Learning from the Lives of Others – Enamored with Memoirs

BlogHer Original Post

Experience is not always the best teacher, only the most painful.  I read this quote years ago and it stuck with me.  I don’t remember where or who said it. (I looked it up at one of the sites to find quotations but they didn’t have it.)


close-up of fingertips holding a pen and writing on a sheet of paper

I find memoirs riveting.  People have lived through some amazing things and have such varying approaches to the challenges and happenings of life.  I wish I had discovered this genre earlier in life, although I don’t remember there being so many to choose from when I was younger.  There has been an explosion of memoirs over the last decade or so.

I find memoirs and autobiographies useful:

  • For learning what people have survived.
  • For learning how they handled life and its many sticky situations.
  • For learning about choices they made and how they made those choices.
  • For realizing that I’m not alone in whatever I’m facing.

Many of these memoirs have also made me “thankful for what it ain’t” a favorite saying of my grandmother’s.  I’ve read some memoirs that made me pick up my phone and say to my mother, “Thank you so much for being you.”  She was dramatic but firmly rooted and a consistently responsible parent.

I consider my personal blog and my BlogHer posts a living record of what I’ve lived through, what I'm doing, and what interested me enough to blog about it.  I hope that my progeny will read it to find out more about it one day. 

I have not had an interesting enough or conflict enough filled life to write a memoir and prefer to fictionalize actual events in short stories and novels.  Writing fiction allows me to move beyond the actual as well as to fill in the considerable gaps in stories that I don’t remember or from which I only had my view and want to give a more three-dimensional view from the voice of an omniscient narrator.

In the past couple of years, I’ve read a number of memoirs from my fellow travelers in this journey of life.  I’m listing them in alphabetical order.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – Dave Eggers
Along This Way: The Autobiography of James Weldon Johnson
Angela’s Ashes
– Frank McCourt
Another Bullshit Night in Suck City – Nick Flynn
Black Girl Next Door: A Memoir – Jennifer Lynn Baszille
Colored People: A Memoir – Henry Louis Gates
Committed – Elizabeth Warren
Cooked: From the Streets to the Stove, from Cocaine to Foie Gras – Jeff Henderson
Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race & Inheritance – Barack Obama
Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Warren
Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer – Novella Carpenter
Garlic & Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic In Disguise - Ruth Reichl
The Glass Castle: A Memoir – Jeannette Walls
The House at Sugar Beach – Helene Cooper

Mississippi Solo – Eddy Harris (travel memoir)
Mixed: My Life in Black & White – Angela Nissel
Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man  Who Would Cure the World – Tracy Kidder
My Life in France – Julia Child & Alex Prud’homme
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek – Annie Dillard
The Pursuit of Happiness – Mim Eichler River, Quincy Troup & Chris Gardner
South of Haunted Dreams – Eddy Harris
Step Out on Nothing: How Faith & Family Helped Me Conquer Life’s Challenges – Byron Pitts
Street Shadows – Jerald Walker
Teacher Man – Frank McCourt
Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table – Ruth Reichl
Triangular Road: A Memoir – Paule Marshall
The Urban Hermit: A Memoir – Samuel A. Macdonald
Unbowed – Wangari Maathai
What Becomes of the Broken Hearted – E. Lynn Harris
The Women who Raised Me: A Memoir – Victoria Rowell

Believe it or not, I also read a lot of fiction as well but am looking to read more autobiographies and memoirs.  Recommendations are welcome.

Related:

CarrieK on her blog, Books and Movies, has a post, Favorite Memoirs Part 1, that has a short list of memoirs, none of which I’ve read.
Justine Musk, on her blog, Love, Sex & Money (Notes from a novelist’s life in Bel Air) posted “why (not) ask why; thinking about memoirs,” writes:

Ultimately, however, memoirists share the human desire to know themselves, for their own sakes as well as their readers. They seek to recall and re-create their lives, and, in so doing, to compel readers to do the same.

She goes on to say; …”I realized that this blog is actually an ongoing memoir of sorts -- a living memoir, if you will.”

Another site that is interesting is Abundance in Memoir Writing Stimulates Cooperation at Women’s Memoirs by Kendra Bonnett

BlogHer's own Sassymonkey wrote this post, Author Admits Holocaust Memoir A Hoax

Once upon a time there was a little girl whose parents were killed by the Nazis in World War II. Abandoned, the girl takes to the woods, wandering the forests of Europe for four years. Along the way she was adopted by a pack of wolves who help protect from the Nazis. Does it sound a little fantastic? Well, it is. Author Misha Defonseca admitted that her Holocaust memoir is a hoax. Oh yes, she's not Jewish either. Of course all of this is after earning millions of dollars, having the book translated into eighteen languages and selling the film rights to it.

Another BlogHer correspondent, Virginia DeBolt, led a discussion about the link between blogging and memoir, Blogging and Memoir – is there synergy?

http://blog.candelariasilva.com

Good and plenty!

Recent Posts by Candelaria Silva

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