By Amy Wright
Know what I think is refreshing? Clean lakes, blue glass, mint mouthwash, and rain. Also, people who express profound emotion or offer insights earned from hard experiences. What I do not find refreshing as a matter of course are essay collections that avoid memoir. So, when the first three reviews I read of Brian Phillips’ debut essay collection, Impossible Owls, described its “refreshing lack of memoir,” I had to wonder why critics were praising what it wasn’t, rather than what it was.
Apparently, memoirs are so in need of humbling, or memoirists in such need of a comedown, reviewers have to work across genre to accomplish it. I get it; I’ve read bad memoirs too. But I’ve also read paltry sonnets and shoddy detective novels without reviewers lauding those working in other modes for avoiding them altogether.
I suspect there’s more at play than genre bias…
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