Channelling Anothers’ Experience

My modest collection (not including ebooks!) of memoirs

I have found myself completely enveloped in Cheryl Strayed’s new memoir, Wild.  When I say that I am enveloped, I mean every day I can’t wait for the moment when I can read the next chunk of it. And when I am not either reading it or anticipating the reading of it, I am thinking about it.  I am contemplating what she did wrong, and how I would have done things differently.  I am wondering about the pieces of her adventure that did not make it into the memoir.  What am I missing? What is she not telling me? Or even, how much is she being truthful and how much is she glorifying for a best selling ticket? I am both a critic and her biggest fan.  This is how I always read memoirs.

In a time when social media is everywhere and people are constantly “sharing” the little tidbits of their lives, memoirs are breeding on the shelves of local bookstores and ebooks libraries.  Everyone wants to tell their story to the public.  I have not yet made up my mind on if this is a good thing or a downfall.  Instead, I feel as though we are drawn to reading memoirs in the hopes that we can find that human to human connection.  We want to relate to the author.  We want to feel as though we know that person and understand what they are going through.  Or possibly we want the comfort in knowing that we are not the only ones going through a particular situation or contemplating a certain notion.

For those who also enjoy immersing themselves in someone else’s story, here are my top 10 memoirs:

1) An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison   The most accurate account of someone battling the mental illness bipolar.  A woman who is both persuing a career in academic medicine and struggling with an illness that she tries to understand.  This reflection is about a woman who is striving to be the healer for those with the illness that she longs to be healed from.

2) Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi The secret meetings of seven students and their courageous teacher in revolutionary Iran, where they read forbidden classic Westerns.  These women come from all walks of life and the only thing they share is their secret life of literature they read together in the living room of one brave woman.  All women have so much to lose and even more to gain in this hilarious and heartbreaking memoir.

3) The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion One of my favorite essayists pays tribute to her late husband and their life of good times and bad in this effort of making sense out of a time when nothing made sense. After her husband dies, and their only child is left in a coma, Didion shares her personal yet universal struggles with grief, love, and getting on with her life.

4) Night by Elie Wiesel This horrific autobiography about a teenager surviving the Nazi death camps will leave you contemplating the inhumanity that so many inflicted upon men.  It is a memoir meant to be a testament to the horrors that occurred during the Holocaust so as to never be forgotten.  Although it is a tough read, it leaves you thinking more about the why’s and how’s, than of the actual events that are described.

5) Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt  A personal account of growing up in Depression-era Brooklyn and Ireland, to Irish Catholic parents.  It’s the telling of his parents, Angela and Malachy, and their very different ways of providing for their family.  Somehow these saddened memories are told with such forgiveness and humor, that you find yourself mesmerized by what was going to be told next.

6) The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride  “God is the color of water”, Ruth McBride taught her eleven children.  Married to a black minister, mother of eleven, born in Poland and emigrated to America, she is a woman who never admits she is white to her children.  Instead she teaches them that life’s values transcend race.  This is a tribute to his mother and her extraordinary story that was her life.

7) Out of Africa by Isak Dineson  A beautifully written, true account of living on her plantation in Kenya.  The descriptive language describes the beauty in not only the landscape, but in the native peoples and their simple way of life.  She shares about the coffee trees, the daily chores, the spiritual world that blessed and cursed the land, and the charming baby gazelle, Lulu, who came to live with her.  This story inspired me to travel to Africa and never fails to put me right back in the midst of it.

8) On the Road by Jack Kerouac  At the heighth of the Beat Generation, hitch hiking, and living “off the grid”, this was the one iconic memoir represented all that was American.  Poetically written, Kerouac chronicles his adventures of traveling across the country with his pal.  This inspiring memoir continues to influence generations nearly four decades after its publication. 

9) Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Yea of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver  This is the quintessential  “you are what you eat” story of a family who uprooted and moved to rural America in the quest to move as far away from the factory-produced food industry as possible.  They vowed to buy only locally raised food, grow it themselves, or simply learn to live without it.  Humorously and naturalistically written in the way that only Kingsolver does, one can’t help to aspire her lifestyle.

10) Wild by Cheryl Strayed  A memoir about rediscovery and finding one’s identity on the rugged path that is the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail).   A woman who is dealing with grief, regrets, and remorse finds herself uprooting everything and trading it all in for an oversized pack she nicknames “Monster”, and a pair of too-small leather hiking boots.  This book shamelessly exposes both the bravery and idiocracy that illuminate the many miles Strayed hikes alone in the wilderness.

Happy reading! Next up for me is Stealing Buddha’s Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen.