How Others Carry Their Universe

The beginning of Abraham Lincoln's autobiography, written in his own hand. Image from http://timestraveler.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/07

I took my kids to the library this week (along with the rest of the moms in my city!), all of us eager to get going on the summer reading program. I was happy to see my seven-year-old toting around a few biographies along with her Junie B. Jones and Harry Potter books. I’ve always been enamored with biographies and even more so with autobiographies and memoirs. In fact, this love is probably one of the reasons why I keep reading friend’s blogs, even a few strangers’ blogs, and sites like Segullah. The Internet is full of the genre these days.

I’m fascinated by the blurry line between memory and imagination, by what people choose to reveal and not reveal, what their writing style tells us about their character, what they feel entitled to speak about, how they achieve an air of legitimacy, how they draw on others’ identities—others who write in the genre (especially blogs) to form their own identities, and so on.

Plus, I think there’s something important about trying to see how the world looks from inside another’s experience. Perhaps reading autobiographies can help us understand each other better. As Henry Adams said, “Every one must bear his own universe, and most persons are moderately interested in learning how their neighbors have managed to carry theirs.”

What about you—are you interested in how others “have managed to carry” their universe? Why or why not? Why do or don’t you read blogs and sites like Segullah? What genres do you prefer and why?

About Catherine

(Prose Board) has worked as a cherry sorter, file girl, piano teacher, writer, editor, and college professor. She currently works full-time as the art director, events planner, chauffeur, and referee for her four children. She spends a good deal of her time running—be it down the supermarket aisle after an escaped child, around the living room in a heated game of flag football, or on early-morning runs/therapy sessions with her neighborhood friends. She earned her BA and MA in English from BYU and her PhD in English from UMass Amherst.

12 thoughts on “How Others Carry Their Universe

  1. I’ve thought about this as well as I’ve watched my own writing evolve over the years. The same stories have emerged in a completely different light as I’ve gone through different phases of my life, not to mention just the different tellings that are necessary as we make different points. It makes me wonder if at the judgment we will simply tell our own story because we’ll have had time to master all our own excuses and be able to, somehow, present the truth.

    I read others’ stories, and for the most part, I’m comfortable accepting them at face value without a lot of evaluation because it’s their story and the way they can tell it at this point in time. I also imagine that they may tell it differently in time. It’s my way of living in the present.

    In reviewing a book about birth, I recently whittled five generations of oldest daughter births into extremely brief paragraphs. It doesn’t tell the full story, but it’s sufficiently trimmed to make a point, much as the parables were. I have many other, fuller stories to tell of those lives. I think many times people speak in whittled lines to make a point, and if we acknowledge their point, they can move on to fuller tellings.

  2. I love that Adams quote.

    I enjoy blogs where I feel like I get to know the person I’m reading about. I do have a couple of lifestyle/beauty/silly blogs that I like to read, but by and large I eventually give them up unless I feel like occasionally they are sharing something real about themselves. I don’t mean that they have to give us all of the gritty details (although I am fascinated when they do), but – if everything is constant fakeness and sunshine, I find it hard to stay interested, because I sense no authenticity.

    I’ve loved reading Courtney’s recent life story posts and will probably try writing my own soon.

    Bonnie, I loved your comment.

  3. When I was younger, I enjoyed reading fiction, especially fantasy, sci-fi, and dystopia. Now that I’m on the feisty side of fifty, I prefer nonfiction — memoir, biography, autobiography, as well as pop science. If I’m going to read fiction, I enjoy historical fiction. I am just much more interested in the way real people address real challenges. Before, I wanted to see the world completely reimagined. But now I find a lot of marvelous aspects to what I would have found mundane. I love to see the world through another person’s eyes. And sometimes it takes herculean effort behind the scenes just to present a normal face to the world. People who admit this in their writing are very brave and help assure the rest of us that each person can be a hero of epic proportions in the narrative of her life.

  4. How very intersting that KDA and I are opposites.

    When I was young I searched all the intellectual writings and biographies trying to glean knowledge from everywhere and everyone. I learned a lot, but it mostly has leaked out of my brain.

    Now I read more mysteries and see how I can relate stories to our grandchildren in a less preachy tone, and sneak in a value lesson. I seem to reacll past knowledge better when I read well written mysteries.

    I read Segullah and go on sprees to answer for reasons totally clear only to the Lord, and probably a therapist.

    I love watching people. Reading thigns here I feel safe from sudden onsloughts of vendictiveness and dirt.

    Thank you for providing this site.
    Maj-Lén

  5. C–I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. A close friend of mine has admitted that she wants to stop reading blogs b/c it only makes her feel inadequate as a mother–since many blogs only highlight the positive, happy moments (and, let’s be honest, the moments we want to brag about). I mostly blog to keep a journal of my every day life with kids as well as allow family to enjoy seeing pictures of my kids. Sometimes I feel like I should write more than just fluff, but to be honest, I’m just too darn tired to even try these days. And I like reading blogs b/c it makes me feel connected–as a SAHM I sometimes need an adult outlet during the day and blogs and the internet provide that for me with easy access. Sometimes it’s easy, especially in the Mormon culture, to feel inadequate, because we don’t knit our kids clothes or make bread from scratch or build our own bookshelves–but I find mostly encouragement and empathy in reading others’ blogs (though sometimes I feel I should perhaps be doing something more productive than reading blogs). And I must admit, I am probably more than moderately interested in how others carry their universe!

  6. I, too, am a non-fiction reader. I’ve actually given up fiction entirely. I love blogging and reading others’ stories. I try to be very real in my own writing, although I admit to keeping some of the worst stuff to myself. But I think my small following appreciates my authentic voice and the “you’re not alone” vibe I try to project. That’s what I’m attracted to in other blogs and books, as well.

  7. Great question. How we carry our universe. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself through the blogging world, both in reading others and writing my own.

    Having the inside glimpse into others’ lives, even if it’s just the good parts, strengthens me and teaches me what it means to be human and that lots of people feel the same as I do, and are smarter and better and I can accept that and be more humble and accepting of others’ ideas.

    I read a pretty balanced

  8. oops.

    I meant to say I read a balanced mix of fiction and non-fiction. Both can give insight into how others carry their universe.

  9. Bonnie, love what you said about some stories emerging in a different light in different phases of life.

    Sue, yes, a sense of authenticity is important to me in determining what I read

    KDA, love your last sentence. As I grow older, I appreciate this brand of heroism more and more.

    Maj-Len, Thank you for reading and commenting!

    Jessy and Heidi, my favorite blogs to read are those in which I find occasional humor, catalysts for introspection, and, like you said, encouragement, empathy, or connection.

    Sage, I like what you said about both fiction and nonfiction giving us insights. I had a lit professor once who talked about almost all novels as “romances” as long as they deal with “truths of the human heart”. It was interesting to look at the fiction I was reading from that perspective–what truths of the human heart did it address?

  10. I read different blogs for different reasons, though the main commonality is the carrying of universes. Some I read because they make me laugh, some because they remind me of beauty and the magic therein, some because I have a connection or relationship with that person.

    Also, I like to read blogs and Segullah because it helps me not feels so alone sometimes, and to see things in new ways.

    I’m a sci-fi girl right down to the atomic level, though cheerfully will read anything I can get my hands on. Except romances. They annoy me for the most part. I want to see the struggle and sweat and grazes reaped from hauling each universe around, not perfect, unsmudged “it was easy” ads.

  11. I love the way you phrased your questions. I don’t think I’ve ever considered “how I carry my universe.” I grew up reading biographies but have come to love fiction equally. I often prefer memoirs from an ‘unknown’ to biographies of a ‘famous’ person. Like Kel, I want to read the heart wrenching stuff. In the past few years I’ve become increasing interested in fables and fairy tales– Snow White, Cinderella, Hansel & Gretl were based on the experiences of many people.

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