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Six-Word Memoirs: Life Stories Distilled

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Six-Word Memoirs: Life Stories Distilled

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

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Six Word Memoir Book Cover

Once asked to write a full story in six words, legend has it that novelist Ernest Hemingway responded: "For Sale: baby shoes, never worn."

In this spirit of simple yet profound brevity, the online magazine Smith asked readers to write the story of their own lives in a single sentence. The result is Not Quite What I Was Planning, a collection of six-word memoirs by famous and not-so-famous writers, artists and musicians. Their stories are sometimes sad, often funny — and always concise.

The book is full of well-known names — from writer Dave Eggers (Fifteen years since last professional haircut), to singer Aimee Mann (Couldn't cope so I wrote songs), to comedian Stephen Colbert (Well, I thought it was funny).

The collection has plenty of six-word insights from everyday folks as well: Love me or leave me alone was scrawled on a hand dryer in a public bathroom; I still make coffee for two was penned by a 27-year-old who had just been dumped.

Larry Smith, founding editor of Smith magazine, and Rachel Fershleiser, Smith's memoir editor, talk about the experience of capturing real-life stories in six words — no more, no less.

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Fershleiser's six-word memoir? Bespectacled, besneakered, read and ran around. And Smith's: Big hair, big heart, big hurry.

Excerpt: 'Not Quite What I Was Planning'

Edited by Smith magazine

After Harvard, had baby with crackhead.
- Robin Templeton

70 years, few tears, hairy ears.
- Bill Querengesser

Watching quietly from every door frame.
- Nicole Resseguie

Catholic school backfired. Sin is in!
- Nikki Beland

Savior complex makes for many disappointments.
- Alanna Schubach

Nobody cared, then they did. Why?
- Chuck Klosterman

Some cross-eyed kid, forgotten then found.
- Diana Welch

She said she was negative. Damn.
- Ryan McRae

Born in the desert, still thirsty.
- Georgene Nunn

A sake mom, not soccer mom.
- Shawna Hausman

I asked. They answered. I wrote.
- Sebastian Junger

No future, no past. Not lost.
- Matt Brensilver

Extremely responsible, secretly longed for spontaneity.
- Sabra Jennings

Joined Army. Came out. Got booted.
- Johan Baumeister

Almost a victim of my family
- Chuck Sangster

The psychic said I'd be richer.
- Elizabeth Bernstein

Grumpy old soundman needs love, too.
- Lennie Rosengard

Mom died, Dad screwed us over.
- Lesley Kysely

Painful nerd kid, happy nerd adult.
- Linda Williamson

Write about sex, learn about love.
- Martha Garvey

Excerpted from Not Quite What I Was Planning from Smith magazine, edited by Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith. Copyright 2008. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Harper Perennial.

Books Featured In This Story

Not Quite What I Was Planning

Six-word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure

by Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith

Paperback, 225 pages |

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Title
Not Quite What I Was Planning
Subtitle
Six-word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure
Author
Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith

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