Mary Karr, Remembering The Years She Spent 'Lit' The Liar's Club, Mary Karr's memoir about her hardscrabble childhood in Texas, was named one of the best books of 1995. In her new book, Lit, Karr details her early adult years and her struggles with alcohol, depression and motherhood.

Mary Karr, Remembering The Years She Spent 'Lit'

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Mary Karr, is best known for her memoir "The Liars' Club," which was on the bestseller list for over a year. It was about growing up in a small town in Texas, with a mother who had a psychotic break and often behaved monstrously. Karr's new memoir, "Lit," is in part about how Karr almost became what she feared most: crazy and monstrous like her mother.

"Lit" describes her early years as a writer, wife and mother. Her marriage was falling apart, and her drinking interfered with being a good parent. Actually, Karr's drinking was interfering with just about everything. To stop, she went to support groups, where people urged her to seek a higher power. She found one, and much to her surprise, she became a committed Catholic. Karr is a professor of literature at Syracuse University.

Mary Karr, welcome back to FRESH AIR. There's a short passage from the opening chapter of "Lit" that I'd like you to read for us. And this chapter is actually a letter to your son, who is how old now?

Professor MARY KARR (Literature, Syracuse University; Author, "Lit"): Twenty-three.

GROSS: All right.

Ms. KARR: (Reading) However long I've been granted sobriety, however many hours I logged in therapist offices and the confessional, I've still managed to hurt you - and not just with the divorce when you were five, with its attendant shouting matches and slammed doors. Just as my mother vanished from my young life into a madhouse, so did I vanish when you were a toddler. Having spent much of my life trying to plumb her psychic mysteries, I now find myself occupying her chair as plumb-ee, and believe me, it's a discomfiting sensation.

GROSS: That's Mary Karr, reading from her new memoir, "Lit." And your reference to being a plumb-ee is that your son had asked you to find a video, a family video that you had made of your mother talking to you and telling you her version of her psychotic break. And he wanted that video for a documentary class that he's making. Apparently, he's kind of wedded to his own video camera. So would you tell the story of this video and of your mother's psychotic break?

Ms. KARR: Oh, boy, Terry. You really know how to start off.

GROSS: Yeah, let's start with the cheerful stuff.

Ms. KARR: Let's start with the cheerful stuff. I guess it was before I was in school, my mother dragged all our toys out into the backyard and threatened to kill us with a butcher knife, and then - us being my sister and I. Then she was, like, hallucinating that she had killed us and there was blood all over the room. And she called the family doctor. And when you do this in a small Texas backwater, I mean, people show up pretty fast.

There were firemen and doctors and ambulances and police, and so it was a big, traumatic moment. And then she checked into what we called the Mental Marriot. You know, they put her inpatient for a while, not surprisingly.

So that scene opens "The Liars' Club" and is a kind of pivotal, traumatic scene. It's definitely a nadir in my family history. It's, you know, let me - again, I've said it a million times. My family was not always that chaotic or that bad, but it was a very bad time for us.

GROSS: So what was it like for you playing that video back? How long had it been since you had watched it?

Ms. KARR: Oh, I probably had never watched it, would be my guess. We decided - when I was cleaning out her house to move her closer to my sister - we decided to go through a bunch of family albums. So she could name people we'd never met because she was an only child and had very little family, and she could - so I was doing a videotape of that, and in the midst of that, I ask her about that night that she threatened to kill us and what it was like.

And then flash forward however many years, 45 years, and there's my 22-year-old son in a documentary class, who has dredged up this video of my mother talking about this scene. And he said to me, I can't believe how strange it was. And I said, well, honey, you know that story. It's family legend, that night. It's not like it was a big secret. And he said yeah, but she told it like it happened to somebody else. I mean, that's really crazy.

Like, you know, he always saw his grandmother as just this funny, old, white-haired lady, but he never really got the ways she could have been dangerous, even though she showed him a pistol in her purse when he was eight years old, you know, which he reported to me. He was such a tattletale.

So, yeah. So he's doing this, and having never read any of my books, a conscious decision on his part, he read the opening description of "The Liars' Club." So, you know, my mother had this complicated, beautiful, crazy mother that she painted. And I have this complicated, crazy mother that I write about. And now my kid has this complicated, crazy mother -i.e., me - and he's got footage.

GROSS: So this must have gotten you thinking, because this certainly got me thinking about the difference between a videotaped episode and an episode remembered through writing. Now, granted, what your mother was telling you on videotape is something she remembered, and who knows how accurately she's remembering her own motivations and her own memory.

Ms. KARR: Right. She was psychotic, and she - you know, once she told me she'd been drunk for a week, and once she told me she hadn't had a drink. So who knows, who knows?

GROSS: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. But have you been thinking about the difference between, like, video and memoir?

Ms. KARR: Oh, absolutely. I think what memoir gives, and I think one reason there's been a renaissance of interest in the form is it gives the inner life of the participants. It - a video camera can't capture my mother's history in an eye-blink. It's very reductive. You know, we live and die by these visual images, as though they're fact. In fact, they don't tell what anyone's motivation was or what they were thinking.

I mean, my mother tells this story as though killing us were a very benevolent thing. Like, she says, I see these precious little girls, and I think how hard it is to be a woman and they're treated so badly. So I just thought I'd kill you. I mean, it's like she's saying I thought, you know, I'd give you a haircut. And that...

GROSS: She thought that she'd kill you before the world damaged you.

Ms. KARR: Right, right. And, you know, that's what my son found so peculiar was her demeanor, that she was so blithe about it.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Mary Karr, and she's just written her third memoir. It's called "Lit." It's a follow-up to her first two memoirs, "Liars' Club" and "Cherry."

One of the things I'm interested in, you talk about money a little bit in the book because your husband, Warren - is that his real name?

Ms. KARR: That's not his real name.

GROSS: It's not really.

Ms. KARR: I offered my ex-husband, I said you can either vet these pages, or I can give you a pseudonym. And he said I'd prefer the pseudonym, which I don't blame him, you know.

GROSS: Why was that the choice, vet the pages or pseudonym?

Ms. KARR: He's just a circumspect person. He's a WASP, for goodness sake, and I just wouldn't want to parade - you know, writing about your divorce is never a pretty - it's never a pretty story, and I just wanted to give him the chance to be anonymous, which I - knowing him, I presumed he would take, and indeed he did. So...

GROSS: Right, okay. Well, you know, you describe it in the book, how, like, you're from this real kind of hardscrabble kind of background, and he was from, you know, a very prosperous family. You went to meet the family, and they had this mansion that was named.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KARR: It had a name to it, like a baronial-sounding name, and it was right next to the Hitchcock estate out on Long Island. They had polo ponies, you know, and tennis courts. And we passed through these wide gates, and I said to my then-boyfriend, is this a subdivision? And he said no, this is my house.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So you had really different views of money. Like, your idea was, like, we need money. What do we need to do to get it? And his idea was more like I never, ever want to be in the position where I have to ask my parents for money.

Ms. KARR: Right.

GROSS: And you couldn't really understand that, like, why not? If they have the money, why not?

Ms. KARR: You know, I just - it was like - if you had lowered me, you know, onto an island with the peace-loving Tasaday, I would've fit in better than I did with those WASPs. But boy, did they look appealing to me, Terry. They just looked like such a solution, those people.

I remember getting there, and everything's so organized, and at one point, I remember we were at this long, glossy table with maids, and there's a cook in the kitchen and a pantry as big as a bowling alley. And at one point, we run out of asparagus and the maid is sent to fetch more, and you can hear the cook bellow: Tell him if he ate like a normal man, it would have been enough asparagus.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KARR: No one's face alters a whisker. I'm looking around the room, and it's like this icy fog rolls across the table, and I think, my Lord. These people have found the solution. This is it. I mean, this is the antivenom to the snakebite of who I am, is the ability to ignore what's happening.

GROSS: Now, you went to couples therapy while you were married and having trouble in the marriage. And I'm interested in that in the sense that as a memoirist, you are always telling your point of view of the story, and in couples therapy, you're hearing, like, the other person's point of view. You're hearing their version of the story. And I'm wondering if that was kind of revelatory to you in any way to hear, in this kind of theoretically neutral setting of a therapist's office, your husband's version of your story.

Ms. KARR: Oh, I don't think I was able to actually hear my husband's version. I mean, I think, you know, I was drinking to avoid hearing my husband's version. I was making so much noise - one interesting thing about that therapist was I sent her the chapters about the marriage. Even though my ex-husband didn't want to look at them, I wanted her to just see if they seemed fair or, you know, another person who knows him I sent the pages to. So I don't - I think I made it pretty clear that I was, you know, I had my fingers in my ears and I was going na-na-na-na-na.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KARR: You know, I just - I was - I mean, one - you know, the book is about "lit" because it's about all the ways I lit up or lit out, first with reading and books - I mean, booksellers and librarians and shrinks and teachers saved my life, and then with liquor. And so I went to couples therapy, but my participation in that I'm sure was - I'm sure I didn't hear much.

GROSS: My guest is Mary Karr. Her new memoir is called "Lit." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Mary Karr, author of the bestselling memoirs "The Liars' Club" and "Cherry." Her new memoir, "Lit," is about her marriage, the birth of her son, her divorce, her drinking, and how she found sobriety.

After you started drinking, you realized eventually that you had a problem. One of the ways you realized that was when you nearly killed yourself in an accident and when you started to think about killing yourself.

So you know, you checked yourself into a hospital, you decided to get help, you started going to meetings, and at meetings you were told to pray and to find faith, and the person telling you this said you might find sober people who don't pray, but all the happy ones have some kind of regular meditative or spiritual practice. What was your reaction when you were told that?

Ms. KARR: Oh, I was just - I'm a big eye-roller. You know, I come from a family of eye-rollers, and I mean the degree to which I'm an unlikely religious person - first of all, let me say that talking about spiritual activity to a secular audience is like doing card tricks on the radio. You know, like, I'm saying look, whee, isn't this great? And I know I'm going to sound slightly addled from time to time so - there - you know, the degree to which I was cynical about prayer - you know, I remember people giving me these, "One day at a time," these Boy Scout slogans, you know, that they put on big felt banners like from the jamboree, and God, I just - I couldn't imagine - I couldn't imagine praying.

It was like - I think I say in the book, it was like pointing at a stump and saying fall in love with that or pointing at a mannequin and saying talk to that. It was insane to me. It was beyond crazy.

So I thought faith was a feeling. My intellect told me this was insane. The only way I was able to do it was through practice, and you know, I think I mentioned this before with my last book of poems, "Sinners Welcome" - someone challenged me to pray on my knees, morning and night, every day, and this was after I nearly drove into a piece of concrete and I'd been trying to get sober and not really listening to the ways you're supposed to do it, and somebody said pray on your knees every day for 30 days and see if you stay sober, and in the morning say, you know, help me stay sober, and at night say thanks for helping me stay sober.

And I just saw it as, like, self-hypnosis or like talking to yourself, talking to some higher self or higher part of yourself.

GROSS: Remember that video we were talking about that you made of your mother in which she described to you her psychotic break and why she thought about killing you and your sister when you were very young?

Ms. KARR: Right.

GROSS: Okay, in that video you describe her as wearing a florid robe that would suit a Wiccan priestess.

Ms. KARR: Yeah, she was very into all kinds of voodoo stuff.

GROSS: Yeah, so I was wondering, like, what are some of the, like, more unusual, like, spiritual practices that she tried on for size when you were young?

Ms. KARR: Oh my God, I mean, well, she did yoga in like 1962. No one was doing hatha yoga but my mother was, and breathing exercises. And you know, she went briefly to the Christian Science church. She went to theosophy meetings. She - you know, she was very interested in Buddhism for a long time.

You know, eventually the Episcopalians got her. I mean, who knew that a group that sort of organized and white and everything would get my mother, but she took instruction, she became Episcopalian, I mean, very strange to me. But I became Catholic. After my nervous breakthrough I eventually became Catholic, but - and I would have laughed myself cockeyed if you'd said I was going to become Catholic.

GROSS: Was your mother's spiritual searching going on when you were young and living with her, or is that later in life?

Ms. KARR: I would say intermittently. My mother was so capricious. I mean she was really like a little kid, you know, she - so she might get excited about yoga for like a weekend. It wasn't like, you know, she would embrace anything whole - I mean she was married seven times, Terry. You know, she was iffy about everything. She was iffy about us.

You know, she - I told my sister, I said, didn't you feel sort of like -I just did an interview for Paris Review, and the interviewer asked me: Was your mother - did your mother really, was she like a stage mother to your being a writer? He said, like Mozart's daddy? No. I mean, we were like lizards in a terrarium that, like, every couple weeks she'd tap the side of the glass to see if we were still alive.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KARR: She wasn't that interested in us, but�

GROSS: That's a horrible�

Ms. KARR: Well�

GROSS: It's a great image. It's a great image.

Ms. KARR: It wasn't a great childhood, but my sister agreed, so you know - but you know, my mother, you know, but she also saved me. I mean, she got sober. My mother was sober. My mother was sober and�

GROSS: When did she get sober?

Ms. KARR: She was in her 60s. It was right after�

GROSS: And how old were you?

Ms. KARR: It was right after - I think it was right after I married. I mean, she fell off the wagon at my rehearsal dinner. I write about it in the book. It's the night we're going to the Ritz-Carlton with all the WASPs. My father-in-law has had a tab there since Harvard Law. So it's the Boston Ritz. We're having a rehearsal dinner. I'm lying with my neck arched up in a sink and I smell marijuana in this beauty salon where I'd taken her to get her hair done, and I think: mother. I mean, I think: mother. And sure enough, my mother gets gunched out of her mind with her hairdresser in the alley, smoking pot, gets her hair jacked up like a transvestite.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KARR: Really, it looked like a big topiary, and then - and then at the actual dinner says to my father-in-law that she'll paint him in the nude and fix anything he needed fixed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KARR: I mean, this - my mother fell off the wagon at my rehearsal dinner. So shortly after that she got sober and was sober until she died, almost 80, so more than 20 years. So yeah, I was in my early 30s. And it's interesting - it's almost like she got sober right about the time my drinking picked up. I say it's almost like our genetic code owed the universe some really wretched alcoholic and I stepped into the slot as she left it.

GROSS: I want to quote something that you write in your book that I think relates to what you were saying about the pain and fear that you grew up with. You write: When you've been hurt enough as a kid, it's like having a trick knee. Most of your life you can function like an adult, but add in the right proportions of sleeplessness and stress and grief and the hurt-defeated self can bloom into place.

Ms. KARR: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, one of the things I write about - you know, for me one of the moments of revelation, for me evidence of God - which, by the way, my editors took out a lot of evidence for God because I sounded, and they were right, you know, I think I sounded like, you know, one of those, you know, send me a dollar and put your hand on the TV screen and I'll heal you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KARR: I think I did sound a little nuts a couple of places. But when I was doing the Jesuit exercises, the Ignatian exercises, praying to see my sinfulness in all its ugliness, part of that during that time, during Lent, when I was praying about that, I was moving my mother and cleaning out the house where I grew up.

And then she blew up at me. Obviously she was 70-some years - she was stressed and scared, and I launched into her, boy, and I was her for a minute. You know, I bloomed into this fire-breathing lunatic, and it was horrifying to me. It was horrifying. And you know, I apologized to her, she was fine about it. But really, it was just really grotesque and awful.

And I had been given by my spiritual director, who is this Franciscan nun, these two passages in the Bible, three passages in the Bible, and I open up my mother's childhood Bible and the first one I find is marked. It's Psalm 51, and it's marked in blue chalk. This is her little - she had this since 1927, she had this thing. And the second one is also marked, and there are no other marks in the Bible.

But for me a coincidence like that would just be evidence that there is a force for grace, a force for good that is very specifically interested in me, and if I open myself, or I say to myself at each moment, you know, where is the good in this, where is the God in this - but it's hard to do that. I would rather - I don't know why it's so hard to do.

GROSS: Because it's hard to do?

Ms. KARR: I think because my big smart brain wants to think that it runs everything. I mean, honestly, that's what it - even though I know that when I pray, and I try to live in this kind of surrendered, more-present state, everything is better.

GROSS: Mary Karr will be back in the second half of the show. Her new memoir is called "Lit." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Mary Karr, author of the bestselling memoirs "The Liars' Club" and "Cherry." Her new memoir is the story of her early adulthood, her marriage, the birth of her son, her divorce, her alcoholism, and how she found sobriety and faith. The memoir is called "Lit."

Each chapter starts with a poem or an excerpt of a poem.

Ms. KARR: Right.

GROSS: And some of the poetry that you've chosen - you've chosen wonderful poems too - excerpts.

Mr. KENNY: Thank you.

GROSS: And some of them are really bleak and - for example, I offer this one by Alan Dugan. It's an excerpt of his poem or maybe it's the whole poem. I'm not sure which, but it's called "Love Song: I and Thou."

Ms. KARR: It's an excerpt.

GROSS: So this song is basically about needing a partner for self-destruction. It goes: This is hell, but I planned it, I sought it, I nailed it, and I will live in it until it kills me. I can nail my left palm to the left-hand crosspiece but I can't do everything myself. I need a hand to nail the right, a help, a love, a you, a wife.

GROSS: What's the relevance of that poem to your life? Like, who are you in this poem?

Ms. KARR: You know what's interesting? Well, I'm the speaker, of course, but you know what's - well, I'd like to be God but I'm not. But I - and it's, the poem's called "I and Thou," of course, after Martin Buber's great, in which the thou is God, right, and so he's speaking both to his wife and to God. But I can't believe you think that's bleak. It seems to me accurate. I mean what hell do we occupy that we don't construct? You know, what idea about yourself have you ever had and pursued with a vengeance that was ill-fitting for you and that you've railed against? I mean for me, all - I mean, I didn't want to stop drinking. I didn't quit drinking because I wanted to stop drinking. I wanted to keep drinking and you know, doing other things.

I want to do all these things that aren't particularly good for me. My hells are pretty much self-constructed, don't you think? I mean don't you think everybody's are sort of? I mean the whole idea of hubris in Greek tragedy, thinking you're as big as the gods, that's the source of all tragedy and to me that's the nature of needing help to crucify yourself.

GROSS: I'm not sure I agree with what you say, because I think a lot of hell is external in the world and not a function of your own, you know, of your own will or your own construction. Although, I do think that the frame of mind you take to that hell can affect how you experience it and survive it.

Ms. KARR: You know why I put all those quotes in, Terry?


Ms. KARR: Because I was so cut off from books and I thought, I was very afraid - I'm very afraid of failing. You know, I kept Samuel Beckett's quote, "fail better" above my desk. Because I wrote this...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: It's in the book too.

Ms. KARR: Oh good. Yeah. I threw away like two batches of over - of like 500 pages. I threw this book away twice. And I had such a sense of failure as I wrote it and the tones being wrong - everything being wrong. And I thought, you know, if I put all these good quotes in there maybe there will be somebody who will find these great books to read, because I really tried to select from writers who had saved my life. Who had illuminated me or made me feel less lonely. So even though some of the quotes I think are extremely bleak, I think when you're in a bleak mind frame, it's comforting to know other people have felt that way and survived.

GROSS: Absolutely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KARR: Yeah.

GROSS: Absolutely. Now you said you wrote this book, what, two or three times and you kept throwing it away.

Ms. KARR: Three times.

GROSS: Three times.

Ms. KARR: Three times.

GROSS: So was this one harder to write than the others?

Ms. KARR: It was so horrible.

GROSS: Why was it harder?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KARR: Well, because I'm the one being culpable.

GROSS: Oh, all right. Okay. Yeah.

Ms. KARR: Because I'm writing about - I'm writing about my son's father.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. KARR: You know, initially I wrote it and he was a complete angel and I was a wretch. Not in - it's not that the events changed, but just tonally or the slant. And that's what I mean about memoir as opposed to video, giving the inner life of a book. And, so I threw that away in August of '08, and then January of '09 I threw away another 500 pages in which he was all evil and I was all good.

Oh, also the other reason I threw it away - I've been encouraged to write about my prayer, like the actual practice of what I did, which I mean I pray a lot compared to secular people, but compared to people that actually know about prayer, I'm a total neophyte. So you know, I put in all this stuff and I, you know, it was so tedious. Oh, my God. They wanted some instruction book or something. And - so I threw that away and I threw away all this stuff about Warren Whitbread(ph) and my marriage. And it was January of '09 and I was inconsolable because I had no idea how to start over. I was weeping. I walked around in my bathrobe for three days and called out for curry and made obscene gestures at the rafters. And there are a couple people I call at such times like sort of the way would call - the president would call the - push the red button - I'd call these people. So I called Don DeLillo and DeLillo sends me a postcard that says write or die. And I think I sent him one back that said write and die, with the "and"...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KARR: ...underlined. And then I also called Robert Hass, who was my teacher - a poet. He's poet laureate - at Berkeley, teaches at Berkeley. I called Bob and I was like - I was weeping. I thinking I was weeping and really feeling sorry for myself and really without faith of any kind. And I said to Bob, you know, I'm afraid that I've written a really bad book. I'm going to write a bad book - bad.

And he said well, you know, if it's bad you'll write a book that has some good sentences in it. And then he asked me something - something like what a Jesuit once asked me: What would you write if you weren't afraid, in a way, which I never really know how to answer. But Bob said what are you afraid of losing? Are you afraid of losing your position in the community or your status? I'm like, absolutely. Yeah. I'd like to lie and say I don't care, but yeah. Sure, of course. I want people to invite me to speak places. I want to sell books, of course. But most of what I'm afraid of losing is that I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to have the conversation with other writers. That I would be sent back to the farm-club dugout.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KARR: And I wouldn't get to talk to people like Bob Hass and Don DeLillo. Honest to God, that's mostly of what I was afraid of. And so, anyway, I somehow had to surrender again. It's a weird thing. It was a spiritual process for me to - surrendering how the book would be received.

GROSS: On - just on a practical note, I'm thinking how terrified your publisher must've been when in January of this year you were starting from scratch more or less, rewriting your book?

Ms. KARR: Well that's - I had 120 pages. Oh my God, the phone calls - my agent. My agent. I mean my - people - when they give you money, Terry -you know this. When they give you money they're extremely interested in when the book will be done. They give you money up front and then they stand there and they tap their foot and look at their watches and are like: Come on, come on.

GROSS: Well, they want to publish at a certain time. It's in the catalog probably. It's ready to be promoted.

Ms. KARR: Exactly.

GROSS: Everything's in gear and there's got to be a book and...

Ms. KARR: And I'm nine years behind the last time I did this and they're saying, where's the momentum, you know, and I'm like, look, if this book is meant to be read, it'll be read. Now, they don't think that way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KARR: You know, they don't think that God's in charge of whether people buy my book or not, but I kind of do. You know, I kind of - I know God wanted me to write this book. That doesn't mean he wants it to be a bestseller, you know? But something about surrendering a lot of that stuff, it just - it quiets the fear in my head. It just quiets it.

GROSS: Now you've said that your son has not read your memoirs.

Ms. KARR: No.

GROSS: A lot of other people have. So it's...

Ms. KARR: Isn't that lucky for me?

GROSS: I doubt it's a lack of curiosity because he sounds, from what you write about him, like he's a really smart, curious person who's also interested in documentary form and has done his own share of documenting his world with video. So is it an act of like self-protection, do you think, to not read it? Or is he protecting...

Ms. KARR: You know, I...

GROSS: from his judgment of your book or - what do you think?

Ms. KARR: You know, I think he knows all the stories in all the books. I never wanted him to hear something from someone else. So, for instance, he didn't read "Liars' Club" because I'm sexually assaulted in it and I think it would've been very - it's one thing to know your mother was sexually assaulted as a child. It's another thing to read it described.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. KARR: Same thing with "Cherry." I said to him, you know, in this book I'm dating my high school boyfriend and, you know, we have sex and, you know, that's one of the things that happens in the book. And I didn't want his friends to say your mother had sex with her high school boyfriend. You know, I just - and he said, yeah. I figured as much. You know, I'm not an idiot. So this book, of course, he was alive for a lot of this book and he's heard many of these stories. So I think he doesn't - I think he wants to experience my history from me, not as a work of art. He knows the degree to which for me these things are works of art.

However, again, I think one reason I wrote this book is to explain to him the inner machinations in my head when I was being an incredible pain, I'm sure, in his, you know, two-and-a-half-year-old butt. But I think he knows the story so I think when he's older he'll read the books. He still sells them - gets his friend...

GROSS: He sells them?

Ms. KARR: Oh, he gets his friends to buy them all the time. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KARR: You should buy my mom's books. They're real great.

GROSS: So he wants them reading about your sex life and them reading about you being sexually abused?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KARR: No. No. I think he - no, he has a sense that I'm respected for what I do. I think he has a sense of respect for what I do.

GROSS: Right.

Ms. KARR: I think these, you know, I think it's actually...

GROSS: Well, it's certainly something to be proud of. I mean anyone who has a mother who writes like you should want their friends to read it.

Ms. KARR: Well, there you go. But, yeah, he's a young filmmaker. He's curious. He said in high school, I don't want to read these books until I'm older. And I said that makes sense.

GROSS: Mary Karr. Her new memoir is called "Lit."

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