Thanks for the Memories!
May 2016

Telling our life stories is as old as Stone Age cave paintings and as new as Snapchat and reality TV. To all of us, however, I’m sure there’s a big difference between the Kardashians and books like The Glass Castle, West with the Night, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and Out of Africa—all of which, of course, are not only interesting and personal, but also literary.

 Far less famous, but well worth reading, are the following:

  • A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz. Wonderful life lessons learned from Jane Austen books in the form of a memoir. Read more here.
  • Frankie & Stankie by Barbara Trapaido. Charmingly told from the point-of-view of a young girl growing up in 40’s-50’s South Africa, with the atrocities downplayed in the background. Whitbread and long-listed for Booker. Read more here.
  • How I Shed My Skin by James Grimsley. Beautifully written and very thoughtful memoir about becoming and outgrowing being a racist in the Deep South during the 60’s.
  • When We Were the Kennedys by Monica Wood. Delightfully written memoir about a working-class family in Mexico, Maine, set during the Kennedy era. (Nothing to do with the Kennedys, by the way.)  Read more here.
  • Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Memoir of an African Muslim turned anti-Muslim. Gripping and sometimes depressing. Read more here.

NOT RECOMMENDED:  Too bad, because I really like these authors as talented artists. But as memoirists, not so much.

  • Yes Please by Amy Poehler. Boring and un-funny.
  • A Natural Woman by Carole King. Badly written and only moderately interesting. More coverage of a boring land dispute than of the songs she’s written.
  • So Anyway . . . by John Cleese. Very disappointing memoir with virtually nothing about Monty Python.
  • A Fine Romance by Candace Bergen. Meandering, name-dropping, insipid memoir.

For more recommended memoirs, see both the “Serious But Not Pedantic” and the “Light But Literary” selections at right.