sense of security, of well-being, of summer warmth, pervades my memory. That robust reality makes a ghost of the present. The mirror brims with brightness: a bumblebee has entered the room and bumps against the ceiling. Everything is as it should be, nothing will ever change, nobody will ever die.

—p.68 Don’t Try This at Home: The Seductive, Narcissistic Count (55) by Mary Karr 1 year, 1 month ago
91

Carnality may determine whether a memoir’s any good, but interiority—that kingdom the camera never captures—makes a book rereadable. By rereadable, translate: great. Your connection to most authors usually rests (Nabokov and a few others aside) in how you may identify with them. Mainly, the better memoirist organizes a life story around that aforementioned inner enemy—a psychic struggle against herself that works like a thread or plot engine.

Interiority moves us through the magic realms of time and truth, hope and fantasy, memory, feelings, ideas, worries. Emotions you can’t show carnally are told. Whenever a writer gets reflective about how she feels or complains or celebrates or plots or judges, she moves inside herself to where things matter and mean.

Early on in a childhood tale, an author may render consciousness awakening—that enduring, often-trivial first memory, through which a narrator blinks into being. Nabokov made such a moment so singular, its machinery almost speaks to or sparks my own such arrival, as if he described something I, too, had felt but never been able to articulate: “I see the awakening of consciousness as a series of spaced flashes, with the intervals between them gradually diminishing until bright blocks of perception are formed, affording memory a slippery hold.” As you watch the narrator feel around the edges of consciousness for its “slippery hold”—probing for what really went down—you enter a singular set of psychic perceptions. But craving that “hold” or permanence in what’s past is Nabokov’s inner enemy.

Even a writer with gargantuan external enemies must face off with himself over a book’s course. Otherwise, why write in first person at all?

The split self or inner conflict must manifest on the first pages and form the book’s thrust or through line—some journey toward the self’s overhaul by book’s end. However random or episodic a book seems, a blazing psychic struggle holds it together, either thematically or in the way a plot would keep a novel rolling forward. Often the inner enemy dovetails with the writer’s own emotional investment in the work at hand. Why is she driven to tell the tale? Usually it’s to go back and recover some lost aspect of the past so it can be integrated into current identity.

—p.91 Interiority and Inner Enemy—Private Agonies Read Deeper Than External Whammies (91) by Mary Karr 1 year, 1 month ago

Carnality may determine whether a memoir’s any good, but interiority—that kingdom the camera never captures—makes a book rereadable. By rereadable, translate: great. Your connection to most authors usually rests (Nabokov and a few others aside) in how you may identify with them. Mainly, the better memoirist organizes a life story around that aforementioned inner enemy—a psychic struggle against herself that works like a thread or plot engine.

Interiority moves us through the magic realms of time and truth, hope and fantasy, memory, feelings, ideas, worries. Emotions you can’t show carnally are told. Whenever a writer gets reflective about how she feels or complains or celebrates or plots or judges, she moves inside herself to where things matter and mean.

Early on in a childhood tale, an author may render consciousness awakening—that enduring, often-trivial first memory, through which a narrator blinks into being. Nabokov made such a moment so singular, its machinery almost speaks to or sparks my own such arrival, as if he described something I, too, had felt but never been able to articulate: “I see the awakening of consciousness as a series of spaced flashes, with the intervals between them gradually diminishing until bright blocks of perception are formed, affording memory a slippery hold.” As you watch the narrator feel around the edges of consciousness for its “slippery hold”—probing for what really went down—you enter a singular set of psychic perceptions. But craving that “hold” or permanence in what’s past is Nabokov’s inner enemy.

Even a writer with gargantuan external enemies must face off with himself over a book’s course. Otherwise, why write in first person at all?

The split self or inner conflict must manifest on the first pages and form the book’s thrust or through line—some journey toward the self’s overhaul by book’s end. However random or episodic a book seems, a blazing psychic struggle holds it together, either thematically or in the way a plot would keep a novel rolling forward. Often the inner enemy dovetails with the writer’s own emotional investment in the work at hand. Why is she driven to tell the tale? Usually it’s to go back and recover some lost aspect of the past so it can be integrated into current identity.

—p.91 Interiority and Inner Enemy—Private Agonies Read Deeper Than External Whammies (91) by Mary Karr 1 year, 1 month ago
120

1.  Notify subjects way in advance, detailing parts that might make them wince. So far, no one has ever winced. 2.  On pain of death, don’t show pages to anybody mid-process. You want them to see your best work, polished. 3.  As Hubert Selby told Jerry Stahl, “If you’re writing about somebody you hate, do it with great love.” 4.  Related to the above: I never speak with authority about how people feel or what their motives were. I may guess at it, but I always let the reader know that’s speculative. I keep the focus on my own innards. 5.  If somebody’s opinion of what happened wholly opposes mine, I mention it in passing without feeling obliged to represent it. 6.  Don’t use jargon to describe people. It’s both disrespectful and bad writing. I never called my parents alcoholics; I showed myself pouring vodka down the sink. Give information in the form you received it. 7.  Let your friends choose their pseudonyms. 8.  Try to consider the whole time you’re working how your views—especially the harsh ones—may be wrong. Correct as needed. 9.  With your closest compadres and touchy material, you might sit with them (same house or town, maybe not same room) while they read pages that may be painful for them. 10.  I’d cut anything that someone just flat-out denies. Then again, in my family, all the worst stuff was long confessed to before I started writing the first tome. 11.  Let the reader know how subjective your point of view is. This is in some way a form of respect to your subjects, who might disagree.

—p.120 Dealing with Beloveds (On and Off the Page) (111) by Mary Karr 1 year, 1 month ago

1.  Notify subjects way in advance, detailing parts that might make them wince. So far, no one has ever winced. 2.  On pain of death, don’t show pages to anybody mid-process. You want them to see your best work, polished. 3.  As Hubert Selby told Jerry Stahl, “If you’re writing about somebody you hate, do it with great love.” 4.  Related to the above: I never speak with authority about how people feel or what their motives were. I may guess at it, but I always let the reader know that’s speculative. I keep the focus on my own innards. 5.  If somebody’s opinion of what happened wholly opposes mine, I mention it in passing without feeling obliged to represent it. 6.  Don’t use jargon to describe people. It’s both disrespectful and bad writing. I never called my parents alcoholics; I showed myself pouring vodka down the sink. Give information in the form you received it. 7.  Let your friends choose their pseudonyms. 8.  Try to consider the whole time you’re working how your views—especially the harsh ones—may be wrong. Correct as needed. 9.  With your closest compadres and touchy material, you might sit with them (same house or town, maybe not same room) while they read pages that may be painful for them. 10.  I’d cut anything that someone just flat-out denies. Then again, in my family, all the worst stuff was long confessed to before I started writing the first tome. 11.  Let the reader know how subjective your point of view is. This is in some way a form of respect to your subjects, who might disagree.

—p.120 Dealing with Beloveds (On and Off the Page) (111) by Mary Karr 1 year, 1 month ago
124

The most skillful writers either package facts so they hold this kind of psychological interest, or the data get palmed off in carnal scenes the reader can imagine and engage with on a physical level. In these books, you often don’t notice you’re being fed a string of facts. They’re sprinkled into other writing like pepper—there when you need them, but otherwise invisible.

My own first drafts start with information, then I try to herd that information out of my head into a remembered or living scene. I often interview myself about how I came to an opinion. Then, rather than present an abstract judgment (“She was a thief”), I try to re-create how I came to that opinion. “She was a thief” becomes “I stared into the computer’s big green eye, inside which sat the web site where my diamond bracelet was being sold, Lydia’s email contact in the corner.”

Some data, you may think you need to blurt out—the year, for instance. But saying, “On the news that summer, I watched the president resign before helicopters on the White House lawn” says “Nixon administration” to the reader in a slightly more fetching way. One cheap way writers try to strap on character is with T-shirt slogans and brand-name clothing. I encourage my students to work a little harder than this. Try to find something singular and dramatic a person does, instead of just gluing on a label that limits meaning to present-day fashion and won’t make sense fifty years hence.

Take data about a speaker’s age and size. “Standing under the orange hoop, I was the only freshman who could lift one ape-long arm and brush net.” This says age and size and basketball prowess while being evocative. “I tried to hunch inside the new letter jacket, but my bony wrists stuck out.” This adds an element of psychology—self-consciousness.

—p.124 On Information, Facts, and Data (123) by Mary Karr 1 year, 1 month ago

The most skillful writers either package facts so they hold this kind of psychological interest, or the data get palmed off in carnal scenes the reader can imagine and engage with on a physical level. In these books, you often don’t notice you’re being fed a string of facts. They’re sprinkled into other writing like pepper—there when you need them, but otherwise invisible.

My own first drafts start with information, then I try to herd that information out of my head into a remembered or living scene. I often interview myself about how I came to an opinion. Then, rather than present an abstract judgment (“She was a thief”), I try to re-create how I came to that opinion. “She was a thief” becomes “I stared into the computer’s big green eye, inside which sat the web site where my diamond bracelet was being sold, Lydia’s email contact in the corner.”

Some data, you may think you need to blurt out—the year, for instance. But saying, “On the news that summer, I watched the president resign before helicopters on the White House lawn” says “Nixon administration” to the reader in a slightly more fetching way. One cheap way writers try to strap on character is with T-shirt slogans and brand-name clothing. I encourage my students to work a little harder than this. Try to find something singular and dramatic a person does, instead of just gluing on a label that limits meaning to present-day fashion and won’t make sense fifty years hence.

Take data about a speaker’s age and size. “Standing under the orange hoop, I was the only freshman who could lift one ape-long arm and brush net.” This says age and size and basketball prowess while being evocative. “I tried to hunch inside the new letter jacket, but my bony wrists stuck out.” This adds an element of psychology—self-consciousness.

—p.124 On Information, Facts, and Data (123) by Mary Karr 1 year, 1 month ago
137

Here’s one excerpt about my old man. It’s better than anything I’d done before. But it still sounded so emotionally bald that I only sent it out to a magazine at my husband’s urging.

I tell the only truth I know:
that I am helpless and sorry you’re dying,
that this planet will weigh no less when you
are ash. . . .
and if, as Buddha says, life and death are illusory
I will be fooled and suffer your absence,
and somewhere you’ll always be
rising from your oxygen tent, a modern Lazarus,
or snapping open a Lone Star beer,
or simply, too tired to talk, scraping mud
from your black work boots onto the porch.

surprisingly moving given how spare & simple it is

—p.137 Personal Run-Ins with Fake Voices (129) by Mary Karr 1 year, 1 month ago

Here’s one excerpt about my old man. It’s better than anything I’d done before. But it still sounded so emotionally bald that I only sent it out to a magazine at my husband’s urging.

I tell the only truth I know:
that I am helpless and sorry you’re dying,
that this planet will weigh no less when you
are ash. . . .
and if, as Buddha says, life and death are illusory
I will be fooled and suffer your absence,
and somewhere you’ll always be
rising from your oxygen tent, a modern Lazarus,
or snapping open a Lone Star beer,
or simply, too tired to talk, scraping mud
from your black work boots onto the porch.

surprisingly moving given how spare & simple it is

—p.137 Personal Run-Ins with Fake Voices (129) by Mary Karr 1 year, 1 month ago