The world is full of stories. While some are more compelling, all are worthy as efforts by storytellers to situate themselves in time and place.
Why read memoirs? Memoirs are the most personal of stories. We learn about others and perhaps, even more importantly, we learn about ourselves.
If you intend to write a memoir about your life or about your family, a fine place to start is by reading memoirs by others.
Here are a few of my favorite memoirs (in no particular order):
The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine, by Somaly Mam (2008). As a young girl in Cambodia, Somaly Mam was sold into sex slavery. She finally escaped, and now works to end sex trafficking in Cambodia and around the world. I read The Road of Lost Innocence in one sitting. I literally could not put it down. It made me laugh and it made me cry. It has my highest recommendation.
Here is a link to Somaly Mam’s organization: http://www.somaly.org/
The Railway Man: A POW’s Searing Account of War, Brutality and Forgiveness, by Eric Lomax (1995). A British officer captured during the Battle for Singapore in 1942, Lomax was a POW held by the Japanese through the end of the war. An exceptional memoir and a moving testament to the power of forgiveness; a gift to all of us. A special memoir for me: my Mom recommended it years ago. Highly recommended.
My Old Man and the Sea: A Father and Son Sail Around Cape Horn, by David Hays and Daniel Hays (1995). Conflict and love between a father and son during a life threatening shared experience in some of the most dangerous waters in the world. Exceptional. A special memoir for me: my Mom recommended it years ago. Recommended.
About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory, by Barry Lopez (1998). An excellent memoir of the writing life by one of our finest writers and storytellers.
Barry Lopez on story: “It is through story that we embrace the great breadth of memory, that we can distinguish what is true, and that we may glimpse, at least occasionally, how to live without despair in the midst of the horror that dogs and unhinges us.” (page13 of About This Life).
Scraping By in the Big Eighties, by Natalia Rachel Singer (2004). A quirky, fun memoir. Singer is a compelling storyteller. I really enjoyed this. Recommended.
This Heart of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind, by Ivan Doig (1978). A fine memoir, one of the finest I have ever read. Doig is an iconic writer of the American West. Highly recommended.
I can’t end a blog post on memoirs without mentioning one of my most favorite books, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, by Terry Tempest Williams (1991). It is Williams’ memoir of her family’s history of breast cancer along with a natural history of the Great Salt Lake in Utah and its bird populations. It is stunning, and a fierce and beautiful memoir by one of our finest writers. Like Mam’s book, it has my highest recommendation.
I have had the honor of meeting Barry Lopez and Terry Tempest Williams on separate occasions and chatting with each of them briefly. I’ve attended a reading by Ivan Doig, but I haven’t “met” him.
Terry Tempest Williams is an exceptionally generous writer and person; she told me “courage with your writing.”
On a personal note, one of my “back burner” projects is a memoir. I will write and publish a memoir – not because I have had a remarkable life, but because there are some stories I want to tell.
Please write and tell me about your favorite memoirs!