Memoir has become the signature genre of our age.In this timely gathering, Patricia Hampl, one of our most elegant practitioners, "weaves personal stories and grand ideas into shimmering bolts of prose" (Minneapolis Star Tribune) as she explores the autobiographical writing that has enchanted or bedeviled her. Subjects engaging Hampl's attention include her family's response to her writing, the ethics of writing about family and friends, St. Augustine's Confessions, reflections on reading Walt Whitman during the Vietnam War, and an early experience reviewing Sylvia Plath. The word that unites the impulse within all the pieces is "Remember!"—a command that can be startling. For to remember is to make a pledge: to the indelible experience of personal perception, and to history itself.
This small event sets the stage for the rest of the book--it draws a narrative out of a mostly mundane moment and underscores the complicated nature of remembering events as they actually happened. She writes that because "everyone 'has' a memoir, we all have a stake in how such stories are told. For we do not, after all, simply have experience; we are entrusted with it." In the balance of the book, Hampl examines the autobiographical writings of St. Augustine, Anne Frank, Sylvia Plath, Edith Stein, and Czeslaw Milosz. In each instance, she attempts to uncover the writer's intentions and reveal the true secrets that lurk in the shadows of what's on the page. I Could Tell You Stories is an excellent investigation into what makes a story essentially worthy of being told and ultimately read--a good companion to whatever book is currently in your hands. --Jordana Moskowitz