I am a lifelong snoop. I’m the kind of person who cranes to see into lit living rooms if I happen to be strolling outside at dusk and spy a house with open curtains. I eavesdrop. When I babysat as a teenager, I’d check out the medicine cabinet and open up every single kitchen cabinet, just to explore.
Is it any wonder that I am a big fan of the memoir? A memoir answers the questions that are often impolite to ask. What was it like growing up in a crazy family? How did you survive the wreckage of your parent’s divorce? Why did you get divorced? (I am always inappropriately curious.)
Lately, I’ve been reading only memoirs. Here, in no particular order, are the ones I’ve read most recently:
Blackbird by Jenny Lauck.
This book describes a “childhood lost and found.” Written from a child’s perspective in first person present tense, you don’t just read the story. You swim in it. If you click that link above, you’ll find Jenny’s website with information about her and her books. She is a Buddhist now.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
My friend, MaryKay, told me about this book a long time ago. I finally came across a used copy in a thrift store (I am so cheap sometimes) and read it. Without flinching, Jeannette relates her childhood raised by eccentric, unstable parents (her father a gambler and alcoholic and her mother a mentally ill artist). What amazed me was the sense I got that Jeannette never really felt self-pity. Anyway, excellent read. You will not believe the situations her parents put their children through.
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Has everyone in the world read this book? Again, it took me awhile to find a cheap used copy, but finally, I joined the masses in reading this bestseller. (Julia Roberts is playing Elizabeth Gilbert in the movie version.) I found myself almost immediately repelled, unfortunately. Not by the writing, which was lovely and amusing and palatable, but by the writer’s description of having a crisis on the bathroom floor. (I’m not really spoiling anything since I’m the last person on earth to read this book, plus, this happens at the very beginning.) But when the writer experienced her emotional crisis (she didn’t want to be married anymore and didn’t want to have a baby), she prays and that prayer leads her to divorce her husband (in a nasty, drawn-out, horrible battle), have an affair and then embark on her trip around the world that is chronicled in this book.
I just don’t relate to a complete shirking of responsibilities and vows and obligations. Also? Her current book is about marriage and seriously, really? Don’t even get me started.
But the book itself was well-written and all that. I just don’t love feeling judgmental while reading but I couldn’t help myself.
Lit by Mary Karr
Have you read Mary Karr’s memoirs? She wrote The Liar’s Club (about her childhood), then Cherry (about her adolescence) and now Lit (picking up where Cherry left off). I really loved The Liar’s Club–I read it quite a few years ago. Then, in preparation to read Lit, I read Cherry. And I am reading Lit right now because I’m going to a conference where she’ll be speaking. (Personally, I did not love Cherry but I needed that bridge from one book to the next.)
I am enthralled by Lit. I can’t do it justice, really, other than to declare how much I adore her memoirs, but here’s an article in the New York Review of Books that can speak for me.
Thin Places by Mary DeMuth
A few years ago, I met Mary at a writer’s conference. She taught a workshop I attended. I have been watching her writing career ever since. She is a novelist, but also writes non-fiction. Her most recent release is a spiritual memoir called Thin Places. This memoir recounts the various times in Mary’s life when she’s felt closer to God, “places where she was acutely aware of God’s presence.” Since I’ve been in the midst of a memoir-reading marathon, this particular one (in comparison) felt more like a devotional book with short chapters recalling non-sequential events in her life. (All the other memoirs I’ve been reading are more or less in chronological order.) But I loved the insight into Mary’s life and her descriptions of her life and family.
Mary’s writing is lovely as she shares vulnerable experiences in her life. And she is a fun person to know in real life, too.
I’d like to give someone a copy of Mary’s book, Thin Places. If you’d like to win a copy, leave a comment with your favorite memoir. If you don’t like to read memoirs, just state your favorite book.
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(I received a copy of Mary DeMuth’s book to review, but no other compensation for any of these books.)