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Sideways Review: From Reading to Generosity

Erika Anderson
on Then Again
by Diane Keaton

Reading: Barnes & Noble,
Union Square–

10/16/11

~2nd in a series

Generosity matters to me. As a writer and reader of memoir, I seek it. The Buddhist practice of Right Speech considers three conditions: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Individual perceptions of truth will vary, and plenty of worthy memoirs are necessary if not kind. Still, I propose we apply these questions to memoir for the purpose of contemplation, knowing that not every standard can be met.

At Union Square’s Barnes & Noble, Diane Keaton’s generosity appears effortless. Despite the forty minutes hundreds of us have waited, stood and sighed, she warms the crowd with her magnetism and charm. Though it’s easy to doubt the sincerity of any actor’s performance, her enthusiasm feels true.

Because I came expecting only to form an opinion about a celebrity, this reading is my introduction to her writing. Diane’s kindness is implicit in her memoir, Then Again, a tribute to her mother, Dorothy Keaton Hall.

Diane reads a quote from one of her mother’s eighty-five journals: “Every living person should be forced to write an autobiography. They should have to go back and unravel and disclose all the stuff that was packed into their lives.” Then she continues to read, now in her own point of view, “I wish she had. And, because she didn’t, I’ve written not my memoir but ours. The story of a girl whose wishes came true because of her mother is not new, but it’s mine.”

Tearful at the podium, Diane reads from her memoir: “Mom lingers; because it took decades before I recognized that her most alluring trait was her complexity; because I don’t want her to disappear even though she has.” Dorothy Hall, a homemaker once crowned Mrs. LA, died in 2008.

Diane wrote my first name in all caps as I expressed my appreciation for her humility, warmth, and the crafted sentences she had just read. She held my hand, looked me in the eye, and said, “Thank you.” I realize it’s unfair to judge strangers—authors, celebrities, anyone—on thirty-second exchanges, and I read to befriend words, not people, and yet memoir is utterly personal, making the sense of connection all the more vital. Necessary.

~

Erika Anderson has written a memoir about a murder-suicide in college and holds an MFA from VCFA. She seeks generosity in Manhattan and Brooklyn. For more about Erika, visit with her. For more from Erika, read another sideways review and her craft essay.

More Sideways Reviews

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Then Again
Diane Keaton
Random House
2011

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