Saturday, June 23, 2012

Memoirs I Dig

Someone from workshop asked me to list my ten favorite memoirs. I'm pretty sure I can't accurately do that-- I read so many books, I have read so many books. And when I am in the throes of a good book, I make a mental note to never forget it. But I've forgotten lots of them. That said, here's a list of memoirs I really dig-- most for the writing, but a couple for other reasons (which I will explain).

Personal History by Katharine Graham
My Life by Isadora Duncan
My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien (categorized as fiction)
A Fan's Notes by Fred Exley (categorized as fiction)
Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp
Permanent Midnight by Jerry Stahl
The Liar's Club by Mary Karr*
All the Wrong Men and One Perfect Boy by Me*

 Probably as soon as I hit publish here I'll think of more. I guess if that happens I'll just add them in the comments sections. A few brief notes about the above list. The Liar's Club is a really good book, in and of itself, but I'm not sure it would make a Top Ten List (if I really had one). I included it here because, like so many memoirists, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to MK. When her book went viral (before going viral was even an expression) it swung open the door wide for a lot of writers to get contracts to write memoirs. I was one of them, and in 1999 Simon & Schuster contacted me to ask me to write All the Wrong Men and One Perfect Boy. I included that book on my list not to be a smart ass. I included it because a) getting that book published fulfilled a dream I had held since I was eight to be an author when I grew up and b) I couldn't know it at the time, but putting all that down on the page was the first step on a very, very long path of healing. I will also add, even though it's going to sound entirely too self-congratulatory, I about peed my pants when the book got a starred review from Kirkus Reviews. Shit, I didn't even know what Kirkus was when I got the news, but it was explained to me, and I was pretty psyched.

Now, a couple of things not on the list-- I love just about every essay David Sedaris has ever written and I do count his work as memoir, but the above books are beginning-middle-end narratives, not essay collections. Anyway, Sedaris is a genius. Also, somewhere around here (unless I lost it) I might still have a collection I picked up a long, long time ago-- it was letters that women who were bound westward in the 1800's wrote home (maybe it was journal entries?) to let those following behind know what to expect. This was not "writing" in the sense of some highly stylized voice or memoir as we know it today. Mostly, if I'm remembering right, it was more of a general accounting, something practical. And those letters were truly harrowing, stories of giving birth in covered wagons, babies dying and being buried along the trail in unmarked graves, never to be visited again, that sort of harrowing. I think I picked that one up on a trip to Utah ages ago. I really dig going to little museums around the country and picking up these obscure books-- stories of the history of a place that weren't written with an eye toward NYT bestseller list, but a burning desire to preserve the tales of people who lived at a certain time in a certain place.

I just remembered another memoir I really dug-- Perfection by Julie Metz. I devoured it. Not to give too much away, but Metz's husband dropped over dead of a heart attack at 44. In the aftermath of that devastation, she learned he'd been a multi-partner cheater. And the plot thickens from there. One of my favorite parts of the book? There's one section in particular, when she confronts one of the women in question, and she does not hold back in her hatred. No, no, I'm not advocating hatred here. I'm just saying she didn't gloss over her feelings in that moment, and it really packs a tremendous punch.

Okay, I'll post this now and wait for the ones I forgot to come pouring in. And y'all? Favorite memoirs?

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read that many memoirs, I think. I read 'A Moveable Feast' last fall and really enjoyed it, caught up in that 1920s ex-pat artist-on-the-left-bank thing and all. I really really enjoyed Alison Bechdel's 'Fun Home' recently. I am not a big graphic novel freak, and maybe because of that was struck by how much the illustrations speak, how the prose can be so spare, and the combination say so much. And the nonstop literary references and grappling with sexuality felt custom made to tickle my fancy.