Shoba Narayan, a journalist and columnist, has a second memoir out. Here is my review of it at PopMatters. Narayan, a Columbia grad, returned to India with her family after two decades in New York City. This memoir is about how, while living in Bangalore, she bought a cow. Overall, the book is a compelling and different take on a prominent and vastly popular subject: the place of the cow in Indian culture and history. But, of course, it is so much more than that. It is also an insightful and humorous account of the reverse immigration journey and how she navigated and negotiated those endless terrains of personal identity, familial belonging, and social community to assimilate on her own terms. This is a well-researched and well-written account and uses humor at just the right moments.
The question that we now turn to is regarding the literary value and relevance of bibliomemoirs as meta-narratives for the book(s) and / or author(s) that they are based on. Specifically: when is the bibliomemoir, as a hybrid genre, more worthwhile to readers than a related book that belongs to one of its component genres? In other words, when is, say, ‘My Life in Middlemarch’ more worthwhile than a biography of George Eliot or a socio-cultural history of Victorian novelists or a book-length literary criticism of ‘Middlemarch’ or simply an autobiography of a person who loves the book?
D. The Catch-all Bibliomemoir: This is the all-inclusive kind where the author relates his/her life and the books that influenced it, but, not necessarily with any particular purpose other than to relate a coming-of-age, personal journey, or retrospective. On the one hand, these books don't aim to inform or educate necessarily. Rather, they focus on giving a first-hand witness account. On the other hand, more often than not, these veer into over-sharing or full-on confessional mode — for which, of course, there is a healthy market.