I recently picked up a book, a memoir written by a woman who read one book per week for a year and wrote about what she read. As you might recall, I set up the very same challenge for myself this year. See the post I Have Read 51 Books in Nine Months and You Haven't. Just like the author of this book, during this self imposed challenge, I read book after book after book and wrote about all of them in my journal. Unlike the author, however, the one thing that I didn’t get around to doing was to write a memoir about the experience and have it published.
The phenomenon of setting up a challenge for yourself- to live differently for a time and then write about it, was a theme I ran into many times during my book frenzy. And it generally makes for really good reading. The key is to create an experiment with yourself as test subject. You define the rules and live according them, and then you write an account of your experience. If you think about it, it is sort of like a reality TV show. You alter your life artificially for the sake of seeing what happens. It works well for people who aren’t naturally living a memoir obvious life by being a celebrity, gathering dirt about celebrities, being a criminal or living in France with a boyfriend named Hugh. Of this create-a-memoir genre, Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously was one of my favorites. Julie decides to cook, in one year’s time, every one of Julia Child’s recipes from The Art of French Cooking. I can’t put my finger on what exactly made that book so wonderful, but it was great from start to finish. I loved it so much that when I finished it, I trekked down to DC to visit the Julia Child exhibit in the National Gallery. It was my own personal Wally World experience. I stood outside the building looking in disbelief at the sign that explained that the museum was closed for renovations. In reality, the words on the sign explained the renovation schedule and what visitors might look forward to when it was done, but all I read was, “F#&K YOU, Sondra Stinglash.” The museum was closed. That felt personal.
There is another book that I can’t wait to read. My Year of Living Biblically is a memoir describing a year of living exactly as the bible says. See A.J. Jacobs' wonderful talk on the subject. I recently heard of a blogger who has made it her project to live according to the advice of Oprah Winfrey for a year. Living Oprah. This woman gave herself an assignment, is living it and writing about it and, although she won’t sign a deal until the project is done, I have no doubt a book will follow. There are most certainly countless other people who have designed experiments that they are conducting at this very moment. Right now, as you are reading this entry, there is someone going through their year wearing a chicken suit, someone sampling cookies, and someone living in a cabin in the woods on Walden Pond. Imagine the books born of these projects!
All Fowled Up: My Year in Feathers
A Year of Milanos: One Woman’s Quest to Try Them All
My Wasted Year: Would It Have Killed You To Tell Me That Someone Already Did This?
I need your help. I need a challenge. I love my life; it is a great one, but it isn’t necessarily memoir material. What I need to do is to set up some rules for myself and then live an entire year according to those rules. It has to be something out of the ordinary, but it can’t be something that is too embarrassing or takes a great deal of courage or time because I am kind of whimpy and I am very, very busy. It can’t involve the saving up of all my garbage, traveling anywhere, pretending to have a job I don’t have, or changing gender. I invite you to send me any idea you have! And don’t stop there. Send this post along to your friends and ask them for their ideas. Then submit them as if they were your own.
And just so you know, the book I mentioned at the beginning of this post- I didn’t like it. It is just as well that I didn't write my own. Turns out that it is hard to write such a book without seeming like you are a super reader book jerk who likes to brag about all that reading you are doing. Who can blame her though? If I had read that many books in a year, (and I did) I would probably be tempted to toot my own horn too. I would probably look for opportunities to bring it up in conversation and act shocked when other people tell me the paltry number of books they have attempted to read over the past year.
I won’t though. Now that I know how annoying it is.
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