Impressionism and the book writer

As the final installment in my birthday festivities, my wife took me to the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, in San Francisco, to see The Birth of Impressionism. The unusual number of well-known masterpieces by Manet, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Pisarro, Cezanne, Gauguin, and others is here thanks to the Musee D’Orsay, their usual home, undergoing extensive remodeling.

Portrait of Claude Monet, 1875, Musée d'Orsay,...
Image via Wikipedia

I have a deep love of Impressionist art, dating to a Paris visit in the eighties. It was before the conversion of the old train station into the Musee D’Orsay, and the Impressionist art was cheek-by-jowl on the walls of the Jeu de Paume building in the Tuilleries garden. (Don’t all these place names make you want to go to Paris?)

I was wandering around, wondering what all the fuss was about. I had never looked closely at Impressionist art before; it just seemed messy and blotchy. Suddenly I came upon this painting of Monet by Renoir. Reading the sparse legend, I realized that these two friends were in their early thirties when this portrait was done.

I was in my late thirties at the time. Something struck me, and suddenly it was as if Monet was a real person. Everything in the painting became real to me. And I was moved to tears.

As I moved along to other paintings, the experience continued. All the Monets and Renoirs affected me this way; also Mary Cassat’s work. Sisley’s later paintings, and some of Pisarro’s, opened that channel of light to me, too.

And it never left me. Even a small, low-resolution reproduction of a Renoir or a Monet still evokes the feelings in me, as if I were looking into another world. The art changed me, and opened new worlds for me.

That is what I aspire to in my writing: To have an impact on my reader that transcends the moment.


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Your book is you

I just got the latest issue of Writer’s Digest; it’s one of the few magazines I still receive in the mail, and only because it was a package deal with their websites. And I must admit that the kinesthetics of a physical magazine still offer me something pleasant, despite the inconvenience of not having it electronically.

A hot issue: Truth in memoirs. After several scandals (look up authors James Frey and Frank McCourt and throw in “Oprah,” and you’ll get the gist), the subject of “embellishment” of stories that are ostensibly true has gotten a lot of attention.

But let’s cut to the chase: ALL writing is false, in some sense, no matter how journalistic or scientific. It is false in that it perforce tells only part of the story. There’s going to be a range of “truthfulness”; if you invent people or events claim truthfulness, don’t be surprised if you get called on it.

Yet whose memory is perfect? Even with notes or recordings? And what “facts” are significant? Is it better to write, “The color of our family car was blue, or maybe grey; actually, it may have been dark green. I’m not sure…” or “Dad pulled the blue Buick into the driveway, and threw his suitcase into the back seat”? Well, what do you mean by, “better”? The latter moves the action along; the former may be more truthful; but what are you trying to accomplish?

Most of my clients are writing books to establish their professional credibility. I encourage them to include some autobiography, so that readers can get to know them–and perhaps like and trust them. To that end, I suggest judicious storytelling–not to mislead, but not to draw attention to imperfections.

Ultimately, your book represents you. Your integrity, or lack thereof, will be examined, largely by the evidence you provide–and how well it matches what people may find on the Internet. Think about that when you plan what to write.

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