(Updated August 21st, 2012.)
In his memoir Palimpsest, the late Gore Vidal wrote that “a memoir is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked.” It’s natural that the aspects we remember and want to make into a book are turning points: a religious awakening (as described by G. Willow Wilson and Kaya Oakes in their memoirs The Butterfly Mosque and Radical Reinvention), personal catastrophe (Madeline Sharples writes about her son’s suicide in Leaving the Hall Light On), or recovery from serious illness (Diana Raab’s Healing With Words) or addiction (Albert Flynn DeSilver’s Beamish Boy).
Earlier this month, we asked Red Roomers to blog about their favorite memoirs. A few posts stood out:
- M.F.K. Fisher wrote beautifully about her life of food, travel, and love. Even her not-so-positive books (like the one about survival during wartime, when food is scarce) inspire member Zenaida Recidoro, as she recounts in "Eating Wolves."
- In "My Favorite Memoir," author Madeline Sharples writes about the connection she felt to Dina Kucera when reading her memoir Everything I Never Wanted To Be, even though Kucera's background and harrowing tale bore only a slight resemblance to her own.
- Author Scott Adlerberg is almost surprised by a memoir that talks about a happy childhood! He writes about English author W. H. Hudson's Far Away and Long Ago in his entry, also entitled "My Favorite Memoir."
These bloggers will receive books by Red Room authors:
“I was raised in a clock tower with bats in the belfry.” So begins, Beamish Boy, the harrowing account of Albert Flynn DeSilver’s inspirational journey from suicidal alcoholic to Poet Laureate and beyond. Not your typical addiction memoir, Beamish Boy reads more like a witty and poetic novel, offering a profound window into the human condition, complete with its tragedies and ecstasies—illuminating one man’s quest for lasting wisdom.
More used to mosh pits and pro-choice rallies, Kaya Oakes decided to return to the Catholic Church of her Irish roots after running away for thirty years. Radical Reinvention is a story of transformation, not only of Kaya’s from ex-Catholic to amateur theologian, but ultimately of the cultural and ethical pushes for change that are rocking the world’s largest religion to its core.
Leaving the Hall Light On charts the near-destruction of one middle-class family whose son committed suicide after a seven-year struggle with bipolar disorder. Madeline Sharples's memoir combines memoir with an uplifting story of grief recovery, resilience, and survival. Special congratulations to Madeline, by the way: Leaving the Hall Light On was rereleased in paperback earlier this month by Dream of Things.
Don't forget to check out all the favorite memoir blogs. Many memoirs show how coming through crisis leads to a creative shift: many memoirists are first-time authors, and even experienced authors who publish a memoir usually write about crises that led to growth. With her frank and harrowing I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou inspired generations of voices that, without her example of overcoming racism, sexism, and horrifying abuse, never would have been emboldened to write their own stories and change their own lives. (All of Red Room's past blog challenge wrap-ups are listed here.)
Thanks as always for blogging!
–Huntington W. Sharp, Senior Editor, Red Room (who thought his favorite memoir was Vidal's Palimpsest, by the way, until Zenaida Recidoro brought up M.F.K. Fisher's The Gastonomical Me—conflict!)