When I first learned about libraries growing up, I concluded the fiction section was relegated to interesting books. These were books in which woodland creatures wore overalls in abundance — the Berenstain Bears books, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” — and cats wore extraneous clothing accessories — “The Cat in the Hat,” “Puss in Boots.”

Non-fiction, however, surveyed the drier side of the library. Not one child could be found sitting in the alleys between shelves, voraciously reading. This non-fiction section, in my mind, contained heavy tomes about gravel, hibernation, evaporation, and various stale-biscuit-colored North American deserts. Dry. Dry as dry can be.

In my time reading since then, I have managed to traipse over to the non-fiction side of the library and I have found that, at this point in my life, I prefer this side. While fictional books contain things close to my heart — cats wearing hats, bears wearing corduroy, Mrs. Dalloway deciding she will buy the flowers herself and Lolita, the fire of Humbert Humbert’s loins — there is a substantial and riveting quality to non-fiction writing. There are some things you just can’t make up and present so affectingly, like how Jonathan Lethem saw “Star Wars” 21 times to cope with his mother’s illness and subsequent and death when he was a child, or how Flannery O’Connor raised noisy, arrogant peacocks, which were delivered to her doorstep in a wooden crate.

Non-fiction is its own beast. These accounts are challenging in a different way because the events contained within them are presented as truth. In turn, as a reader you must face these happenings, this life, death and heartbreak secondhand — someone has experienced these things before you, and is passing them down to you through the written page.

The memoir belongs to this category of non-fiction, where the personal account is most important. And reading memoir is, in its own way, like inheriting stories the same way you would inherit your grandmother’s tales. While the word “memoir” sounds garbled, French and somewhat impenetrable, the idea is not. These stories are about life, as seen through others’ eyes. Through the intake of such personal, biased stories, we see the multi-faceted way in which the world works and is perceived by people like and unlike ourselves.

It is with memoir that records are made of underrepresented personal experiences. The stories are disseminated to larger groups of people through books and (hopefully) preserved in the public memory. There are certain experiences that should be remembered and held on to, like in Helen Zia’s journalistic memoir-slash-history of Asian-America, “Asian-American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People” and how she herself experienced the violent Detroit murder of Vincent Chin based on his race.

There is also Jonathan Safran Foer’s recent essay in The New York Times Magazine in which he commented on the importance of food to his family, and how the meager way his grandmother survived World War II eating “rotten potatoes, discarded scraps of meat,” relates to the choice he has made for himself and his family to be vegetarian.

Safran Foer’s essay channels how the choices made in the past constantly influence choices we make in the present and future. Similarly, we use memoir to help propel us along in our lives, shaping our awareness of human experience (including racism, war, violence and illness). In turn, we shape the way we respond to and carry ourselves through the same ordeals. It’s comforting to know, in some way, that someone else has gone through these things before you.

The importance of memoir really lies in the feminist adage: “The personal is political.” What an individual lives through is meaningful because it can lead to discussions of race, identity and history. Being aware of yourself and the politics you are surrounded by, and sharing these stories with others, is what the memoir is concerned with — trading, sharing, and internalizing bits and pieces of life.

While I still do return to the fiction area, pulling off books by Louise Erdrich and Nicholson Baker, there is a large part of me drawn to the non-fiction narrative and the political importance these books carry. Conceptions of dryness and biscuit-colored deserts aside, the non-fiction section of the library is now the place where I read, voraciously devouring books in the alleys between shelves.

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