I’ve read a few memoirs recently that have fascinated me. Thinking back on the reasons they captivated my attention I’ve come up with a theory. An amazing memoir must be both familiar and foreign.
Familiar – I want to feel a connection with the subject or the location or the conflict of the memoir.
Foreign – The subject’s adventure or issue must be beyond anything I have ever imagined.
Here are a few examples:
If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name by Heather Lende – This memoir of small town life in Haines, Alaska felt familiar because I grew up in Alaskan villages. Moose, bears, hunting, small planes and weather delays were a regular part of life. And yet, foreign, because she shared stories of a different tribe. It was a new culture in which I learned about people of the ravens and the eagles.
Nothing to Declare by Mary Morris – Morris shared her adventures as a woman traveling solo through Mexico and Central America. It was familiar because I’ve also traveled alone several times and yet foreign due to the personnel struggles and observations she shares. Ironically, this book was stolen out of our rental car while we were traveling in Mexico. Good thing I’d already finished it!
Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez –When Rodriguez, an American hairdresser left her home in 2002, just after the fall of the Taliban, she found her hairdressing skills were in high demand. This story was familiar, because I’ve had some hair-brained (pun intended) ideas sometimes that everyone around me doubted. And foreign, because Afghanistan is just that, a completely foreign country and culture.
If you’re looking for entertaining and inspirational memoirs to connect with for your own reasons, here are a few worth checking out. For your own reasons, I would love to hear what you find familiar or foreign about them:
My Floating Grandmother by Gerald Schnitzer – Panic was a permanent guest in the Schnitzer’s home during the 1920s. They celebrated life, but never in moderation. Thanks to Gerald’s grandmother acting as a traffic cop on an emotional oasis, order was restored. Before her death, Grandma Sarah discovered the calming waters off Coney Island. She never learned to swim, not a stroke, but she could float, sometimes out of sight of land – but that’s another story.
My Life in a Tutu by Jackie Madden Haugh – Life as Jackie had known it was shredded through the meat grinder that is infidelity. She quickly spiraled out of control into a world of depression and self-loathing. As her four children became impatient with the demise of their supermom, Jackie realized it was time to take an accounting of how she let herself fall so low—or lose her children too.
Diary of an On-Line Dating Junkie by Dawn Marie – After more than 15 years of marriage, Dawn Marie’s got a divorce, a daughter, and a dilemma. Diary of an Online Dating Junkie chronicles, in hilarious and heartwarming detail, the real life journey of a woman who finds herself looking for love online. The road is bumpy and filled with incredible highs, like a shiny new Porsche, and devastating lows, like an empty bank account and a rock hard bed in a tiny trailer. Dawn takes her experiences in stride and it doesn’t take long for her to realize that finding true love might just be the most difficult test of her life.
Nerdy Thirty by Wendy Townley – Set primarily in Omaha and small towns throughout Nebraska, “Nerdy Thirty” comically recounts the author’s “nerdy” experiences in elementary school, high school, college, and her twenties, leading up to her 30th birthday. The book celebrates awkward and unusual situations she found herself in, including: camping for the first time; spending a weekend at a rodeo; masquerading for a night as Audrey Hepburn; socializing at a lesbian bar; and finding her voice as a writer.