MANCHESTER, N.H., Oct. 28, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- In 2011, poet and editor Lissa Warren—in one of her regular columns on the Huffington Post—came out strong against what she called "memoiritis."
As someone who acquired books for Da Capo Press, she was seeing a lot of proposals for memoirs. "Some of them are by celebrities, and while they tend not to be my personal cup of tea, I can certainly see their merit—meaning, I can easily imagine a reader for them," she wrote. "But the proposals that puzzle me—the ones I see a lot of and simply do not 'get'—are by people I've never heard of who have never done anything exceptional."
Such proposals were endemic, she noted, from students or recent alumni of MFA writing programs. Today Warren sits on the advisory board of a notable example of one such enterprise, Southern New Hampshire University's low-residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction program. She's also the author of a brand new memoir out from the Lyons Press: "The Good Luck Cat: How a Cat Saved a Family, and a Family Saved a Cat."
Hmm—so is she guilty herself of memoiritis?
In her field, Warren is a high-achiever. Her poetry has appeared in such top-tier journals as Quarterly West, Oxford Magazine, and Black Warrior Review. Besides being a highly regarded acquisitions editor and an SNHU board member, she is also Da Capo's senior director of publicity and an adjunct professor in Emerson College's Writing, Literature, and Publishing program. It makes for a great résumé, but not celebrity status—nor the guaranteed readership such status confers.
But she was already working on her own memoir at the time that she wrote that Huffington piece, and as she observed—at a point later in that column—"Readers need a reason to care, and if the author isn't a household name then the author's ability to provide perspective is what becomes key."
Some find perspective in an escape from a dysfunctional family, but that was not the case with the prosperous and loving Warren family. Lissa was an only child, but she always had a sibling in the family cat. In 1996—once Jerry Warren had retired from his job as a department store executive, and once Lissa had returned home from school—that became a finely bred Korat kitten they named Ting-Pei.
Well, books about cats are catnip to readers, and that's how "The Good Luck Cat" begins—as a light chronicle of life with a rambunctious and charismatic feline, with excursions into the history and folklore of humanity's marriage to felis catus.
But then the darkness: the ravages of heart disease, and Jerry Warren's all too sudden death in 2008. The family of four—including Ting—was reduced to three, and the cat that Jerry Warren had loved became all the more essential to his wife and daughter. Cats can get heart disease too, though, and in the fall of 2008, Ting was found to be suffering from a potentially fatal electrical irregularity.
The balance of "The Good Luck Cat" concerns the extraordinary measures the Warrens take to save Ting, and then another catastrophe: Lissa's discovery that she has multiple sclerosis.
It's enough to make one wonder about the title to this story. "Sometimes luck just means having the resources to get through the tough times," Warren explained when asked about that. "I was lucky to grow up in a close-knit family, and lucky to live in a place where good medical systems are available for animals. I was lucky to receive the gift of hope from my parents, and that's the best gift a parent can give."
While containing a full measure of grief, "The Good Luck Cat" betrays not a trace of self-pity, and here lies the perspective that vaccinates against memoiritis. "The world doesn't know enough to stop being beautiful," Warren writes after her father's death. With that, and the rest of it, her mother and her hold all the more precious the ordinary parts of that world: "fresh peas to shuck, sun tea with lemon, falling asleep with the windows open."
Ting is 19 now, as healthy as could be expected for an old cat, and one with a remarkable rèsumè. Her achievements include having helped to write a very good and substantial memoir.
And Lissa Warren continues to write poetry, acquire new manuscripts, teach about publishing—and to display the gift, and the breadth of perspective, provided her by the man who described himself as "the hopeful Jerry Warren." A reader can't help but care—and cheer.
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