I’ve almost finished rereading An American Childhood. I quit taking notes about one-third of the way through, and have found that the reading has grown just a tad tedious. I’m skimming half the time now.

What happened, and what can I learn?

Things I like about her writing style in this book:

  • I like that she is imaginative and quirky.
  • I like her use of short, themed “chapters” that are only loosely chronological.
  • I mostly like her insightful interjections — to a point.

Things I’m not wild about include:

  • Her excessive reliance on essay form.
  • Her frequent inclusion of lots of background information that reads like an encyclopedia article, for example about the French and Indian War, or details of pond scum. Yes, it is her fascination, but she fails to cast it in a manner that incites a similar passion in me, and I skim.
  • Her near total lack of dialogue, tension, and other scene-building elements. The book is as close to pure narrative as anything I’ve read.

Thing’s I’ll quite possibly emulate:

  • Her use of short, themed chapters. As I read, I’m often reminded of personal memories that will cluster well, giving me leeway to break out of strict chronological mode.
  • Analytic insights. It remains to be seen how much of this I’ll incorporate. Not nearly as much as she has done. I don’t plan to include whole essays as chapters as she does several places, along the lines of “How does it feel to be alive?”
  • Portraits of quirkiness. There is plenty of that in my family — the source of my own.

Things I’ll do differently:

  • Include scenes. Not all my memories will fit well into scenes, but many do. The memoir form allows for a certain amount of leeway in clustering specific memories into composite units, a big help in scene-bulding.
  • Include dialogue. It doesn’t take a lot of dialogue to warm up a story.
  • Include suspense and tension. This isn’t something that pops out in my memories, but it’s there, hidden away like the Pieta before Michaelangelo picked up his chisel.

Ah, the promised snow has just begun, only a few minutes behind schedule. Perhaps this afternoon I’ll tap out a draft chapter on memories of snow. Remember when seeing those first snowflakes was cause for joy as we thought of sledding, snowmen, snowball fights, hot chocolate later, maybe “Snow Ice Cream” for dessert?” Never any school-closing snow days though. When did those begin?

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