Archives for posts with tag: Memoir

I’m really not sure what made me pick up this book – the sparse style, the width, the beautiful cover art, the title – but I’m glad I did.

let's take

Let’s Take the Long Way Home is a memoir of friendship and grief. More friendship than grief until the last forty pages. Specifically, Caldwell has written the story of her friendship with the writer Caroline Knapp (author of Drinking: A Love Story). By the hundredth page it’s clear Caldwell can’t bring herself to write of her friend’s death. Maybe if she doesn’t put it on the page it won’t be true. It’s easier to focus their love of dogs and rowing and writing. Anything but death.

When she finally gets around to writing about Caroline’s death (“Grief is fundamentally a selfish business.”) she does so as eloquently as writer before her. If found Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking useful/enjoyable you’ll like this.

Near the end of the book, after Caroline’s death, Caldwell’s dog is attacked by two pit bulls. She survives, don’t worry. But all I could think was how would I save my sweet little poodle? She pulled me back in. When the grief has pulled me down a sudden urgency returned to the narrative. Like a gulp of fresh air after staying under water too long. That’s the real joy of memoirs. Sometimes life gives us these plot points that wouldn’t seem believable in a novel.

I love nonfiction.

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Growing up, I thought I was an anxious person. I was shy and deathly afraid of heights. Turns out I’m just normal and anxiety is a normal part of the human condition. Who knew?! Daniel Smith’s anxiety, however, is outside that normal range. In his memoir Monkey Mind Smith tells how his extreme anxiety impacted his family, friends, school, employment, travels and condiment choosing abilities.

 

Overall I liked the book. Smith has a strong voice and keen sense of humor. If you know anyone with real anxiety issues (or perhaps that someone is you), give this book a try. It’s got the right amount of heart and a nice sense of confession, as all memoirs should. The downside for me came in the scientific/diagnostic asides. Smith doesn’t seem to trust that we, his dear readers, are smart enough to understand the basics of psychological care. I hate when writers talk down to me. I know it’s a fine line to walk but I’d rather close a book feeling like I learned something instead of feeling like I just slept through a Freshman Psych class.

When I sat down to write about my time in the Army I thought I understood memoirs and I knew I needed to read more books about war. I think/hope the best works about Iraq and Afganistan are yet to be written but Sebastian Junger’s War and David Finkel’s The Good Soldiers have set a high bar. I learned a lot from them but that’s another post.

Turns out I didn’t know as much about memoirs as I thought.

I know even less about the AK-47.

First of all, writing a book is hard. They are long and keeping track of characters is more complicated than you’d think. Second, and perhaps most obvious, straight chronology can be boring as shit. Today I had the kind of epiphany you can only have when you drink an iced Americano after not having caffeine for a week. Here it is: I have to start my story from the middle – a hook, if you will. Genius, right?! No, I know, but sometimes these ideas have to arise organically in order for me to understand them. Maybe that’s just me.

We listened to Sarah Silverman’s memoir while driving to and from the North Shore last week.

She’s far kinder than this cover photo implies. As a traditional memoir should, Silverman discusses her childhood, her beginnings in comedy, and life as an actress/writer. I pushed this book to the back of my to-read list because I thought it was going to be satire. Far from it, my friends (hint: she really was a bedwetter). Even the dog was too entertained to sleep:

Silverman is a compassionate person who just happens to have a raunchy sense of humor. Maybe it’s that crudeness that actually gives life to the compassion. She has an eye for the human experience and a way of talking about depression that is more inclusive than I’ve ever heard. I laughed out loud. I winced at the embarrassing moments. You can’t ask for much more from an audiobook. I’ve said it before, the audiobook is the way to go with celebrity memoirs. Silverman’s intonation and voice-work pulls the whole piece together. Read it. Really.

I stumbled upon this movie today:

It is the movie adaptation of British Chef Nigel Slater’s memoir about learning to cook and the authoritarianism of parents. Strictly viewed by plot, the movie is depressing as shit. Dying parents, oppressive near-homophobic small town life, etc. That said, it’s incredibly sweet film. I’m a sucker for sweet and hopeful (and Helena Bonham Carter).

How do these beautiful little movies get lost in the shuffle? Solid acting. Lovely cinematography. The film must have been beautiful on the big screen. I’d rather watch this than half the overproduced shit in theaters this summer.

As a fan of Alison Bechdel’s first graphic-memoir Fun Home I was stoked to read the follow up work:

Where Fun Home focused primarily on Bechdel’s father, Are You My Mother? focuses on her mother. Well that’s the claim. The book is really more about the book itself. Yeah, meta, right? Too meta if you ask me. I found, when I was done reading that I didn’t actually know much about Bechdel’s mother. I did know that they talk a lot and the book was hard to write.

This feels like the work that a writer often needs to do before the real writing can begin. Like when I write “Dear Journal, Writing is hard. Real hard. I wish I was prettier and funnier and smarter. Maybe I should write about teaching, yeah that’d be good! But I’ll change all the names. Yeah, that’s it!” Ya know?

Then again maybe this book is over my head but I can’t say I’d recommend it. Just go read Fun Home again, it’s lovely.

After the fun of Tina Fey’s Bossypants, I had to get Rachel Dratch’s book – in audio form of course. Trust me, get the audio book. Dratch occasionally yells and laughs at her own sentences. Stories that made me laugh out loud wouldn’t have been half as fun without her voice. I’ll be honest, I’ve been a bit addicted to audio books. They fill the time while I’m driving, walking the dog, waiting for the bus, cleaning. I guess that might speak more to my short attention span than the books.

Nevertheless, Rachel Dratch can write. More than just a good book, her voice makes me want to be her friend.

For years people have told me to read Haruki Murakami’s memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

I’m not sure why I waited so long but I finally gave in. It’s good, you should read it. Murakami doesn’t treat running as a religious activity. He doesn’t think he is better than non-runners. As someone who wants to think of herself as a runner but doesn’t always have the motivation, hearing a writer discuss the simplicity of running is oddly motivating. I’m not running much more than I was before the book but maybe it’s still soaking in.

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