Monday, May 4, 2009

Inspirational Memoirs

I have been reading memoirs over the last few months in part to be personally inspired by other people's stories, but also to learn how a successful memoir is written in the hopes of one day having mine published. I will list here the ones I have read, along with a few words about each.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Read: July 2008
Source: Linked off Margaret's blog
Review: I haven't actually read this book, but I watched the video of the lecture itself. It was really inspirational, and the one thing that really resonated with me was an insight he shared. The professor broke the world down in to two kinds of people: Tiggers and Eeyores. This struck me as so profound at a time when I was trying to figure out why my marriage had failed. In the end, perhaps it came down to the fact that I am a Tigger, and the guy who had just walked out on me was an Eeyore. This is a really poignant lecture, and if the book reflects that, it has earned a well-deserved spot on the best-sellers list.

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert
Read: December 2008
Source: Picked up at the airport bookstore on the way to China.
Review: This book had been recommended to me by a few people and was on the NYT best-seller list. I figured reading a book about a thirty-something woman travelling the world after her divorce would be apropos as I travelled to China months after mine. I enjoyed the book well enough, although the author seemed to lack introspection in many sections and often seemed a bit too whiny for someone so privileged to be travelling the world on a book advance. I found out later than many reviewers felt the same way, and the book even spawned a parody. The portion set in Italy was just okay. I almost felt like I'd had more revelations while living in that country as a nineteen year old than she did as a thirty-something. The Indian portion inspired me to pursue yoga and meditation. And the Indonesian portion, when she falls in love again was hopeful but closed the book with many unanswered questions rather than tying up her story with any meaningful conclusions. It spoke to me at a time I needed to know I was not the only one who felt lost and alone, but I wouldn't describe it as "life-altering"

People Are Unappealing: Even Me by Sarah Barron
Read: March 2009
Source: A gift given from Ian, with the intent to go to a reading together
Review: This was a funny memoir of a girl my age from the Chicago suburbs who became a waitress in New York City while pursuing her real dreams. Her anecdotes about her childhood were very humorous - every other sentence read like a punch line. While the book follows her life from childhood to womanhood, it does not read as a coming-of-age story but rather hits touch points in her life that shaped who she is today. Again this book ends abruptly. For someone so enamored by Jerry Springer, I would have hoped that she would have at least included a "final thought" to sum up her hilarious existence.

When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win: Reflections on Looking in the Mirror by Carol Leifer
Read: April 2009
Source: A birthday gift from Ramon
Review: Ramon knew this was the book for me when he saw that Chapter 2 consisted entirely of a list (and I love me some lists). The narrator is a woman who reflects on her life as a fifty year old woman. She is a divorcee-turned-lesbian, animal hater-turned-dog rescuer, and later-in-life mother. The moral of her story, told through anecdotes and observations, is that old dogs can learn new tricks and leopards can change their spots. While the narrator of this novel may have superficially had the least in common with me, her book was so charming, insightful and funny that I think it may have resonated with me the most.

I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell Tucker Max
Read: May 2009
Source: From Ramon who found it so funny, I had to know why
Review: My brother had recommended the book to me years ago, and recently the man I am dating was laughing so hard he was crying while reading this book. I kept asking him to relay the anecdotes that had him cracking up, so eventually he just bought me the book. I have to admit, the author's tales of drunken debauchery were funny (I even laughed out loud at a few anecdotes). However, I think you have to be a guy to fully appreciate the extent of the pleasure and pain this guy was privy to.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
Read: Started in January 2009, but have not picked it up in awhile
Source: Airport bookstore on the way to China
Review: I am not finished with this book yet, but I enjoy that it is both narrative and educational. The author describes a year of eating locally, with food sourced from their own land or neighboring farms and green markets. The fact that all of the family members contribute to the book gives it a chorus of voices that tell a bigger picture than a regular memoir. I wish I could follow in their footsteps, but it's not that easy to raise a goat in a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan.

Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip--Confessions of a Cynical Waiter by Steve Dublanica
Read: online for years
Source: the internet
Review: I read this anonymous blog starting when I was a waitress, and when it became a book the author revealed himself. I attended a reading at the Barnes & Noble at Columbus Circle to satiate my curiousity of who this guy was. I enjoy his anecdotes and insights, both about life as a waiter and just life in general.


Dan said...

My favorite memoir collection-and-through narrative has to be "What Should I Do With My Life" by Po Bronson. There are stories for and by people in all different stages and kinds of life. The last chapter especially gives me strength that the seemingly endless preparation and training can one day pay off.

Sara Barron said...

Jerry Springer ends each heart-wrenching episode with his "final thought," not a "last thought."


>For someone so enamored by Jerry
>Springer, I would have hoped that
>she would have at least included a
>"last thought" to sum up her
>hilarious existence.

Ian said...

"Makes Me Wanna Holler" by Nathan McCall. Growing up in working class Virginia leading to a prison term for attempted murder, getting out and going on to college and a successful career in journalism taking him to the newsroom of the Washington Post. I read it in middle school, then took 3 classes from McCall when I was in college, including one for a summer study abroad trip to South Africa that he led.

Definitely my favorite prof in college, and a great memoir.