Since the weather’s warm, how about some (more) summer reads to consider? I already gave you a list of my favorite nonfiction books and a list of my favorite fiction reads. Today I’m going to provide you with several memoir suggestions. To read on the beach or elsewhere.
Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania
I found this title when I was looking for books that deal with mental illness. This was soon after I learned of the connection between bipolar disorder and hypersexuality.
Published in 2003 by Random House, Electroboy chronicles the life of Andy Behrman, a manic-depressive “…held hostage by his insatiable desire to consume.” Jobs that Behrman held included: filmmaker, pimp, art dealer, and go-go boy. This memoir is a wild ride. Literally.
A Trauma Trio
Most articles I read on the topic of writing memoirs say, Don’t do it. They claim the you won’t get published unless you’re a celebrity. And you especially won’t get published if your story is sad or deals with sexual abuse. The following three books prove those theories wrong.
The Kiss, by Kathryn Harrison, is the story of a young woman who reunites with her father after having been raised by her mother. Soon after their reunion, father and daughter enter into an obsessive love affair. Despite the disturbing subject matter, Harrison’s coverage of her experience is well-crafted and much less explicit than Behrman’s.
Written by Alice Sebold (also the author of The Lovely Bones), Lucky tells the story of Sebold’s own rape as a college freshman, and follows her as she pursues the rapist’s arrest and conviction.
According to the back cover, “Sebold illuminates the experience of trauma victims and imparts a wisdom profoundly hard-won: ‘You save yourself or you remain unsaved.’”
Though the writing is not as polished as some would like, this book has over 1,100 4.5-star reviews on Amazon.
The Sound of Gravel recounts the tale of Ruth Wariner who grew up in a polygamist Mormon family in rural Mexico. The thirty-ninth of her birth father’s forty-two children, Wariner is sexually abused by her step-father. If you want a deep-dive into cult life, this is a good start.
Undone: A Story of Making Peace with an Unexpected Life
Michele Cushatt’s memoir Undone covers divorce, single motherhood, cancer AND it tells how she and her second husband took in three children-in-crisis in the midst of it all. This faith-based memoir is much more than a cancer accounting. It’s proof that, “Sometimes life’s greatest beauty shows up in life’s greatest chaos.”
Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild is a terrific read. This book tells of the adventure Strayed sets out on after she loses her mother.
Without much thought, Strayed decides to hike more than a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail on the West Coast. Wild takes you on a funny and frightening and beautiful journey.
Note: Reese Witherspoon does a great job of portraying Strayed in the movie version of Wild.
Has any book-lover from West Virginia not read Jeanette Walls memoir, The Glass Castle?
This New York Times bestselling memoir follows one of the classic memoir formulas:
1 brilliant and beloved father + 1 bright but emotionally fragile mother =
1 exceedingly dysfunctional family
Walls’s father is a genius but also alcoholic, and her mother is a free spirit who would rather paint than parent. When they fail at life in Arizona, the father moves the family back east to live with his family in impoverished McDowell County, West Virginia.
One by one, the Walls children flee the family in order to survive, in order to stay sane.
Note: Having read the book, I did not care for the movie version of The Glass Castle at all. My husband Tony did like the movie; however, he hadn’t read the book.
I liked Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club more than The Glass Castle. Probably because it didn’t seem as heavy to me. For the record, Karr’s memoir follows the same classic memoir formula mentioned above.
Due to Karr’s considerable writing ability, sense of humor, and incredible family anecdotes, this is a highly enjoyable read.
Tara Westover’s memoir Educated is similar to The Sound of Gravel in that it deals with a fundamentalist Mormon family.
Determined not to expose their children to the sinful world, the Westover parents keep their children isolated and uneducated on the family farm in Idaho. Not only are the parents troubled, one of the author’s brothers has rage issues.
In time, a number of the Westover children, including Tara, discover college represents a way to escape the family farm and dysfunction. Both a coming-of-age account and a survival story, Educated is a gripping read.
Note: Westover will be speaking at West Virginia University in November.
Many people recommend this title and Being Mortal in the very same sentence. And I couldn’t agree more.
When Breath Becomes Air is the story of a young and brilliant neurosurgeon—Paul Kalanithi—who at the age of thirty-six, is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.
Drawn both to writing and medicine, at the end of his life, Kalanithi utilizes both skills as he chronicles his own dying. This is an achingly beautiful read.
Monsoon Mansion is not near the top of my list of favorite memoirs because the author, Cinelle Barnes, is a good friend, one of my peers from grad school.
I love Monsoon Mansion because it is an extraordinary story—from princess to pauper—beautifully told. Barnes’s writing here is nearly flawless, in my opinion. In addition, she doesn’t simply tell the story of her family. She also educates the reader on the history of her country of origin: The Philippines.
I am so thankful my writer-friend Renee Nicholson encouraged me to read Stay Here with Me by Robert Olmstead. The story and the story-telling in this memoir are absolutely gorgeous. It’s about young love, family, and leaving home.
After I read this book, I read and thoroughly enjoyed additional books by Olmstead: Coal Black Horse, Savage Country, and The Coldest Night. These three books deal with violence: the Civil War, the slaughter of the American buffalo, and the Korean War. I hate violence. And yet, I will read any story Olmstead tells. Because of his writing, and because of the care he takes with his characters.
It’s also pretty cool that I know Olmstead. He was one of the professors in my MFA program.
If you’d like to borrow a memoir on this list, just let me know.
And also, if you have a favorite memoir or three, please leave a comment down below.