Bookish Discussions

Haven’t read a memoir? Whatcha waiting for?!

It’s Top Ten Tuesday time (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) and the topic is: “What I would recommend to readers who haven’t read (fill in the blank)”.

There was some controversy back in 2005 when Oprah chose James Frey’s memoir A Million Little Pieces as her book club pick. Remember all that drama?

Guess what? I liked that book. As someone who has had friends and family deal with drug/alcohol addiction, I thought it was a close depiction of what goes on in regard to the addict, the family and friends involved. I didn’t for a second think every single line was the honest to goodness truth because let’s be honest, users have spotty memories. They remember most of what is told to them and who knows if the people surrounding them are fabricating a bit. But that’s not to defend Frey. I don’t care for him personally with some of the info I’ve read about his production company Full Fathom Five (another topic to debate). But I also blamed the editor/agent/publisher/whomever for the Memoir label snafu. They should have labeled his work fiction if he made stuff up or embellished. At the same time he could have fooled them all by pretending what he wrote was the truth for a book sale. Not an impossible theory, given his current career/company.

And so memoirs got a bad rap because of that media mess. Was it really a genre? Unless the author had journals and diaries to prove all words written were the truth and were lucky enough that people from their past didn’t come out of the woodwork to discount the info, then should we believe them? The debate was fun to watch unfold but it didn’t sway my like for memoirs. But just to clarify:

Memoir (from French: mémoire: memoria, meaning memory or reminiscence), is a literary nonfiction genre. More specifically, it is a collection of memories that an individual writes about moments or events, both public or private that took place in the author’s life. The assertions made in the work are understood to be factual. While memoir has historically been defined as a subcategory of autobiography since the late 20th century, the genre is differentiated in form, presenting a narrowed focus. Like most autobiographies, memoirs are written from the first-person point of view. An autobiography tells the story of a life, while memoir tells a story from a life, such as touchstone events and turning points from the author’s life. The author of a memoir may be referred to as a memoirist. ~ Wikipedia

So, I love memoirs. I try to read as many as possible. They appeal to me because unlike autobiographies or biographies, they seem to have a bit more emotion. It feels as though they are talking to the reader personally, sharing secrets and insight with snapshots of their lives. Sometimes memoirs even read as fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, humor, graphic comics, epistolary form, diaries-however the author chooses to tell their story.

An Italian Affair  The Glass Castle  Angela's Ashes (Frank McCourt, #1)  A Girl Named Zippy  Glitter and Glue

An Italian Affair (2001) by Laura Fraser is one of my favorites. I read it before Goodreads (launched 2007) existed and before Eat, Pray, Love swept the nation with a similar tale of traveling to a foreign country after a breakup to find one’s self. I just picked it up one day at the library without knowing how many stars it received and who liked/disliked it. The second person narration didn’t bother me nor did the theme of adultery (many people had problems with both). I fell in love with her travelogue style of writing (she’s a travel writer) and Italy. I waited almost ten years for follow up All Over The Map (2010),  and was an emotional wreck.

The Glass Castle (2005) by Jeannette Walls was a pick for my old book club. I had small children at the time and couldn’t fathom them cooking hot dogs by themselves at a hot stove at the age of 3 and then catching on fire, being burned severely. That was just one obstacle Jeannette and her siblings faced raised by parents who chose to be homeless due to their paranoia of the government and mental illness. I was riveted by the story and felt my children were so fortunate for stable, coherent parents but at the same time too sheltered in their suburbia lives. A book I told everyone to read and still do. Has anyone NOT read this?

Angela’s Ashes (1996) by Frank McCourt was another book I just “picked up” being fascinated by tales of immigrants. It’s a heartbreaking and honest portrayal of McCourt’s family during the Depression, living in extreme poverty both in Ireland and in the US. What struck me were the moments of humor despite their dire existence. The sequel “Tis was just as profound. And the movie adaptation of Angela’s Ashes? Meh in my opinion.

A Girl Named Zippy (2001) by Haven Kimmel was again a book that I might have enjoyed more then my counterparts. I recommended it for book club and the reaction was mixed. Coming-of-age, Midwestern living (Indiana), 1960s small town Americana, postwar hope – I just ate it up. The follow up She Got Up Off The Couch, is much darker with the focus on Haven’s mom Delonda, who decides to go to college after spending years on the couch swelling to over 260 pounds. Equally as good!

Glitter and Glue (2014) by Kelly Corrigan dissects the bond between mother and daughter. Corrigan’s mother claimed “Your father’s the glitter but I’m the glue” but didn’t quite understand what her mother meant. Corrigan heads off to Australia searching for adventure and some excitement in her life . It’s not until after she takes a job as a nanny to children who just lost their mom to Cancer, that she finally appreciates all her mother’s tough love and words of wisdom. She also realizes that life is going on right in front of you without having to search for it.

Bossypants Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World Dry Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear SugarBad Feminist: Essays

This is easy. I LOVE Tina Fey and her memoir Bossypants (2011) didn’t disappoint. The addition of her childhood photos couldn’t have been more perfect Tina Fey-isms. We all have those awkward, self- deprecating photos and the fact she included them made me love her even more.

Dewey (2008) by Vicki Myron is for anyone who loves a heartfelt story with elements of: an abandoned kitty left in a library return slot, his recovery, a struggling small town in America, the importance of the library, community, quirky patrons and the author’s tragic back story. And they name him Dewey Readmore Books, for goodness sakes! Grab tissues because I was bawling at the end. You know how it ends.

Dry (2003) by Augusten Burroughs was recommended by a dear friend of mine who knows my tastes, we were college roommates and all. 🙂 I read this before Running With Scissors and was shocked by the candid, brutal honesty of what he experienced as well as what he put himself through. I ended up reading most of his books and would suggest reading them in order of publishing. You can get a real feel for his journey. *A kind warning: there is no shortage of vulgarity, sex, sex abuse, drug/alcohol use, debauchery, mean humor, sarcasm in any of Burroughs’ books and I found myself laughing quite a bit. Maybe I shouldn’t have disclosed that.

Everyone must read Tiny Beautiful Things (2012) by Cheryl Strayed. It should be required reading. That is all.

Everyone must read Bad Feminist (2014) by Roxane Gay. It should be required reading. That is all. (Review to come)

Maus, I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History (Maus, #1) Maus, II: And Here My Troubles Began (Maus, #2)

I’m breaking the rules with two more. There are no rules really, it’s just a title. I just finished Maus I: A Survival’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History (1986) recently and can’t find the words just yet so I am guessing Maus II: A Survival’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began (1991) is going to be as amazing.

Do you read Memoirs? If so, which are your favorites?




30 thoughts on “Haven’t read a memoir? Whatcha waiting for?!

  1. I love memoirs. Great list. I’ve read ‘Angela’s Ashes’ and ‘Bossypants,’ both of which were awesome. Especially ‘Bossypants.’ The audiobook was narrated by Fey, which made it even better! I have ‘The Glass Castle’ on my list. I’m looking forward to it.
    Happy Reading!

  2. I haven’t read The Glass Castle…yikes! I must get to that! I am also interested in reading Dewey, I think my book club would like it, but if it brings tears, I’ve got one member that will probably throw the book out. Especially if it was true…

    I’ve read a few memoirs….the most recent being The Last Lecture.
    I’ve also read The End of Your Life Book Club. Seems like it would be terribly sad but it really wasn’t. Touching but not so sad.
    On Writing by Stephen King. I really enjoyed that one.
    And The Wounded Spirit by Frank Peretti. This one was really good, written in the wake of the Columbine massacre. Peretti was disfigured as a child and experienced all the insecurities and bullying that come along with it. He was therefore, drawn to darkness, fascinated with monsters and such and understands how someone can be pushed to the brink and can commit such terrible atrocities. Very good perspective from one of my favorite authors.

  3. Love that you chose to feature memoirs! You know I’m a Tiny Beautiful Things fangirl, so I love to see it on any list, and Maus is always wonderful, too.

  4. Memoirs are one of my lesser-read genres, so I’m so happy you decided to feature them! I loved Maus and I’m really looking forward to reading Bad Feminist! I also have Bossypants to read and I think it’ll be hilarious! Other memoirs I’m looking forward to are Lena Dunham’s upcoming memoir and Amy Poehler’s. Great list!

  5. I got a little tired of memoirs, but have been on a bit of a memoir kick again. I’m reading Bad Feminist right now, and loving it so far. I love David Sedaris, Tobias Wolff, Marjane Satrapi. So many good ones out there!

    • I know what you mean about burnout factor, especially if they are the same old same old stories. I just finished Bad Feminist and loved it also. I’ll add Sedaris, Wolff and Satrapi to my radar. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. I love memoirs as well and have read and enjoyed every one on your list. I second your recommendation of Tiny Beautiful Things . . . now I have to get my hands on a copy of Bad Feminist. If you haven’t read Domenica Ruta’s With or Without You, I highly recommend it — it’s about a young girl growing up with an addicted mother.

  7. Yes, Frey’s “memoir” should’ve been labeled fiction. I hadn’t realized that the consumer fraud implications of that fiasco gave memoirs a bad reputation, though.

    I like memoirs, but I’m very picky about them. Everyone’s life is interesting in some way, but is it exceptional enough to result in a memoir? If the answer is yes, then I might read it. If not, then I’ll pass, which is what usually happens. Oddly enough, both of my “freshly pressed” posts were about memoirs (about journalists), even though it’s not a genre I typically read. So, I’ve been joking that I should probably read more memoirs. I’ll take a closer look at the ones you mention here. Thanks!

    • Well, I remember after it happened that memoirs were side-eyed for some time. People weren’t sure what to make of them.
      Congrats on the “freshly pressed” posts. Yes, it seems that you should read more then 🙂

      • Yeah, I can see how the Frey controversy could’ve done that, especially when it went through a reputable publisher that should’ve known better. I just don’t remember it. I was less keyed into these types of issues back then. Thanks again for the list of memoirs!

  8. I loved Bossypants and listened to the audio book because it was read by Tina Fey. Right now I’m close to finishing Orange Is The New Black, also on audio book which I think makes it so much more interesting because the narrator uses different accents to and voices to portray different inmates and prison staff. I find Piper Kerman’s experience in prison fascinating. Bad Feminist is high on my list of next reads, but I think that is the case for everyone right now.

    • The fact that Fey does the narration for Bossypants calls for a reread via audio! I didn’t finish the audio of Orange is the New Black because the library wanted it back. 🙂 I got through half and really liked what I heard so far!

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