I read a lot of memoirs, both as part of my work as an editor and also for my own enjoyment, and I’ve come to understand that a great memoir has two key features:
- It is focused. It takes on one aspect of a life – a particular span of years, a certain theme, a specific series of events.
- It is honest without requiring the reader to offer forgiveness or absolution. It reveals the protagonist’s flaws and pain but doesn’t ask the reader to carry that, except in the form of the story. It gives the reader space to experience without feeling like they have a responsibility to the book.
A great memoir helps the reader see how – even in an oblique way – the protagonist’s experiences show something about the reader’s own life.
Esther Emery’s What Falls from the Sky* is a great memoir.
What Esther’s Book Reminded Me to Hold
The story in Esther’s memoir is about the year she disconnected completely from the Internet. No email, no social media, but also no ATM, no Amazon, no nothing that required the transmission of binary codes.
That alone was appealing to me and reminded me that sometimes I am far too connected. But it was more the lessons that Esther learned once she had space to learn them that compelled me to keep reading because, well, in my own way, I need those lessons too.
- I was reminded that I needed to connect with people face-to-face and in longer forms of communication. When her family visits other families, I felt a pang in my chest because I long for languid afternoons talking with old friends. When she writes letters to her friends, I thought about the way I had once written letters almost weekly with a friend from college, pages and pages about our lives. I remember how close I felt to him then.
- I was reminded of the joy of knowing our neighbors. As Esther watches her neighbor’s family struggle, I thought of the way I not only don’t know my neighbor’s struggles but I don’t even know most of their names. I was encouraged to change that.
- Most of all, I was reminded that honest accountability for our own actions in our writing, even when other people have wronged us, is a beautiful, powerful tool healing. In the pages, Esther holds herself to account for her own hurtful actions and poor choices, and while certainly others have hurt her as well, she doesn’t focus on their actions as much as she does her own pain and growth. It’s a beautiful thing.
This book is one I will keep nearby – to lend out, to re-read, to quote from on the days when life feels like it requires a change. It’s also one that I will recommend as a model of what a powerful memoir does.
Win a Free Copy of Esther’s Book
So now that I’ve sung its praises, you have a chance to win a copy of Esther’s memoir just by commenting below. Leave your comment about why you’re eager to read this book by 5pm EST on Friday, April 7th, and I’ll announce the reader here on Saturday, April 8th and inform the winner via email.
Of course, you can buy the book* here, too. Plus, follow Esther on her blog or subscribe to her fun and informative homesteading videos here.
*These are affiliate links, which means if you buy Esther’s book, I get a small commission, which helps me to pay the costs of keeping this blog. So thanks.