Memoir as a genre markets self-promotion as entertainment. And as market trends and my own personal reading trends are concerned, the tactic seems to seep into success like a junk food binge. I’ve read entire memoirs by people I didn’t and still don’t care about, people I’d never heard about before reading and have since forgotten, and more infrequently, people I actually like. At the beginning of last year I read Lit by Mary Karr just to get the David Foster Wallace gossip, High on Arrival by Mackenzie Phillips, God knows why. By his own admission, Steve Katz isn’t a popular literary icon. Toward the end of this collection he wonders, “How will my work invoke even a sputter of recognition?” in the face of no one remembering once famous film legend Edward G. Robinson. So why read his memoir?
To be honest this is another one of the many memoirs I’ve read by someone I had no foreknowledge of. What attracted me to it was the writers who he had come into contact with and the label of avant-garde writer attached to his name. Memoirrhoids looks to combine memoir and hemorrhoids into one word so readers of this work can on some level stew over the inherent link between memoir writing and shitting. These clumps of memories are not organized into some chronological cause and effect story, nor do they all have some moral lesson. Instead the collection comes together formally like actual memory exists in our human digestion – in loose subjective, subconscious, and unconscious networks of meaning after the chronological intake of events breaks down inside our heads. As Katz says himself, “Maybe it’s because I want to present my experience as following the incessant sputter of life, and that my recollections present themselves as random, in fits and starts, and hardly ever in chronological order.” To add some form of demand on the project, he aims for creating 137 of them, a number that he explains has many mysterious and powerful significances. As far as memoirs go, this is at least an original approach.
For people who like insights on craft, random warm and fuzzy memories, and literary gossip, this is a pretty fun book. We learn about his unique writing method of getting under the covers and writing a first draft in a lemon juice/ invisible ink method that puts the manuscript in danger of being incinerated by a candle when transferring it over to another draft. We get to hear about him sleeping with an ashamed German prostitute, being unfaithful to his wife, running into a young Geraldo Rivera who dated Kurt Vonnegut’s daughter, receiving a compliment on his writing from Pynchon at Cornell, pissing off Nabokov for misusing his name, having John Berryman piss in his bed, watching William S. Burroughs and Tennessee Williams briefly discuss substance abuse, and on top of it all we are treated to great sentences like, “I doubted they’d let me in to the Vatican with an erection.”
Some of the best pieces are ones like ‘Caffeine’ that describe relatable teenage memories about first discoveries of coffee, written in a 1950s Kerouac style, as well as ones like ‘Publishing Uptown’ that give us glimpses into the world of publishing for up and coming experimental writers of the 60s. The recounted memories span through so many different subjects that, although not all of them will connect with each reader, there is enough in here to entertain almost anyone who appreciates art, loves to travel, has spiritual inclinations and revelations, or has a penchant for reflecting on his or her own character defects.
In one of the few meta pieces about this collection Katz says, “Maybe this writing is a bridge. A bridge from NOW to then. I trust it will be here, the same words, whenever I need them. What a fool’s spree this writing be.” Although memoir is the simple and indulgent medium that any hack or celebrity can write or get someone else to write for them, Steve Katz doesn’t go the trite route, but instead refreshes the form in his own way, collecting bite sized increments into a pointillist picture of himself and his experiences.