Ben Yagoda chronicles a genre's perplexed reception
by Ben Yagoda
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What is it about the memoir that forces it, in spite of its many wonderful achievements, always to stand in the docket? Was it ever thus, or is it our age that feels especially defensive, apologetic, and guilt-ridden about the practice of the genre? We can only begin reckoning with such questions by placing the memoir in historical perspective, which is exactly what Ben Yagoda has done with his timely, useful, and informative study, Memoir: A History.
Yagoda, a journalism professor at the University of Delaware, has written in the past a fine biography, Will Rogers (1993), and About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made (2000), among other books. He has a lively, resolutely nonacademic, clever style, bordering on the glib, but never less than intelligent. He begins with a few definitions, sensibly equating
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