Tag Archives: memoir

READING MEMOIRS

Sometimes an author’s personal story grabs the reader and immediately takes her along on an unstoppable ride. We all love memoirs like that.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading several memoirs with the help of Mary Karr’s the Art of Memoir. She’s the author of Liars’Club, Lit and others so gripping a reader could not put the books down.

Karr tells us “Great memoirs sound like distinct persons and also cover a broad range of feelings.” Currently I’m reading her chapter on voice. The voice of a memoir writer must confess where he or she is morally adrift or worse, across a line into the country of wrongdoing.

I’ve already commented briefly in past posts about Diane Rehm’s memoir On My Own. Below are the others I’ve been reading with comment. And here is a disclaimer. Perhaps this is too many memoirs at once. I feel a bit like my head is always dipping below the surface of these others’ stories; I’m gurgling underwater.

Cork Dork
Author: Bianca Bosker
Publisher: Penguin Books 2017
Genre: Memoir
Paperback Edition: 307 pages
Source: Personal copy.

Cork Dork jumped off the bookstore shelf into my arms. What a title! How fun I thought to read about wine and becoming a sommelier. What was that journey like? Love to read about learning? Or so I thought.

And Bosker’s voice has the bizazz of a magazine writer. She can introduce the reader to an upscale wine freak and render that person so absurd the page holds one’s interest. Her honesty about her wine tasting keeps the pages turning. One thing the reader learns is that evaluating wines objectively may not be possible. As the information drones on, some of the romance associated with wines drifts away ––especially for those of us who drink under $20 bottles and thing we’ll get something great at $25 or $35 dollars.

The Return
Author: Hisham Matar
Publisher: Random House 2016
Genre: Memoir
Hardcover Edition: 239 pages
Source: Library copy

This winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize was near the top of my library list. It became available before some other non-fiction I had requested; perhaps that was a clue that the reading is not easy. This reader cannot fault Matar’s voice though it is restrained and concerned with politics and violence he almost seems to relish. His homeland is Libya. His father, a prominent critic of the Qaddafi regime, was kidnapped when he was 19. But the personal voice is not as strong as the restrained, professional voice. He describes the Libyan landscape with loving detail and nostalgia. The rhythmic and musical quality of his prose is indeed welcoming to read. The time-line of his tale is not linear. As is so popular in recently published books, the story constantly moves about in chronology and in place. If a reader is less familiar with the world events in a certain part of the world and with the culture, this adds to difficulty in easily understanding the effect of events, personal and global.

Any recommendation of these memoirs from me is guarded.
If your thirst for wine is insatiable?
If you are deeply interested in Libya: politics and people in recent times?
Or, if you are looking to read more in this genre?
Either of these may satisfy.

TAKING A LONG WALK WITH A NEW FRIEND AND HER DOG

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This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage
Author: Ann Patchett
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2013
Genre: Memoir, essays
Hardcover edition: 306 pages
Source: Personal Copy

These memorable essays allow the reader to feel like he or she is on a long walk with a new friend, learning to know something of her experiences and personality. Ann Patchett reveals those things from her life she wishes to reveal. But it is the telling that is extraordinary.

What does she share? She cares about people she loves: her grandmother, a nun who was once her teacher, a close friend, her husband and other family members. For many years she lives and loves with her beloved dog Rose. I could read her essay on writing at least once every few months. It’s titled “The Getaway Car.” Something of her relationship with the father she spent little time with as a child is poignantly revealed in the interesting story of her preparation to enter the Los Angeles Police Academy in “The Wall.” And there is more.

The book is readable and I flew through it enjoying every essay and seldom if ever stopping to take notes. I felt a connection with her when she told that her to-do list always has the task she likes least at the top of the list. Writing is its own list and comes first with a dedicated time period. Her Nashville bookstore Parnassus is a must-visit for me, though I don’t yet have it scheduled. It’s so much fun to hear the details and feel the emotions of the independent book business.

If you know Ann Patchett’s writing, or if you have never heard of her, I highly recommend this memoir about the art and craft of writing, her personal experiences and life stories. After reading her memoir, I want to read more of her books. I don’t want my walk with Ann Patchett to end.

Listed below are some of her titles, beginning with a must-read, followed by others in no particular order.

Bel Canto, fiction
State of Wonder, fiction
Truth and Beauty: A Friendship, memoir
Run, fiction

And if you read and enjoy memoir, This Is The Story of A Happy Marriage is likely to be at the top of your list.

Comments are always welcomed.

MISSING MISSISSIPPI

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Men We Reaped
Author: Jesmyn Ward
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2013
Genre: Memoir
251 pages
Source: Personal Copy

Sometimes, the people and the place that are home call to us over and over again. The ties that bind are very strong. We long for the gifts that are our own when we live in that place and among those people.

So it is for Jesmyn Ward. In this arresting memoir, she shares her love for her home, a love that transcends hardship and grief, racism and addiction. She reaches deep inside herself to remember and to discover her Mississippi life. She is able to write in a way that draws readers into her life to help us understand where she has lived and how she is able to show respect for family and community she loves so much, in spite of the difficulties they must endure.

Even as a little girl living in the Oakland, California area with her mother and father, she yearns for the beaches, the heavy wet air, and blowing sand. When she attends college at Stanford and graduate school at the University of Michigan, she misses Mississippi with an intensity that is hard for a Northerner to understand. Whenever she can, she hurries home to be with her family and friends, to sweat in the weighted air or to stand in the hot sun. Home, family and friends are lifeblood for her.

Through this yearning for the land and people she loves, she tells her story. Her home-town on the Gulf Coast is a beloved place, no matter how poverty and violence have slashed and begrimed it. She tells the stories of her family and some of the men she grew up with. These stories include tragic deaths and wonderful strength that rises up to protect and expose. Her mother’s strength and her own are amazing. But it is her brother’s unexpected death caused by a drunk driver that is the most heartbreaking of the sorrows she faces. And yet, she finds the strength to become a writer.

There is so much to understand and to admire in this book. Her tribute to her mother tugs at the heart. “Without my mother’s legacy, I would never have been able to look at this history of loss, this future where I will surely lose more, and write the narrative that remembers, write the narrative that says: Hello. We are here. Listen.” (her italics)

Descriptions of the people, the places, the happenings are so beautifully and respectfully rendered, yet real and truthful, the reader can only catch her breath in wonder. Often Jesmyn Ward describes an ugliness that is everyday life for some of our American neighbors. It is a sad wakeup call asking us to pay attention to what life is for some of our brothers and sisters in our wide and great country.

All of us need pay attention to Mississippi. This writer moves us with her stories. She makes us miss the place she so loves, and what it could be and might become with our support.