I am a fiction lover. I throw some nonfiction onto my TBR pile once in a while just to give the impression that I am well-rounded, but given my preference I’d turn to fiction almost every time. Sometimes, though, I suffer from fiction burn-out, a kind of been-there, read-that ennui that can only be remedied by a dose of memoir.Technically, memoir is non-fiction, but I say it is the fictioniest of the nonfiction and therefore is the perfect antidote for fiction-burnout. Here are just a few that I have read and enjoyed.
Preistdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
Memoir of a childhood spent in the Midwest with a quirky family and a priest for a father. This book sings and crackles with humor and wit and then hits you in the feels. Strange offbeat childhoods are the usual stuff of great memoirs, but this one feels fresh. This is probably due to Lockwood's facility with language. Often you have to take a beat to marvel at individual sentences...or to catch your breath after laughing. Lockwood does both her father and her mother justice. She creates vibrant characters out of their idiosyncratic behavior, but also reveals their humanity. The reader knows that, of course, Lockwood's parents were human and flawed and made mistakes, like parents from the beginning of time, but what fun to watch them through Lockwood's eyes. Religion in this book just is, like air. She questions and she analyzes, but she does not vilify nor disrespect another person's need for a different experience, a different quality of air.
Famous Father Girl : a Memoir of Growing up Bernstein by Jamie Bernstein
Read this memoir in prep for the two competing movies about legendary conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein that are in the works (one starring Jake Gyllenhaal!). What shines through in this memoir is the complicated love a girl has for her charismatic, talented father and how that can color your future relationships and personal goals. Bernstein accomplishes this with not an ounce of self-pity, but in a clear sighted, balanced way. No doubt, JB had moments of rage aimed at her father, rage that in the immediate moment had great meaning, but through the long lens of their relationship, was rage she could live with and not be warped by. Did it sometimes feel like she was looking at her father through rose-colored glasses? Sure. But let’s leave the microscopic examination of Bernstein to the scholars, and be glad that we get to hold a loving daughter's view of a complicated man up against more objective biographies.
Michael Ausiello—a respected TV columnist and co-founder of TVLine.com—remembers his late husband, and the lessons, love, and laughter that they shared throughout their fourteen years together. The true test of a memoir: do you become invested or do you read it as an observer would. I can honestly say that I was so invested in Mike's and Kit's life that since I knew the ending, I found myself reading more and more slowly so that I could keep Kit alive in my mind just a little bit longer. You can tell that Ausiello is A TV entertainment writer because he tells the story in well-crafted sound bites, which is not to say he glosses over the difficult parts, he doesn't. You get his relationship with Kit, warts and all, but what comes through is the love and devotion. The last chapter is as heartbreaking, but is also as wonderful, as they come. Ausiello's voice rings true.
Not technically memoir but just as good: a meaningful celebrity biography.
Marilyn in Manhattan by Elizabeth Winder
This is a lovely and heartbreaking portrait of a curious, passionate, and smart woman who was trying so hard for people to really see her. It's evident in this book that it might have been otherwise for Marilyn and the year that
she spent in Manhattan may have been the closest she came to authenticity joy. It would be easy to write MM off as a childish, emotionally stunted, damaged woman (even if at times she is all of those things). Winder does not let the reader do that. She gives us MM's flaws, but merely as part of her greater complexity, which I think is often ignored in favor of the more dramatic mythos that has accumulated around her story.