Two Towns One Book

A presentation by author, memoirist, and creative writing coach Marion Roach Smith will kick off the 2020 Two Towns One Book community read on Sunday

CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — A presentation this Sunday from memoirist Marion Roach Smith will provide the official start to the Friends of the Clifton Park & Halfmoon Library’s annual Two Towns One Book community read.

The goal of the TTOB program is to bring people in the library community together through the shared reading and discussion of a common book.

The choices made each year inspire rich discussions of the books as well as lectures, community activities, and occasional trips. A young readers’ portion of the programming encourages youngsters to participate through companion books and related activities. 

This month marks the ninth year the Friends group has reached out to the community for potential reads. Past selections for the TTOB program include The Book Thief, Unbroken, The Martian, and last year’s book about coordinated child abduction in 1930s Tennessee, Before We Were Yours,

This year’s final vote on a book selection resulted in a two way tie.

The books Becoming by former First Lady Michelle Obama and Educated by Tara Westover were chosen by the community as this year’s reads. Both can be considered memoirs.

Roach Smith will give her presentation titled, “It’s A Memoir Renaissance” at 2 p.m. Jan. 12 at the library, 475 Moe Road, Clifton Park. The event is free and open to the public.

Roach Smith comes from a family of journalists. She spent six years as a reporter for the New York Times. While still in college the Times’ Magazine published her submission describing her first person account of a family member’s diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

The article, published in 1983, help start a national conversation on long term care and specifically Alzheimer’s. The magazine article led to a book contract and Roach Smith has been an author, memoirist, and writing coach ever since. 

Her books include Another Name for Madness, and The Roots of Desire: The Myth, Meaning and Sexual Power of Red Hair. Her most recent book is titled, The Memoir Project, A thoroughly Non-Standardized Text on Writing & Life.

As part of her appearance she will share her expertise as a memoirist and writing coach, discuss the different types of memoirs, the importance of memoir, and the change in acceptance of memoir by publishers.

In a recent conversation she was asked about the different genres of memoir.

“Within memoir there are some sub-genres; there’s the alcoholism memoir, the health care memoir, the dog memoirs,” she said. “For instance, within memoir there is this whole huge category of recovery, and it could be drugs, alcoholism or any of the other addictions. It’s the addiction memoir. That’s the way editors think of them and that’s the way bookstores break them up.”

While discussing the two books chosen for this year’s TTOB community read, Roach Smith described Michelle Obama’s book as being more autobiography than memoir, while Tara Westover’s book stayed more true to the memoir style.

“Autobiography is one big book on the history of your life while memoir is one aspect of your life; one argument where you have something to say,” Roach Smith said. “Memoir is what you know after you’ve been through something.”

In the book, Educated, Roach Smith said she found Westover arguing for education while Obama’s book took on much more.

“I’m sure Michelle Obama would argue for it too but in her book she’s arguing about tenacity, perseverance, love, devotion, and education,” Roach Smith said.

With regard to publishing, Roach Smith said she has seen a change in acceptance of the entire memoir genre in recent years by mass market publishers noting that there is a quality of excellence that has to do with humanity and sharing the human experience.

“When you read a book about someone who walks the Appalachian Trail you may not ever walk it yourself but maybe we learn something about endurance or pushing ourselves,” she said. “Maybe it gets us up off the couch to go do something that increases our perseverance or endurance. Memoir allows for that human to human experience and I love it for that.”

She pointed to Anne Frank’s Diary and the narratives of American slavery as memoirs that presented the world with the history and oppression of the disenfranchised.  

“I’m a huge defender of memoir; I think it’s a beloved genre,” Roach Smith said. “I can’t think of anything more important than sharing our stories and this is a genre that allows us to do so.”

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