What happens when your family reads your memoir for the first time?

An author shares her family's reactions to reading her book.

Family reading your memoir
Photo by momojung/Shutterstock

When I announced I was writing Running: A Love Story, my family assumed the memoir would be in the same vein as what I wrote about running in newspapers and magazines at the time: that it’s a ridiculous thing to do, and that I loved it, with a lot of humor and possibly complaining about heat thrown in.

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Then an excerpt ran in the New York Times just before the book came out. The excerpt was about how a horrible relationship with an alcoholic fueled my insecurities and led to an eating disorder (and how that played into my early days in the sport). It wasn’t until then that they realized the book might not be all jolly and that they’d learn a few things about me at the same time as I shared that information with the rest of the world (or: whoever bought it).

Here’s how they reacted to reading the material for the first time. (Though while writing the memoir, I told them if they were in it and asked them questions about whatever I wrote to get their take on what happened. I did that because I love my family; and, also, the lawyers made me do it.)

Mom

The night before the excerpt went online, I’d been trying to reach my mom to see if she wanted me to pick up her favorite yogurt from a farmers market. After she read the excerpt, she assumed my calls and texts had been me trying to warn her, which is why she called me the next morning and said “We need to talk right now!” to which I shouted back “I just wanted to talk about yogurt!”

We did talk (about the book and yogurt), and she read the book as soon as I had a finished copy in hand. She finished it in one sitting, then called me to yell again: “Every woman should read it!” (I happen to agree with her if you are so inclined.)

Dad

I don’t know if panic is the right word, but the excerpt set off a flurry of texts from my dad asking me what I really wrote about, what I included, what I wrote about him, and if I admitted to anything that I did that would shame the family – whatever that means. He also called my mother, who is no longer his wife and hasn’t been for some time, to see if she had the same thoughts (see above).

He also demanded to know how the book ended, to which I responded “Well, I am right here. How do you think it ends?!”

He read the book backward until he got to parts that he didn’t think he could handle. His girlfriend at the time read it all the way through (starting at the beginning) and filled him in.

He then bought a box of books and gave a copy to everyone at work he knew and shared clips of me appearing on a local TV sports show online. He came to a few of my events and told me I should be on TV more (I happen to agree with him – if you are a television producer and are so inclined).

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Older brother

My older brother is just 17 months older than me and my closest sibling in more than age. We did just about everything together growing up and have the same sense of humor, so he decided to live tweet reading it. I mention Dunkin’ Donuts a few times because it’s what I drink before a race, so he wondered (on Twitter) if I had gotten paid by the company to endorse their product.

“I don’t think ‘what I drink to poop before a race’ is an endorsement they’d pay for,” I responded.

As he got deeper into the book, he stopped tweeting about it. After, he said he was glad I hadn’t included him too much nor some moments from our shared childhood he wouldn’t have wanted me to share. I assured him that I wouldn’t have done that to him because, like I said before, I love my family. Also: lawyers. 

Younger brother and sister

Did they read it? I don’t know. Like I said, I’m closest to my older brother, and they saw all of these events from a three- and five-year-younger view – and were living elsewhere when most of the book happened. If they did read it, they didn’t make a fuss about what I said, though my younger brother did produce my book trailer for free, and my sister told her friends to read the book. Good enough.

Grandmom

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I dedicated this book to my grandmom, a tough broad who was also the first woman I knew who had her own job, kept her own bank account (separate from my grandfather), and didn’t take guff from anyone, especially men – and most especially men who didn’t treat me right. I showed her a galley while on a family vacation in Disney World, then mailed her a finished copy. I didn’t really want my grandmom to read about the times I mentioned sex in the book, but I couldn’t hold the book back after I dedicated it to her.

“Well, Jenny,” she said when she finished the book. “I’m a traditional person, and I don’t normally go for that racy stuff, but I told all the women in my retirement community that it’s a hot book because that’s what old ladies buy.”

If the only endorsements I got were “every woman should buy it,” “you should be on TV more,” and “it’s a hot book,” I’d say it was a success, especially in the small circle that is the people I cherish most.

But I’ll probably include less poop next time.

 

Jen A. Miller is author of Running: A Love Story.