Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Memoirs I didn't hate: a booklist

It's a short list.

I don't like memoirs, not because of what they are by definition, but what they have become now that every person who can type has found it necessary to churn out a book of self-absorbed navel-gazing. Even more, I hate the fact that the American public eats them up like so many reality tv shows.

Writers of memoirs fall into two main camps: those who have a story to tell, but lack the writing skill to tell it, and those who are good writers but whose lives aren't interesting enough to merit books about them. On occasion however, I have read a memoir that surprises me by being what a memoir should be: interesting and well-written. Here are those few.

She's Not There by Jennifer Finney Boylan. Jim Boylan was a professor at my alma mater, Colby College, and several years ago became a woman. This book was enjoyable as well as educational.*

Gone Boy by Gregory Gibson. After his son is killed by a student gunman at Simon's Rock College, Gibson begins a search for answers to how it could have happened. Amazingly, he manages to rise above his grief and rage to conduct an informative investigation of the circumstances surrounding the event and the shooter's life.

Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres. In the 80s, Julia and her adopted brother David are teenagers in rural Indiana. Because David is black, their racist community makes them both outcasts. Oh, but it can get worse: unwilling to deal with the two kids and their adolescent troubles, their parents ship them off to a Christian boot camp in the Dominican Republic.

Lucky by Alice Sebold. The Lovely Bones did nothing for me, as I couldn't buy the spiritual aspects, but Sebold's memoir was good. As a college freshman she was raped, and then told by police that she was lucky compared to the young woman who was murdered in the same spot previously. A well-written account of her attack and its aftermath.

*Boylan has another memoir coming out, about growing up in a haunted house and a haunted body. So not only was he born into a body of the wrong gender, but it was haunted as well? I wish I could say that I'm looking forward to this book, but the very thought of it makes me cringe. If only I could recapture some of my 14-year-old excitement about the supernatural...


Anonymous said...

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy and Ann Patchett's Truth & Beauty (about her relationship with Lucy) are both thoughtful, well written and devastating. Oh, and Nick Flynn's Another Bullshit Night in Suck City - painful, poetic, funny and sad. And that's about it for this girl! Oh, and one more: Fat Girl by Judith Moore. And here I thought I hated memoirs, too! - Cathy p.s. Your sweater came out nice.

3goodrats said...

Thank you for reminding me of Autobiography of a Face - I agree with you on that one. I'll keep the others in mind for the future.

Sitcomgirl said...

I second Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. I did like Truth and Beauty as well, but I pretty much love Ann Patchett's writing.
Julia Scheeres is one of my friends, I had no idea other people read and liked her book :)
For a quickie memoir, I would also suggest Persepolis by Marjane Sartapi (Persepolis 2 is not as good)