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
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
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.