My Year in Books (Part 3: Memoirs)

Memoir

Just like the previous posts on fiction and nonfiction, this graphic shows you the memoirs I read in chronological order. Unlike the previous days’ genres, this one offered no disappointments. If you like memoirs, you cannot go wrong with any of the titles on this list.

Still, if you only want to read ONE…

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson – This book deserves all the hype it’s received. Some of the stories I knew from having heard Stevenson speak twice at conferences, but the way he tells them (both in person and in this book), I could hear them twenty times and still be moved. It’s hard not to want to make the world a better place, however you can, after reading this. (Note: I went back and forth on whether this title might be more aptly categorized as nonfiction, as it centers more on the cases Stevenson has been involved with than his life story, but it is his story of justice and redemption, so I put it here.)

The memoir that taught me the most

No One Cares about Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America by Ron Powers – Half memoir, half nonfiction research on the history and stigmatization of mental illness, this book was illuminating in many respects, as I hadn’t thought as deeply about the oppression of mentally ill people as I have about other oppressions.

Surprises

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren – I added this to my 2017 list because of the many “Best of 2016” lists it landed on. I admit I was skeptical, as I am not a science-minded person. I do not have any living things in my house besides my family, and they are still alive because they remind me they need to be fed every now and then. So, the facts that I not only enjoyed this book but also now appreciate trees and plants more than before is rather remarkable. And, this memoir took some turns I didn’t expect.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah – I am not a Daily Show watcher, so I only knew of Trevor Noah peripherally before someone recommended this book. I also knew very little of South Africa. I cannot say enough about this book, which is really somewhat of a love story for his mother, all while tackling race, class, culture, and gender. Brilliant. (After reading this, I watched two of Noah’s comedy specials on Netflix, and I highly recommend his “Afraid of the Dark.”)

Hunger by Roxanne Gay – I read Gay’s Bad Feminist years ago and don’t remember loving it, so I reluctantly picked this up based on all the attention it was getting. It’s an excellent book for understanding body-shaming and developing empathy. I would put it in a similar camp as Shrill (mentioned below), but this one packed more punch and tugged on the heart a bit more.

The rest…

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance – If you want to further understand class, and further understand the white working class in America, this book is an insightful memoir to get you started.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West – I picked this up after seeing a blurb about it in the local bookstore. Jenny Lawson, another fabulous author, said it best: “Required reading if you’re a feminist. Recommended reading if you’re anyone else.” Hopeful and heartbreaking and funny and sad.

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie – Having taught Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary… and knowing a bit about him, I was intrigued by this memoir about the loss of his mother. It was very raw, and some of the recollections were repetitive, but this is another one of those books I can see people recommending about grief, like Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. 

I’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro – Picked this up after seeing Tig’s stand-up live. I was aware of the confluence of unfortunate events via the documentary on her (cancer diagnosis, sudden death or her mother, and a break up all within months), but this book was insightful, humorous, and very readable.

 The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich – This was so fascinating as a piece of writing – non-fiction…but not quite, given the many ways Lesnevich fictionalizes what she does not know. Memoir…but not solely, given how she weaves her story in with the murder case she is researching. It is gripping.

The Glass Eye: A Memoir by Jeannie Vanasco – I DEVOURED this book. Dead dad, grief, mental illness, and a dead half sister she never knew? All up my alley!

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy – Whoa, was this super readable. I have since read reviews, and I can see the criticism of Levy as a privileged woman whose elitism comes through…but that position does not detract from the immense trauma she experienced and writes of so poignantly.

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