There was a scathing review in the New York Times recently of four memoirs (this wasn’t one of them) which attacked the current massive popularity of memoirs, basically saying: most memoirs don’t need to be written and certainly don’t deserve to be published. Most of your lives are not that interesting. I’m still mulling over the ideas raised in that controversial review, because while I love memoirs, I do agree it’s far too easy these days to claim you’ve had an interesting life, or to deliberately do something to make your life seem interesting, and then get a memoir published.
I think the determining factor in whether a memoir is worth reading is not how “valuable” the person’s life is as material, but how well they tell the story. A great writer can make a mundane life sound interesting. Cami Ostman isn’t a great writer, but she tells her story well, and I enjoyed reading it. Her story is not “memoir-worthy” by the standards of that particular reviewer: recovering from divorce and leaving her fundamentalist church, Ostman finds new purpose in her life by taking up marathon running. The “gimmick” that sells the book and gives it its necessary hook is that she decides to set a personal goal of running marathons on all seven continents.
Her quest to make all the continents gives the book a little bit of a narrative thread; the only real suspense is whether she’ll be able to pull off an Antarctic marathon, which is not all that easy (and thus is wisely left for the end of the book). There are a lot of details here that only marathon runners would care about, but if you like stories of personal growth, there’s also some good material here about the things Ostman learned on her journey. It’s by no means a life-changing or earth-shattering book, but I found it a quick and enjoyable read. It didn’t inspire me to take up running, not even the least tiniest little bit, but I liked vicariously running the marathon through Ostman’s experience. That’s as close as I’ll ever want to get to running 26 miles on any continent.