Write Part of My Memoir in November, Day 23: Re-Reading the Past

Write Part of My MemoirWelcome to day 23. As part of this month-long writing challenge, I’d been planning to read Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir and riff off it. I ended up taking a detour to the art of the novel instead.

The Quandary

A section of the chapter I just finished of Getting Naked for Money had me living in Santa Fe and researching The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Arizona and New Mexico. The setting brought to mind Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop, which I read in high school. The book had sparked the attraction to the Southwest that eventually brought me to Tucson. It now struck me as odd that a Jewish girl who had been terrified of the Spanish Inquisition and, by association, Catholicism would be so taken with the story of two missionary priests.

(It also struck me as odd that my Hebrew school teacher would have assigned fifth graders a book with pictures of racks, Iron Maidens, and other instruments of torture. But that’s a question for another memoir.)

I wondered how I would react to the book after more than 20 years of living in the Southwest, how Cather’s descriptions of the landscape would hold up.  Would the novel still seem profound or was it just an adolescent literary crush?

I generally hate re-reading books — there are so many I haven’t yet gotten to and so little time — but there was only one way to find out.

The verdict

The book was even better than I remembered, surprising and fresh more than 40 years after my original reading. The simplicity and spareness of the language, its lucidity, conveyed the New Mexican landscape more successfully to me than any O’Keeffe painting. The story of missionary fervor in the face of a series of struggles, which could have been overwrought, was so understated, lyrical and, occasionally, witty as to move me to my irreligious core.

I suppose being closer to my own mortality made this reading more poignant. I’m not giving anything away when you consider the book’s title.

The takeaways

I had good taste in high school —  in books if not in boyfriends. That too is a story for another memoir.

A mark of great writing is its timeless appeal. I learned that in high school too, but if you don’t verify those old lessons occasionally they tend to slip away.

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About the Author

Edie Jarolim is a writer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. Sign up on this blog to get updates about her humorous tell-all/memoir, GETTING NAKED FOR MONEY: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All.

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