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.)
14 thoughts on “Memoirs, memoirs, memoirs (try typing that five times fast!)”
I should be cleaning FRANTICALLY, but I’m taking a break.
I’ll have to say my favorite book had better be The Jeffrey Journey… because I wrote it, and the reissue is on the verge of being available thru my new publisher!
And because I’ve been slaving on book stuff, the house has been totally neglected. More than usual, anyway.
And we have an appraiser coming today?!?!?!
PS – I’ve never had a desire to read Eat, Pray, Love….
I really enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love, though I did have some of the same qualms you did about her affair and divorce.
I’ve been reading tons of memoirs because I enjoy them and also because I’m writing one (well, I’ve written one…now I’m on to editing). One of my recent favorites is An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, by Elizabeth McCracken – it’s about the stillbirth of her first child and is incredibly beautiful and moving. Though I am also the mom of a stillborn…I realize it may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it is GOOD.
Beautiful Boy by David Sheff is amazing as well, though it will make you want to lock your kids up until they’re 35.
Clara’s War is good…about WWII; don’t remember the full names of the authors. And I’m sure there are loads more!
I also enjoyed The Glass Castle.
I felt the same way you do about Eat, Pray, Love. It received so much acclaim, I thought I was the only one.
I LOVED the Glass Castle. Eat, Pray, Love was good to a point. The ending felt like a romance novel…
I haven’t read a lot of memoirs so I don’t think I could pick a favorite.
How about a favorite book website? 🙂 Have you heard of paperbackswap.com? Love it for getting books for either the cost of shipping out another book, or you can buy credits for a couple dollars. Anyway. Just thought I’d share.
I loved The Glass Castle, too. I also read Calvin Miller’s memoir last October and really enjoyed it. (Life is Mostly Edges)
I tried listening to Eat, Pray, Love – and didn’t get far.
Would love to try Thin Places!
Wow, I’m just thankful you used the word “friend” next to my name considering my long communication-absence….and what is funny to me is that I don’t remember The Glass Castle! LOL I think I’ll go find it again. 🙂 By the way, there is a great website called paperbackswap.com
that we’ve been using to get rid of and acquire books for free. Love it! I just add books to my wish list and when they come available I send a “please send this to me” request.
I never read Eat, Pray, Love – the author never interested me. I read (and recently re-read and still loved ) Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis. I am many, many years behind in my reading….
I think I have read only 1 or 2 memoirs but now want to read a bunch more from this list. Thanks for relieving the desire to read Eat Pray Love though. When I was growing up I read the memoir of living in the white house with the Reagans from the dogs perspective. It was a cute read that captured my teenage attention span at least!
Mine is the Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.
That is a hard one. The first one that came to mind was Little Britches by Ralph Moody. I think that is a memoir…?
I’ve been wanting to read thin places. I was interested before but now I really want to since I’m ghost writing a friend’s memoir and am experimenting with a similar approach to the content he’s given me.
My favorite memoir…? it would have to be this very old book I was given as a child called Mrs. Marco Polo Remembers by Mary Parker Dunning. She toured Asia on her honeymoon and several times after with her husband in 1908.
It was and is still fascinating to me.
The winner is. . . carrien (she laughs at the days). Congratulations!
I just read Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls for our book club. It was a fascinating story of her grandmother’s life. The one thing that bothered me is that she filled in things she didn’t know, and didn’t inform the reader where it was done. So it’s billed as a “real-life novel.” Huh????