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#WritersRead: Reading Memoir by Rochelle Melander

I started reading memoir years ago, thinking it might help me write my own. It did. As I revise my memoir, I continue to be fascinated by how other writers structure the narrative of their lives. Here are some of the memoirs I’ve read in the past year and a few that sit on my “to be read” stack. Add your own suggestions in the comment section for a chance to win my copy of Poser.

What I’ve been reading. This collection of memoirs by women has captured my attention this spring. Each story is enough on its own, but this collection of memoirs offers additional gifts—stories of strong women, information on yoga and knitting, and visits to new countries, both here and abroad.

Honey and Vinegar by Linetta Davis. In Honey and Vinegar, poet and teacher Linetta Davis combines narrative, journal entries, and poetry to tell the story of her journey through grief after her father’s sudden death. Though this memoir is about Davis’s grief, it is also an amazing testament to Davis’s father’s love for her, her own strength, and her faith.

Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer. Dederer began taking yoga after she hurt her back while breastfeeding her daughter. As Dederer explored a regular yoga practice, she began to wrestle with the meaning of various roles in her life. In the memoir, Dederer flashes between two periods in her life: raising young children and growing up in Seattle in the early seventies. And here’s the bonus gift you receive when reading this memoir: Poser is a beautiful narrative introduction to both yoga and Seattle.

Yarn: Remembering the Way Home by Kyoko Mori. Writer and teacher Kyoko Mori learned to knit as a child in Japan, but it was not until she was a graduate student that she began to master the art. In Yarn, Mori explores her own family history, including the suicide of her mother, her unraveling marriage, and the history of needlework.

The Bread of Angels: A Journey to Love and Faith by Stephanie Saldaña. When Saldaña left for her year in Syria, she was escaping the end of a romantic relationship and a difficult family history. Saldaña structured her story after St. Ignatius’s spiritual exercises: The Fallen World, Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. Despite the long journey to resurrection, the reader is treated to the many riches the author finds in Syria: magical friendships, a new language, a renewed faith and love.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Walls and her three siblings were raised by parents who were both brilliant and dysfunctional. When her father was sober, he taught them physics and geology, and he invited them to work on his inventions. Her mother made art, wrote stories, and encouraged the children to find their own way. In the spaces between, the siblings formed a tight bond with each other and learned how to fend for themselves.

What I want to read. When it comes to books, my eyes are bigger than the spaces in my calendar. I buy many more books than I have time to read. Here are a few of the memoirs I’m planning to read this summer.

The Shaking Woman or A History of My Nerves by Siri Hustvedt

Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr.

I’ve Heard the Vultures Singing: Field Notes on Poetry, Illness, and Nature by Lucia Perillo

Devotion: A Memoir by Dani Shapiro.

The Pain Chronicles by Melanie Thernstrom.

Lonely: A Memoir by Emily White.

Your turn. What memoirs have changed your life? What books would you recommend I add to my summer reading list? Leave your comments in the space below. At the end of the week, I’ll put your names in a bag and have a drawing. The prize? My copy of Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses.

11 Responses

  1. siiri

    Hey! I bet you’ve already read Beryl Singleton Bissell’s The Scent of God (counterpoint, 2008). If not, you should. I am particularly fond of her as a neighbor and lovely human, but also because we at LSPC have published her newest memoir, A View of the Lake. If you’d like to review it, I will be delighted to send you a copy! xo Siiri xo

  2. writenowcoach

    Yes, I loved that book. Thanks for reminding me of it! And yes, do send me a review copy of her new one. I would love to review it.

  3. Beth Hoffmann

    Our book club read The Glass Castle, the only book on your list that I have read.
    Mom’s interest in folk medicine started my drinking apple cider vinegar and honey, I remembered when I looked again at Honey and Vinegar.

    The memoir by Lois Patton, A Bowl of Cherries, was a pleasure to proofread. Lois’s life had some downs, but the main characters in this book were good people, and that’s the kind of book I like to read.
    Books about knitters that I’ve read with benefit include Knitting into the Mystery, by Susan S. Jorgensen and Susan S. Izard, about knitting prayer shawls. I’ve started making three panels in the prayer shawls I knit, k20,p20,k20 in each row. Purls both directions look like knitted stitches.
    Knit Together, by Debbie Macomber, who knits lots of things, includes an encouragement to intentional Bible study on p. 126.
    Having Our Say by Sarah L. Delany and A. Elizabeth Delany is another wonderful book about living intentionally, if not always conventionally.

  4. Anne Basye

    A great question and a great prize. My answer will be long.

    I loved, loved, loved, Frank McCourt’s memoirs, for their incredible music, their story telling power, the images they left behind. Then I found “Are You Somebody? The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman” by Nuala O’Faolian. This was the girl’s version of the Irish life, with poets who get pregnant by men who never marry them, but keep feeding their children and writing poems anyway. She wrote a second volume before she died, and I’ll bet it’s good, too.

    Kathleen Norris always intrigues me because she explores so many states of mind without revealing much about herself. Her memoir “The Virgin of Bennington” made me laugh because about halfway through it becomes the memoir of ANOTHER PERSON ALTOGETHER. What sleight of hand.

    Have you read “Round-Heeled Woman” by Jane Juska? She put an ad in the New York Review of Books that said, “Before I turn 67, I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like.” This is the story of that ad. Her second book, “Unaccompanied Women,” a little darker and sadder, looked into her life after 70.

    And finally, I like memoirs by women who hung with the Beats, especially “How I Became Hettie Jones” by Hettie Jones, who was married to the poet Leroi Jones (later Amiri Baraka). How does a young Jewish girl from the upper west side enter the downtown scene and have a completely different life than anyone expected? “Minor Characters” by Joyce Johnson (old girlfriend of Kerouac) is also good.

    The book I would like to read this summer is “Explorers of the Infinite: The Secret Spiritual Lives of Extreme Athletes.” It is more spiritual reporting than memoir, but would probably grease our writing minds too. “Poser” is on my list. Maybe you’ll send it to me! thanks, Rochelle!!!

  5. I’ve recently discovered Ruth Reichl. She combines her love of good food (along with experience in food journalism.) I’ve read “Garlic and Sapphires,” about her experiences as a food critic for the New York Times. She assumed many disguises so she could go into restaurants incognito — and then took on the persona to match the pseudonym and disguise. Interestingly, she learned a lot about herself and her relationships with people in the process.

    Then I read an earlier memoir, about growing up with memories relating food and people; it’s called “Tender at the Bone.” Next I want to read, “Not Like My Mother.” In the two books I’ve cited, we get a glimpse of Reichl’s manic-depressive mother and some of their relationship problems, so I’m interested to read her memoir which focuses on this relationship and her feelings toward her mother. I don’t believe this one has anything to do with food.

    And yes, I loved the “Glass Castle.” The follow-up narrative, “Half-Broke Horses,” written from the mother’s point of view, didn’t work out so well. It is difficult to absorb someone else’s memories and try to transform them into a first-person narrative.

    Marjorie Pagel

  6. Aleta Chossek

    Memoir of a Sunday Brunch is a delight for anyone from a big chaotic family and it has the advantage of being written by a local person Julia Pandl. Among other childhood memories it chronicles her experiences and the life that centered around their family’s restaurant, Pandl’s of Bayside. Totally different, but also from a local author, is Two Chai Day by Irene McGoldrick, a memoir of becoming a widow in her 30’s with two young children. Both memoirs benefit from fresh, honest writing filled with humor as well as pathos. Finally, the absolute master of memoir is Terry Tempest Williams. Refuge is a classic but her most recent Finding Beauty in a Broken World transported me from seemingly disparate settings to a new understanding of Mosaic.

  7. writenowcoach

    Anne, this is such a great list. I am going to get Explorers of the Infinite. I am very interested in extreme athletes and what it takes to be one. I am also curious about the Beat memoirs–I have not explored them. I did read Juska’s Round-Heeled Woman and loved it. I also loved McCourt, O’Faolian and Norris. There’s something about memoir–gives me a chance to look at the world through other eyes. Thank you for this amazing review of books I’ve loved and books I have yet to meet!

    1. Michael Scott

      On extreme athletes read – Born to Run by Chis McDougal. Well written, and a great story mingled with good tangential stories on life, people and ways of thinkging. Awesome book. Found myself laughing and crying throughout….


  8. writenowcoach

    Marjorie and Aleta, thank you for the additional recommendations! I have not read much of Reichl–so I will check out her books. I am also glad to hear about Terry Tempest Williams. I may even have some of those on my shelf, waiting to be read. Ahh, so many books, so little time!

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