The Sign of a Good Story (Hint: The Genre)

This memoir wasn’t even on my memoir bookshelf. I read it before I started thinking memoir.

My daughter was in high school, and she was taking ASL classes to satisfy her foreign language requirement. She had already had years of French in elementary and middle school, but wanted ASL for high school.

She read A Loss for Words by Lou Ann Walker for a book report for class. I thought I would read it as well. I’m one of those moms who gets interested in their kids’ activities. She was a dancer, so I loved dance. She was in musical theatre, so I loved musical theatre. Well, those were easy as I’d always loved those subjects.

But my son was in roller hockey, so I loved roller hockey. He was a Police Explorer, so I loved his polo shirt with POLICE EXPLORER printed on the back and the expensive billy club-like flashlight. Those were new things for me.

So was ASL and the deaf community. But when my daughter took those classes, we went to deaf theatre, we went to Caroline, or Change (not deaf theatre) to watch the sign interpreters. And I read her assigned books.

So I wasn’t thinking memoir when I read this book. I was thinking, “Wow, now I know what it is like to grow up as the hearing child of deaf parents.”

That’s the beauty of memoir. To actually immerse oneself in the life of another person. That person can be similar to the reader or very different. It really doesn’t matter because it is still someone else’s life.

I learned about the family members and, through them, had a look at various aspects of living deaf in this country over a period spanning many decades of the 20th century. And I was moved by the protagonist, her situation, and by the character of her parents.

When I look back at this book and all the other memoirs I’ve read, I do think that they satisfy my desire to live my own life and yet to be a fly on the wall in the lives of others.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing

25 responses to “The Sign of a Good Story (Hint: The Genre)

  1. I am exactly the same way – so excited when my daughter learns new skills or interests, because then I get to learn a lot as well. Right now, she has a strong interest in Greek and Roman mythology, so we’ve been listening to Latin language CDs and talking about the roots of language – so much to learn!

    • Luanne

      Michelle, that sounds fun! How exciting to have a daughter interested in that subject! I started wondering how old she is. I remember loving mythology in 7th grade and again in college.

  2. Some memoirs show us that we can really be grateful not having to be someone else.

    Children and their hobbies broaden the mind. 😀

    • Luanne

      Karen, that’s a good point. I especially feel that about the childhood or coming of age memoirs where the parents were extremely neglectful or mentally ill or abusive, like “Angela’s Ashes” or “The Glass Castle.” But I love seeing the protagonists overcome the odds and survive!
      It’s true that the hobbies of kids broaden the minds of the parents, if the parents get involved. Even when the child has similar interests, their take is bound to be different and it adds another dimension for the parents!

  3. I love this series! This is another one that sounds interesting.

  4. Ellen Morris Prewitt

    When I first began writing, I did radio commentaries for the local NPR affiliate. During pledge week I gave away a commentary to the highest pledger: the winner could pick the topic. The winner wanted me to write about cochlear implants and the deaf community. Since I was starting from square one in my knowledge and understanding, I learned a lot. Plus, it gave me a connection I never would have had, one that makes me want to read this memoir. As usual, thank you so much for sharing your reading experiences and recommendations.

    • Luanne

      Ellen, being given a topic you haven’t thought of yourself and that you know nothing about can be such a rich adventure. I think there was something on the news very recently about permanent implants that will make it all “invisible.” Such exciting stuff!

  5. Some of the best stories are true. No wonder you like memoirs.

    • Luanne

      I think you’re right. I had a thought recently about memoir books that are marketed as novels–you know, where the writer needs to create a veil between her own life (for whatever reasons) and the book itself. I think they lose something in this, and if they are tied to large historical issues, a book like this does a disservice to history.

      • Possibly. Depends on the writer and the issue, I suppose. On the other hand, maybe the reader will gain first-hand knowledge about historical events – things that the politicians don’t want the public to know.

        • Luanne

          But I think only if the reader knows for sure (because it’s called a memoir rather than novel) that that is what happened.

  6. Like you, I am very interested in the lives of others. Very. Interested in and curious about.

    • Luanne

      WJ, see my comment to Anneli above. What do you think about a memoir marketed as a novel? Would you feel your curiosity about the life of someone else was being satisfied as if it were a memoir you read–or not?

      • If the memoir includes a lot of non-true elements, it should be marketed as a novel. People have their reasons for wanting their writing to wear a veil. Regarding my curiosity being satisfied….a good fiction writer can create compelling characters about whom I am curious and learn a lot.

        • Luanne

          I’ve learned a lot from fiction, obviously, or I couldn’t have taught it all those years ;). But there is something satisfying about seeing how a person negotiated their own lives and survived and even overcame. My fascination with memoir might also be related to my love of history, especially local history.

  7. I think you have some wonderful thoughts of books and also, your interests are indeed exciting! To live like a fly on the wall, would be interesting to hear private conversations and observe, really draw from experience. It also, humorously, makes me think of Charlotte and how she watched the animals, came to love Wilbur in “Charlotte’s Web.” (Of course, she was a spider…) Smiles, Robin

  8. Luanne, I worked with several deaf handicapped many years ago. I have actually heard of this book. My signing is not as good as it used to be, but I still have my dictionary from class. I think I will look this one up to read. We are iced in, so I am reading and catching up.Great Post! JillXO

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