Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Memoir Boom: A New Trend Millennials Love

Isolated by technology, millennials are using memoir to find connection ♦ 
What do Angela’s Ashes, Eat Pray Love, and Hillbilly Elegy have in common? They’re all famous memoirs, and have received critical and public acclaim that extends past their publication date. These memoirs are fan favorites and household staples, and I, for one, have clung to many in my favorite reading chair well past the light of day. Memoirs often become hit box office movies, perfect to go see with your friends. Even if the books don’t make it to theaters, they become bookstore essentials. For years, the memoir has been vying for attention, facing stiff competition from famous fiction favorites like the Harry Potter series or The Hunger Games trilogy. Since the early 2000s, however, memoirs have been gaining ground, hitting best-seller lists and steadily growing in popularity. So you may be asking yourself, what’s going on? What changed?
   Millennials seem to be the answer to everything lately; they’re not only reading more than ever, but they seem to be especially interested in reading memoirs. Reading for fun has become a hipster habit of sorts, with bookshelves turned into art and coffee shops littered with cozy readers. These trends are certainly keeping Instagram followers and house guests entertained, and it doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. Millennials are playing a big role in this movement, and there are a few possible explanations.
   The most significant of these is the way millennials are changing social interaction. As millennials, it should be no surprise that we need human connection, but we frequently use technology in ways that cut us off from the rest of the world. We have our eyes glued to the screens of phones and laptops all day, headphones secured in our ears, and though we think we’re fully connected through social media, the truth is that we’re far away from the face-to-face interactions that form the foundation of deeper human relationships. Soon enough it all just becomes background noise, full of scrolling and isolation, and we realize we need a break; we need something more; we need something authentic and meaningful.
   Look no further than the memoir. Memoirs give the reader a sense of realness and honesty that fiction can’t quite dish out. Because these rich stories are based on the experiences of real people, they live and breathe raw truth and relatability, something millennials crave. The act of reading someone else’s story, seeing the genuine faults and triumphs of someone who has lived it, makes a reader feel closer to the author. We flip through the pages, feeling the emotions of the writer, seeing the world through their eyes, knowing that the emotions and sights are authentic. When millennials are immersed in digital reality and surface-level interactions everywhere else they turn, it makes sense that they would crave deeper, genuine connections, and memoirs are there to give the reader just that.
    There have been many kinds of memoirs rising through the ranks. Comedians like Amy Poehler and Steve Martin have released their own memoirs, showing that humor is possible even when life gets rough; Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild is an emotional piece that brings readers to tears and inspires them to find beauty in life; J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy speaks to what it’s like to come up from a rural, impoverished home and all the challenges Vance faced to become who he is today. And there are even opportunities for ordinary people to share their stories, as technology has made self-publication much cheaper and easier for independent memoirists. Memoirs come in an array of shapes and sizes, and odds are you can find one that fits your personality and interests. But the most important qualities of memoirs aren’t simply that they’re well-written, interesting, and a good way to spend your time. Instead, their best qualities are the messages they’re able to impart, the lessons they can teach you along the way, from one person to another.
    Take, for example, Elizabeth Gilbert’s renowned memoir, Eat Pray Love. A woman is caught at a point in which she is trying to figure out what she wants in life. After her marriage fails, she tries to navigate what should come next, and decides to travel to Italy, India, and Indonesia. Through her travels, she has epiphanies about life and learns important truths. As the book journeys through her life, it offers lessons to the reader. Eat Pray Love's popularity is a testament to how many people took Gilbert’s tale to heart, holding onto each and every word and working to incorporate it into their own lives.
    Eat Pray Love is such a perfect example of what most millennials are going through (maybe not the budget to travel around the world, but bear with me). Many of them are in a place of deciding what they want for their lives. They may be thinking about marriage, or their career, or none of the above. Millennials may be scattered, nervous, anxious, hopeful, excited, overjoyed, or all of these wrapped up into one. This can be a wild ride and above all else they find they just don’t want to feel alone. You can imagine why someone of this age, with these feelings, would be attracted to a book like Eat Pray Love. A person with these emotions wants to know they aren’t the first to go through a struggle. A fiction book may help a little, but deep down, the reader knows it’s not quite real. When that same reader opens up a memoir like Eat Pray Love, they know a real woman out there has been through the same struggles and came out of it—alive and well!
    Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes is another example of how memoirs are becoming increasingly popular. This inspirational story follows Frank’s childhood and early adulthood as he overcomes poverty, his father’s alcohol addiction, and deaths of those close to him. He works hard, and occasionally bends the rules to get to New York City, pursuing a better life for himself and his brothers. The reader follows Frank through his turmoil in Ireland, and roots for him as he lifts himself up and works toward a life-changing goal. This memoir is not only popular in terms of pleasure reading, but is also great for teachers and students alike. Many high school classrooms use this book in the hopes of teaching students about resilience, the realities of poverty, the struggles of alcoholism, and the American Dream. Angela’s Ashes will change the way you think, which is exactly what a good book should do.
   It looks like memoirs are here for the long haul, so fill up your bookshelves, maybe snap a photo for Instagram, and cozy up to a good cup of coffee in your favorite reading chair. And while you’re enjoying this trend, you can check out the top memoirs of this past year: maybe you can find your newest human connection.
  • About the Author
    Kendra Tuttle is a sophomore at Miami University with a major in AYA (Adolescent Young Adult) Language Arts Education. She is an active member of Miami HELPS and Project Kids Network. She enjoys writing, reading, gardening, and being outdoors in her free time.

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