This post first appeared on my Red Room blog.
My favorite memoir is Alison Bechdel’s FUN HOME. The subject matter intrigued me—Bechdel’s dad worked as a funeral director, and my dad was a gravedigger. I couldn’t wait to discover her perspective on life and death.
What greeted me was the most expertly woven and dense memoir I’ve ever read. There’s the surface story—growing up with a father who harbors secrets and her own budding awareness of her sexuality. But beneath that are complicated, rich themes of stories that circle around, books as metaphor, and intellectual curiosity.
In shaping my own memoir, I referred often to FUN HOME. I took extensive notes and plotted out the action on each page to discern patterns. Upon each reading I would discover something new and often exclaimed “Brilliant!” to myself. FUN HOME is like a writing workshop in book form. A perfectly executed memoir that all aspiring writers should have on their shelves.
What’s your favorite memoir, and why?
Richard Gilbert said:
Fun Home is on my reading list! I love Karr’s Lit and Dubus’s Townie and Orr’s The Blessing and . . . so many others. Too many good memoirs now, like novels, to keep track of.
Agreed! I have yet to read the ones you have mentioned. Again and again I read about how great Karr’s work is and I’m embarrassed I have yet to get to it.
I listened to an interview on the Other People podcast with Lidia Yuknavitch and it reminded me that I need to soon read THE CHRONOLOGY OF WATER.
Tracy Lee Karner said:
There are so many good writers, so many good memoirs–I couldn’t possibly choose a favorite. Whichever one I’m reading at the moment? (I haven’t read Fun Home or Almost French–I know it’s impossible to read everything, but sometimes I try. Now I’ll have to seek these out).
I found it interesting to read the series of Ruth Reichl’s memoirs, to see the way she imagined and reinvented herself from the publication of the first (in 1998), to the last (2005) as she became more famous, and even, perhaps, as she turned a more calculated eye toward the “market” and flirted with what truth and disclosure mean and whether giving the audience an entertaining story is any less truthful than any self-narrative, which is always an invention of sorts.
I probably will always be partial to Patricia Hampl’s Romantic Education. After I wrote my first recollections of childhood, before I read her memoir, I discovered that she had already written nearly all my ideas, and much more eloquently than I was capable of writing, and if I published any of it, people would assume I was copying her.
I almost gave up writing then, because I thought I would never have anything worthy of saying. Then I learned that it isn’t really the subject or the idea that attracts me to a writer, it’s the voice combined with the craft and the art of writing.
Amy Kortuem said:
I’ve been reading a lot of memoir in the past couple of years simply because I’m writing in that genre now. I don’t think I ever ventured into the genre before my writing project demanded to be written.
But the one that stands out for me is “Almost French” by Sarah Turnbull. She was the first memoirist who wrote about moving to a foreign country with real honesty about not just the “Ooh, the Eiffel Tower!!! Oooh, the croissants!” kind of blah blah blah, but also the loneliness, the awkwardness, the doubt and the fear.
Now I’m going to add “Fun Home” to my amazon.com cart after ‘Wild”…
Turnbull’s book sounds great, just like something you should have read considering your own subject matter.
I’m trying to think of other memoirs that shed light on the warts-and-all foreign experience. I feel like I know of some, I just can’t think of them right now.