I Could Tell You Stories:
Sojourns in the Land of Memory

by Patricia Hampl


W.W. Norton & Co., 1999. ISBN 0393047385.
Reviewed by Leslea Smith
Posted on 05/24/2001

Memoir; Creative Life

Patricia Hampl could read the first chapter of I Could Tell You Stories at a Story Circle meeting and fit right in. She describes a bus ride through the middle of the country, and a farm woman who tells her "I could tell you stories." Contemplating that tantalizing remark and the beauty of the dawn, Hampl hears the injunction:

"Remember!"

The book is a collection of essays, originally published in various journals and anthologies. The collection works well as a whole, tied together by the theme of the power of autobiographical writing. Hampl recounts her own stories as a way to explore the memoir genre: the connection between imagination and memory, what happens when our story takes us to dark places, and the conflict that arises when our stories reveal other people's secrets, for example. Mixed in with her own stories are powerful essays on the personal writing of a curious mix of authors: Edith Stein, Sylvia Plath, Augustine and Anne Frank. Each has lessons for the memoirist.

I read this book with my dictionary close at hand. Hampl is Regent's Professor at the University of Minnesota. Her writing is thick but worth the effort required to read it. Many of her dense, image-laden sentences sparkle. Her insights into personal writing ring true to me. For example, Hampl says "It still comes as a shock to realize that I don't write about what I know, but in order to find out what I know."

Welcome to Story Circle, Patricia.

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