I just finished reading Uneducated by Tara Westover. It is her story of growing up in a survivalist family in Idaho. She did not go to school and says she was not homeschooled at all. At 17 she studies and takes the ACT, goes to college, and eventually gets a Ph.D. from Cambridge. It is a very good book and a very compelling story. Her family says the entire book is false.
I was curious to see what the people in the book looked like so I looked them up on Facebook. Because everyone is on Facebook now, I was able to eventually land on her mom’s Facebook page, On her page was a picture of the dad. On the picture of the dad, there were 50 comments. Many of those comments referred to a story from the book. There were comments from the mom and others on her side about how Tara’s book had many false and exaggerated stories. Based on some comments, it appears there were deleted comments from people who read the book and commented about what terrible people the parents are.
All of this made me think about memoirs in general. I have said before that I take all memoirs with a grain of salt. This is for various reasons.
Some memoirs have so many funny or weird stories it makes me wonder how exaggerated they are. A good storyteller can take an event and make it sound much more exciting and/or funny than it really was. If you are trying to sell and get people to read a book making the stories better seems like a good idea. No one would want to read about my life growing up as is. If I was a good storyteller I could make my life story seem much more compelling and readable. If I want to sell a book about my life I better make it seem like a story someone would want to read.
Memoirs also rely on memory. I sometimes think about writing about stories from my childhood. I think there is a good chance that my memories of stories from my childhood would be different than the memories of others involved. This could be for various reasons. One, I’m old and that was a long time ago. Memories fade. Memories can change. If I remember an experience negatively I will forget anything good about it. If I remember it positively, I might forget anything bad about it. Others might remember those parts and wonder why I’m lying about the experience. I could see my siblings saying I got a story wrong if I told one from our childhood.
I’m not saying I think Tara Westover lied. I’m not saying she is remembering anything wrong. Everything in the book could be completely true. I’m just saying that memoirs can be tricky and you have to be open to the idea that they could be exaggerated or that the memories could be flawed so perhaps don’t blindly believe them and go on a stranger’s Facebook page to tell them they are a terrible person because you read it in a book.