Surviving the Ordinary: Why We Need Memoirs of Regular Lives
by Mary Laura Philpott
Give me jaw-dropping true stories, yes indeed, but also give me life stories that leave my jaw alone and move my mind and heart instead.
I am 100 percent here for a good stranger-than-fiction memoir. Do I want to know how someone escaped a cult, pulled off a heist, or became famous after surviving a freak accident? Absolutely. Send me your tales of life-and-death adventure. But I also want to read about the lives (and deaths) of people who face nothing extraordinary at all, whose stories exemplify the challenges and realities of common, daily existence. High stakes make for great reading, but examine any life, and you’ll see the stakes get pretty high for all of us at some point, even if the only decisions we ever make are the ones billions of people have made before us and billions will make again. It’s not novelty that draws me to a memoir, at least not always.
I got to thinking about all this when I read And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready by Meaghan O’Connell. I first heard about the book from a fellow bookseller, in vague terms—something about a young woman who finds herself pregnant by accident and decides to keep the baby. My imagination filled in the blanks: a broke college student maybe? Knocked up after a one-night-stand perhaps, destitute and alone, driven to desperate choices? Then I got the book in my hands and realized it’s a far less sensational story. O’Connell was nearly 30 when she and her fiancé—in love, stable, both employed—realized they were expecting. The pregnancy happened before they’d decided if or when to have a baby, which is a plot twist for anyone, certainly, but by no means a rarity in the human experience.
So why do we need this book?