Cover Image: The Six-Minute Memoir

The Six-Minute Memoir

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Member Reviews

To be completely honest with you, I just couldn't torture myself anymore with this book.
The short stories or memoirs, if you want to call them that, were completely random with no connection with each other and without any meaning. Somehow it reminded me a family gathering were your old aunts tells each other stories from their childhood about random people they met one time - you can listen, but after an hour it gets boring. Same was with this book.
I wish I could get my time back.

Do not recommend.

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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an electronic copy to read in exchange for an honest review.

Short essays are little doorways into the lives of other people. These stories remind me of sitting with my aging father as he reminisces of years gone by - telling his own stories, retelling ones he's heard. They are comforting in their own way.

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I am unable to give a detailed review of this book as it was archived less than a week after it was made available to me.

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A lovely way to spend a few minutes each day. I recommend this wide-ranging collection to my writing students when they're stuck and struggling, or when they just need a break from novel writing.. In The Six-Minute Memoir, Mary Helen Stefeniak proves that no subject is too small or too obscure to write about, and observant writers can find meaning in the overlooked corners of life.

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Thank you NetGalley and University of Iowa Press for the eARC.

I really liked the short memoirs! Whenever I think of memoirs, I think that they would have stories filled with drama, some big life-event, or whatnot, but the stories here aren't out-of-world extraordinary— and maybe that's what makes this special? Please don't get me wrong, the stories may be simple, but the writing is far from "boring". I found myself smiling and laughing at various moments throughout this book 😊

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I liked the shortness of the memoirs, I was doubtful about it at first but really enjoyed it in the end. The stories are so mundane, yet they are sweet and interesting to read. It is also written in a very funny way. I laughed a lot while reading this. It felt nice to read about someones life.

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I’m someone who adored reading a good essay on life, theories and pretty much anything- I’m a huge geek for educational books and this one certainly hit the spot!

It represents normal life so well, it teaches us so much too, and in my opinion the book fulfilled its purpose. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in glamorous, luxurious high style life that we forgot what it means to live ordinarily, if there is such a thing! However I think that the normality and mundanity of the lives explored makes this one so special,

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This is a hard one to review. I love the idea of writing six minute memoirs, but for some reason, I just couldn't get into this book.

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When I stumbled onto this book while browsing upcoming titles from the University of Iowa Press, one of my favorite small publishers, I was pretty excited—I’ve seen Stefaniak speak once in person and read one of her earlier works, and I enjoyed both experiences. I also have a soft spot for Midwestern authors who write essays or memoirs about their time growing up and/or living in the middle of the country, such as Michael Perry and Jerry Apps, so I was excited to see that Stefaniak had written a memoir through short essays. I didn’t have to know anything more about it, and I dove in with lofty expectations.

Overall, while my expectations were not met—the book seemed to struggle in terms of truly understanding what its purpose was and what it was trying to accomplish—it is still a worthy read for anyone who likes real-life stories of Midwestern life, even if they seem to be utterly mundane with nothing truly happening within them, a la Seinfeld.

The collection starts out with an introduction from Stefaniak explaining that the short essays are actually columns from an Iowa-based newspaper that she wrote for over the course of three-plus decades, with all of them containing nuggets from her personal life, and they are designed to be short and sweet and to the point, ‘just how life is.’ I get the concept, and it’s creative—from a macroscopic level, we measure our lives by the important/large events that happen to us, but it’s the little moments, the small memories, and the everyday happenings that actually account for 99% of our lives. Perry and Apps seem to subscribe to that belief as well, so I was excited to read the 55 short essays that comprised this collection.

After making my way through them, I can say that I feel I know Stefaniak a little bit better, but that’s about it. The essays are about many different things—her children, her parents, her time spent growing up in Milwaukee, her purchase of a historical stagecoach inn that she converted into a house with her husband—but there doesn’t seem to be a lot that happens. Unlike Perry or Apps, who infuse their mundane everyday lives with little nuggets or characters that seem to leap off the page, we are simply told the literal happenings of Stefaniak’s life, and they aren’t necessarily that interesting. Yes, it’s nice to see someone looking back on her earlier years and appreciating the life her parents gave her, but there don’t seem to be any larger lessons gained from reading about it. Or, if there are morals or lessons that Stefaniak wants to make the reader understand, they are either very surface level (value the time spent with your parents before they’re gone; realize that your kids won’t stay young forever) or just presented as is—told, and not shown (versus the age-old creative writing axiom ‘show, don’t tell’). And that’s why I feel like Stefaniak stumbles compared to other Midwestern writers like Perry and Apps—they infuse their stories and essays with life lessons without actually laying them out step by step. Readers understand their messages by taking their writing and reading between the lines. Stefaniak does not do that here—she presents the memory, states why it’s important, and then moves on. That might work for a newspaper column, but not for a 280-page book.

Some of the anecdotes also struggled to keep my attention/sympathy. The second to last section deals with Stefaniak and her husband purchasing an old stagecoach inn and converting it into a livable house, and there are long passages about how hard it was to find the money for it and how they had to sacrifice certain architectural fancies that they originally had planned for. I realize this is a personal taste issue when I say this, but I don’t necessarily want to hear about someone who has enough money to buy and partially raze a house and then build it back up again complaining about not having enough money to want a certain style of cabinets, for example. I just frankly don’t care when there are many people in America today that can’t even afford to have a roof over their heads in the first place, let alone pay for a house, so I just became disengaged with that section and other similar ones. Admittedly, as I said, I know that’s a personal taste issue, but there were a few too many sections like that for me to stay fully engaged with the entire book.

There’s a brief section at the very end too that encourages readers to write their own ‘six-minute memoirs,’ with the ideas/subjects/topics offered up tying directly into the essays that make up the bulk of the book. There is no real introduction or explanation for it though, or any kind of creative writing lesson on what makes an actual essay or memoir ‘good’ or engaging, and it feels like the editor of the book just wanted to find a reason to try to bundle Stefaniak’s newspaper columns together into something that could sell a few copies, and they used a creative writing idea at the end for marketing purposes. It seems like an afterthought, basically, and I wish Stefaniak and/or her editor would’ve tied it into the actual book itself a little better rather than just slapping it on at the end.

This is still a decent book to have at a library though—it paints a picture of a life lived in the late 90s/early 2000s, and it can be looked at as a snapshot in time of one woman living in the Midwest and how she lived her life. From an anthropological standpoint, works like this are important, so you could find worse if you’re looking for a collection that helps readers of the future understand the daily happenings of someone in the past. This collection, unfortunately, just didn’t strike me as the most well-written/organized, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important and can’t find its audience with the right group of readers.

Thanks to NetGalley, the University of Iowa Press, and Mary Helen Stefaniak for the digital ARC of 'The Six-Minute Memoir' in exchange for an honest review.

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I picked this thinking it would be more like "heating and cooling - micro memoirs" by Beth Ann Fennelly but was surprised that it was more short story-esque, which made it a little more challenging for me to read. I thought the stories were okay, but I did not think this was for me. The writing was good and I am sure this would be a lovely addition to any short story lovers.

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Warm vignettes of a Midwestern life, doubling as prompts for ones own recollections.

Thanks to NetGalley for a free ARC.

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THE SIX-MINUTE MEMOIR is a collection of essays by Mary Helen Stefaniak originally published in The Iowa Source, a monthly magazine. The title originates from them all being about a thousand words in length, which would take about six minutes to read aloud at a comfortable pace. The topics run the gamut, but her husband, children, and swimming friends make frequent appearances.

My interest ebbed and flowed, but I appreciated the self-contained nature of the essays, not knowing what the next topic might be about but having closure until I was ready to revisit the book; my favorites have something in common: they are the multi-part installments that close the book. One series focuses on the staggering renovation they did on their home, a notable historical house that they have good evidence to suggest was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The second series was a three-parter on a health scare, titled, "My Brain Event."

I also found myself marking up the essay, "Against Multitasking" for the ways it helps articulate the mental load so often shouldered by women:

"We could argue that multitasking is one of the many burdens that have held women back for centuries. It's pretty hard to write a symphony or a novel -- or even assemble a stock portfolio or change the oil on the car -- while you're cooking dinner, helping somebody with her homework, and feeding applesauce to the baby, all at the same time. Now squeeze in a full-time job on top of that, and you've got a lot of women multitasking their way through their lives of not-so-quiet desperation."

For budding writers, she closes the book with writing prompts if you are so inspired to try your hand at your own six-minute memoir.

(I received a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.)

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There might not be anything particularly interesting about the short stories in this collection, most of them seem mundane and dull. But, I really liked how the author made good long-lasting memories out of every little thing that happened to her and I really enjoyed reading about someone else's life.

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I really enjoyed this collection of stories! I love the way that the author celebrates seemingly mundane moments without decorating them in complex meaning.

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The Six-Minute Memoir: Fifty-Five Short Essays on Life was a fun read. It’s a series of short memoirs that can be read in 6 minutes or less. This is a great book to read when you’re on the go because it’s readable in little snippets.

I’m very interested in memoir as a genre, and I think Stefaniak’s concept of the six-minute memoir could be a great way to start writing my own. She even provides prompts at the end of the book to help writers get started! Even if you’re not looking to publish memoirs, a six-minute memoir is a reasonable goal for a person who wants to write their personal history and doesn’t know where to start.

I enjoyed reading Stefaniak’s observations on the people and situations around her, as well as her descriptions of place. She does a great job with setting in each of these memoirs. She also makes great connections between seemingly disparate ideas. She is alternately funny and heartfelt, and always interesting.

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The Six-Minute Memoir: Getting Lost in the Details

As a writer, I always approach memoirs with some amount of trepidation. I’ve been a serial journaler for as long as I can remember, to make up for my inability to recall small details in my day-to-day life (my long-term memory resembles Swiss cheese, at least in my perception). I fear if I were ever to write a memoir, I would never be able to scrounge up enough detail—via my journals, memory, or otherwise—to craft a convincing recount of events.
As a reader, however, I approach memoirs with a sense of awe. Other writers seem to miraculously inject perfect detail into their prose, as crisp as biting into a fresh apple. Mary Helen Stefaniak is no exception, and reading The Six-Minute Memoir: Fifty-Five Short Essays on Life was an imaginative and vivid experience. Her command of word choice allows her to convey her “stored images,” as she calls them, quite effectively, and the experience almost felt like I was watching the memories play inside my head. In one essay, she describes a spider with “jointed legs…on the vertical semi-gloss of the kitchen wall, the exploratory wave of delicate antennae, the experimental movement of just one of the eight legs.” When written this way, the spider seems so delicate and complex. It’s wonderful what effect words can have. Style-wise, Stefaniak’s voice is consistently enjoyable, bringing a lively and sarcastic tilt to every essay.
That being said, the “Law of Anthology” (as I have self-termed it) must be acknowledged: in any set of short writings collected together, not all of them will be hard-hitters. There’s something for everyone, though. Personally, I couldn’t care less about baseball, but I’m entirely fascinated by heart ultrasounds (as explored in her story “Cardiac Dreams: In the Heart of the Heart of the Country”). Her “Hysterical Preservation” section, a five-part story about the restoration of her house, was absolutely fascinating. And if you love reading essays about Iowa, this is certainly the book for you. So, you know…different strokes for different folks.
Outside of talking about Iowa in nearly every memoir (which is fair, as she lived there), Stefaniak loves a good allusion (she manages to reference George Lucas and The Tell-Tale Heart in the same story). In “Great Aunts: From the Family Tree, Georgia Branch,” Stefaniak has a whole Flannery O’Connor bit going on. The first sentence hits it home: “Great aunts like mine are hard to find,” an obvious reference to O’Connor’s famous short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” I will admit that of all of Stefaniak’s references, O’Connor comes up quite a bit too often to be as effective as it was the first time. Yes, we get it, you like O’Connor. It worked well for the one story, but not so much every other time it came up.
On occasion, I find it hard to enjoy memoirs, especially in a disjointed context like this one. If I don’t feel a connection to the author, it can feel like a bit of a drag to read short memoirs like this. I started to feel this toward the middle of the book, as a lot of the essays felt rather repetitive. Toward the middle, I briefly wondered if this woman actually had anything interesting happen to her, but a rare essay here or there would change my mind. The loveliest quote can be found in “Remembering Ellen: The Porridge Club Never Forgets,” when Stefaniak’s friend says, “You can cry in the pool if you need to. Nobody will see your tears.” While I didn’t shed any tears over these memoirs, I heavily appreciate this sentiment. Perhaps after experiencing this book as a Reader of memoirs, I have softened up to the idea of being a Writer of them.

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I love the layout of this memoir and how quick each section reads, but I think with all short story collections, there’s always going to be some that stand out more than others.

The author writes well and at times quite funny too which was an added bonus.

3.5 stars, rounded up here for lack of ability to leave halves.

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I love the premise of this book and think it's perfect for fans of Dear Sugar - also great for those that want to read more but find themselves too busy to focus on one. This was heartwarming and accessible and I'd definitely recommend to a friend. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

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Thank you to Netgalley and University of Iowa Press for the advanced copy of Mary Helen Stefanik's memoir.

If you approach this book with the understand you won't be reading something revolutionary, you'll enjoy this book. I always think - "If someone wrote a memoir, it must be a crazy story." That's not to say that this memoir isn't worth reading, Stefanik takes a different approach by recounting stories from her life that touch upon the mundane; the little moments you'll share in conversations with friends after you've checked in about work and family.

Stefanik was kind enough to put the prompts she used for each piece at the end of the memoir. I loved getting to see where these ideas came from and how, as a writer, I could use these prompts to build my own memoir portfolio.

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For more than two decades, Mary Helen Stefaniak wrote a column for Iowa Source magazine, focusing on the ordinary, and often very relatable, details of Midwestern life of a middle aged white woman. In these short essays collected here into a memoir, Stefaniak illustrates small snippets of her life, building a (somewhat) whole picture by the time we reach the end. I loved the idea of these short memoir essays, as they reminded me of the types of things we attempted to write in my Creative Non Fiction writing class in college, relating the personal to a larger context. Stefaniak, who grew up in Milwaukee before moving to Iowa City, felt like she could be part of my mom's family (which started out in Iowa City before moving to Milwaukee!). There's not a lot of action here, so if you're looking for one of those memoirs that will blow your mind, this is not it. Instead, these are simply a pleasure to read through, perfect for if you're just wanting a smile between the stresses of your day or a little dose of serotonin before bedtime. I enjoyed these essays quite a lot, and I think someone a generation or two older than me would enjoy them even more.

3.5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley and University of Iowa Press for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review! I will be posting this review to my instagram and blog closer to its release date and will update this post with links at that time.

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