The Six-Minute Memoir

Fifty-Five Short Essays on Life

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Pub Date 25 Oct 2022 | Archive Date 25 Oct 2022
University of Iowa Press, University Of Iowa Press

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This collection of short essays delivers more joy than many books twice its size. Culled from two decades’ worth of Mary Helen Stefaniak’s “Alive and Well” column in the Iowa Source, each essay invites readers into the ordinary life of a woman “with a family and friends and a job . . . and a series of cats and a history living in one old house after another at the turn of the twenty-first century in the middle of the Middle West.” One great aunt presides over nineteen acres of pecan grove profitably strewn with junk. A borrowed hammer rings with the sound of immortality. Famous poets pipe up where you least expect them. Living and dying are found to be two sides of the same remarkable coin.

What’s more, writing prompts at the end of the book invite readers to search their own lives for such moments—the kind that could be forgotten but instead are turned, by the gift of perspective and perfectly chosen detail, into treasure. The Six-Minute Memoir encourages people to tell their own stories even if they think they don’t have the kind of story that belongs in a memoir.

This collection of short essays delivers more joy than many books twice its size. Culled from two decades’ worth of Mary Helen Stefaniak’s “Alive and Well” column in the Iowa Source, each essay...

Advance Praise

The Six-Minute Memoir is a treasure trove of marvels, the sort of book you want to wave around and buy for everyone you love. These brief, beguiling essays turn ordinary moments into extraordinary delights and take you along on the wild and bumbling adventures of a writer so witty and wise you will miss her like a dear friend when you close the book.”—Valerie Laken, author, Dream House

“The vignettes that make up The Six-Minute Memoir are quirky, engaging, and add up to a terrific evocation of life well-lived, of life joyfully and abundantly embraced (from bike riding as a kid to porridge with a swim club to house remodel miseries to travel stumbles in China). Never mind the inevitable foibles and sorrow, Mary Helen Stefaniak’s stalwart midwestern take is reassuringly positive and utterly charming.”—Debra Gwartney, author, I am a Stranger Here Myself

The Six-Minute Memoir is a great pointillistic painting of a book. Up close, you admire the detail inside each dot—a snowy night at the Drake, the troubling foundation of a 150-year-old house, a murky ultrasound of the heart—but when you stand back, taking in the whole of it, the bigger picture emerges: an oft-neglected region of the country, a family lineage, a writer’s life. Mary Helen Stefaniak has written an irresistibly likeable, slyly funny, and addictive memoir.”—John McNally, author, The Fear of Everything

“Mary Helen Stefaniak’s The Six-Minute Memoir is so inviting, so insistently curious about so much, the essays sparkling and witty reminders that stepping briefly into the life of another to have a look can be both a joy and a relief.” —Scott Korb, director, Pacific University’s MFA in Writing program

The Six-Minute Memoir is a treasure trove of marvels, the sort of book you want to wave around and buy for everyone you love. These brief, beguiling essays turn ordinary moments into extraordinary...

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ISBN 9781609388515
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Average rating from 11 members

Featured Reviews

So wonderful. A great escape into life...the positive parts of it anyway....told with unflinching character, love, life, family. Please read if only seeking positive vibes!!! A hug on a bad day. A silver lining in a gray cloud.. A reminder that life is full of warmth and wonder.

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I enjoy reading memoirs and biographies, and really liked the format of this one as you get to read snippets of the author's life. I admit to skipping some as they were less interesting to me (perhaps because I am not American) but there were many that I really loved and even some that made me laugh out loud.

The author writes very well, as evidenced by the fact that she had a newspaper column for decades.

4 stars for me.

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I found this book to be very good. It had me hooked from the beginning.. Was a great read. It would definitely be a book I would recommend.

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The Six-Minute Memoir by Mary Helen Stefaniak. I was thinking I'd like to read more memoirs and this one popped up in front of me on #netgalley. I was a little afraid they'd be very local to Iowa and rely on local knowledge. The reality was the opposite! These well-written columns were masterworks of universal observation. From slice of life stories of travel experiences, family, community and work stories, these columns took six minutes to read but clearly represented much effort and meticulous editing to leave just what was necessary. I especially enjoyed the ones that celebrated people - friends and acquaintances, at once generous and dry, eagle-eyed and witty. #maryhelenstefaniak has a sure, intelligent, funny voice. I'm looking for her novels now. Highly recommended.
Publication date October 25. Thanks to Netgalley, the author and publisher for this advance digital copy.

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Very well-written with several astute observations about life. Thank you, publisher and NetGalley for the ARC!

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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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