Sure, we think we know them. Sarah Leavitt, author of the graphic memoir Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother and Me. She’s the curly-haired cartoon narrator of her own book, which documents her mother’s decline and death from Alzheimer’s Disease. And then there’s Andrew Westoll, primatologist-turned-animal-rights-activist. Though his book The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, he’s brought the world the story of his experiences at Quebec’s Fauna Sanctuary, where traumatized chimpanzee victims of medical experiments receive rehabilitation.
But of course, readers have no idea, a reality addressed by both writers in a conversation at Ben McNally Books in Toronto on July 19th. “You Think You Know Me, But You Have No Idea” was presented by Freehand Books, our own Bookmadam, and also Canadian Bookshelf. (A similar event was held on July 20 in Kingston with Leavitt and essayist Susan Olding.) Leavitt and Westoll told the stories of their stories, compared notes, discussed the ethics of memoir and nonfiction, and shattered some illusions about the nonfiction writer’s adherence to truth above all.