Every time Inventing the Truth appears in a new edition, editor William Zinsser can't help but add to it. The first edition (1987) evolved from a series of New York Public Library talks, for which the mandate was not to lecture about the genre of the memoir but to explain how a specific memoir came to be written. In the book's 1995 edition, Russell Baker, Annie Dillard, Alfred Kazin, and Toni Morrison were joined by Jill Ker Conway, Eileen Simpson, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Ian Frazier. This time around, Zinsser has added a rich and charming reminiscence by Frank McCourt (Angela's Ashes).
The authors do stick to their assignment: Russell Baker credits his huge family with helping him "learn a lot about humanity from close-up observation"; Jill Ker Conway talks about her desire to write a female memoir that was not a romantic happily-ever-after; and Henry Louis Gates Jr. discusses "want[ing] to write a book that imitated the specialness of black culture when no white people are around." But there is also plenty of advice for writers here, and some general thoughts about the genre. Conway addresses the difficulty of "going back as a historian" and trying to understand "all the things you took as a given when you were a child." Gates warns us to "be prepared for the revelation of things you don't even dream are going to come up." And Annie Dillard contemplates the strangeness of spending "more time writing about [a scene or an event] than you did living it." --Jane Steinberg