My Favorite Memoirs

So since I’ve been working on memoir pieces for the last four years and since I recently read this blog post on the impossibility of listing your favorite memoirs, I thought it was time to come up with my own list. After all, it’s the end of the year, the time of the BEST of the BEST lists.  My favorite memoirs go back a lot farther than this last year, but here’s my short list in no particular order.

THE LIAR’S CLUB by Mary Karr

THE DUKE OF DECEPTION by Geoffrey Wolff

THIS BOY’S LIFE by Tobias Wolff

UNDER A WING by Reeve Lindbergh

DON’T LET’S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT by Alexandra Fuller

THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeannette Walls

STAY OF EXECUTION by Stewart Alsop (full disclosure, this author is my father)

MY FATHER’S FORTUNE by Michael Frayn

LIFESAVING by Judith Barrington (who also wrote WRITING THE MEMOIR, an excellent writer’s guide to the form)

ELSEWHERE by Richard Russo

THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE by Nancy Bachrach

CLASS by Geoffrey Douglas

TRUTH AND BEAUTY by Ann Patchett

RATTLEBONE by Maxine Clair

THE TIGER IN THE ATTIC by Edith Milton

MEMOIR OF THE BOOKIE’S SON by Sidney Offitt

Why do these pop up for me from my “memoir bookshelves”, the ones online and physically at home?  Because there’s no whining in any of them. The emotional truth as they see it is told objectively with grace and often with humor. There are scenes in these books I will never forget.

Beth Kephart put it this way, “Look for authors who understand that the big questions in life can often be approached, assessed, and entered into through seemingly small and always carefully chosen details.  Look for writers who recognize that chronology is not necessarily structure, that the unsaid matters as much as the said, that instant decrees and damning judgments are not nearly as interesting as thoughtful, and thoughtfully rounded, ideas. Look for authors who write humanely, who seek out loud, who open their worlds to you in ways that open you unto yourself.”

These are the memoir writers who have much to teach me and from whom I wish to learn.

 

Leave a Message for Elizabeth

  1. Margot Roosevelt :

    Lovely, cousin.

  2. Victoria Leiterville Mele :

    Everything by Alexandra Fuller is always a favorite but I highly recommend Waiting for Snow in Havana by Carlos Eire about growing up in Cuba just before the revolution. It is charming and funny and beautifully written. He is now a professor at Yale.
    Would love to see you again after all these years. Your books have always been a favorite of mine .

  3. And I hit send before including two favorites about babies: Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions (breaks your no-whining rule, but makes it an art form) and Alice Eve Cohen’s What I Thought I Knew, one of the most moving books I have ever read, and not just about parenting.

  4. I love reading memoirs. This year it was After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey; really a cross between memoir and mystery. Katharine Graham’s Personal History was inspiring and has stayed with me. And in the full-disclosure front, my friend Adam Hochschild’s Half the Way Home moved me as much on re-reading it recently, as it did 25 years ago when it was first published. (I loved Stay of Execution too.)