The First Chapter

I open a memoir and read the first chapter with excitement. Wow, this author can write! Such beautiful images. God, what a good book this is going to be. So many good books in the world!

And then it happens. The middle slump, the loss of focus, a rushed end. Acknowledgments in which the author admits he wasn’t sure he knew how to write and he thanks his agent for his encouragement. Where’s your sense of showmanship, man? Keep that shit to yourself.

Maybe the author should have written an essay rather than a book. Maybe the author should have spent a longer time with the manuscript. Maybe she should have thought harder. Maybe he should have made sure the rest of the book was as polished as the first two chapters.

Feh. I now understand the frustration of my high school teachers who wrote, “does not live up to potential.”

What books have you read that are good the whole way through?


6 responses to “The First Chapter

  1. I’ve read a lot of wonderful books, but I can’t think of many memoirs—does Cheaper by the Dozen count?

    I think on the whole, I prefer collections of personal essays and/or travel memoirs, like Travels with Charley or Finding Me in France.

  2. I am reading an interesting book right now, or trying to. It is a memorial memoir: writings by the author assembled and then woven together by his grieving family. He was an English professor and we (you and I) knew him well (C— sent me the book. I’ll lend it to you when I am finished). Whether it’s my ability to concentrate which is making it feel like an assembly of isolated, interesting sentences, or whether it’s because the author himself didn’t go through the self-doubting inferno you are right now, I am not completely certain.

    My inclination is to give up the genre. I am not keen on memorial memoir. It doesn’t live up to its promise.

    French? What was it?

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