from "Whose Truth?"
I published a memoir once. As memoirs go, it was not shocking. No one had abused me in my childhood. No one in my family was alcoholic. I had not slept with my father. You may wonder how I thought that anyone would be interested in what I had to say. In fact, I didn't. I never imagined anyone reading my book. When I conceived of the book, as I wrote the book, as I rewrote the chapters, I never thought about anyone but myself or imagined any readers but my tiny posterity and small band of unshakeable well-wishers. If I had, I doubt I could or would have written the book at all. Sheer stupidity, failure of imagination, freed me to write.
The writing itself was blissful. I set myself the task of writing truthfully about certain experiences that had not to my knowledge often been honestly described—among others, ambition, childbirth, the combination of arrogance and self-disgust which textures my every day. This was a deeply personal project. I was once and for all and for whatever it was worth going to tell the truth about myself. I felt no impediments to writing. Although I always enjoy writing, I wrote this book with unprecedented speed. Toward the end, I was seized with a sense of urgency. I wanted to get this all down. To some extent, this is typical at the end of any big project (the horse smells the stable), but I've never experienced it as intensely as with this book. I wasn't expecting to die in the near future, but I wanted to finish the book before I did, so that something would survive that was truly me. I recalled repeatedly Montaigne's address to his reader: "The goal I've set myself is private and domestic. I had no thought of serving you or glorifying myself. My book is intended solely for the pleasure of my relatives and friends, so that, when they have lost me (as they must soon), they will find in it some traces of my character and disposition and so keep what memory they have of me more completely and vividly alive."
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Phyllis Rose is the author of Parallel Lives, Jazz Cleopatra, and other biographical works. Her memoir, The Year of Reading Proust, appeared in 1997. The entire essay "Whose Truth?" can be found in Truth in Nonfiction: Essays, edited by David Lazar and published this month by University of Iowa Press.
Established in 1938 and housed in the historic Kuhl House, the oldest house still standing in Iowa City, the University of Iowa Press publishes scholarly books and a wide variety of titles that will appeal to general readers. As the only university press in the state, it is dedicated to preserving the literature, history, culture, wildlife, and natural areas of the region.
Truth in Nonfiction Site
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