books · genre · memoir

Tell Me Your Story – the reading of a memoir

In the past 12 months I have moved into the genre of memoir largely due to the monthly picks from my book club.  This is a category I normally would not seek out yet I am so glad that these books found their way into my life.

The feature photo for this blog post had been on my “to read” list for a very long time.  Although the majority of the members of my book club did not enjoy Jeannette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle, I found myself incredibly intrigued by her story as parts of it felt surreal.  Unconventional is not even an appropriate word to describe Walls’ up-bringing and the fact that she overcame such incredible obstacles and wrote the tale, is remarkable.  Children truly need rules, boundaries and security.  Yet Walls and her siblings (most of them) managed to grow up “normal” contrary to what the Western world views as a normal childhood and suitable parenting.  I often thought as I read through her memoir that this book would be an excellent read for the sociology class I used to teach.

Further our book club dove into the very Canadian memoir of Farley Mowat’s last book titled Otherwise.  Here Mowat tells the tale of his early childhood through to the mid-1940s after his experience in WWII. Wow did this man ever lead of life of adventure!  Although my Canadian childhood was not as exciting as Mowat’s I could relate to his treks into the wilderness and encounters with insects, snakes and other forest critters as I has the privilege of spending my summers in Long Point, Ontario.  I liked Mowat’s memoir because of not only the adventures that he wrote about but also his true passion to seek justice for isolated indigenous peoples and how he contributed so much to science.  His writing is vivid and he writes this memoir with such clarity and purpose that I could see the other characters and animals as each adventure was told.

During a trek to Hamilton’s Public Library (hpl.ca) I found an intriguing title: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty.  Not your typical memoir Doughty discussed working in a crematorium in her twenties.  This memoir was fascinating in both how much I learned about this field, but also how funny it was.  Death is not a subject that is usually associated with humour but Doughty managed to make the anecdotes quite hilarious at times.  I liked this memoir because I learned about a subject that I was very unfamiliar with without feeling the discomfort that the subject of death usually creates in people.  It was truly a fascinating read.

The fourth memoir that found its way into my hands was Lindy West’s Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman.  I really liked this book.  It was empowering, relatable and very truth driven.  West is a woman who does not mince her words but most definitely gives a voice to topics of feminism, fat-shaming, internet harassment, rape and equality to name a few. This memoir may not appeal to everyone but I thought it was a worthwhile read as she tackled many taboo and controversial subjects (which as an aside is ridiculous that some of those topics are still taboo in the 21st Century!)  I am looking forward to what West publishes next.

The last memoir that I read I finished at the end of June.  I was a hard read but such a necessary book in our culture that is slowly eroding.  Roxane Gay is an author I have come to respect and admire.  Thank you to bookriot.com for featuring her writing across my Facebook feed.   Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body was an ultimate memoir for me.  I could relate to much of what Gay shares in this raw memoir.  Her story breaks my heart yet at the same time I can relate to hiding in the fat — when you are fat no one notices you (ironically) or bothers you sexually.  Her story is about safety and her own recognition of self-destruction. She writes with honesty opening herself up to tell a story that needed to be told.  I feel like her book came at exactly the right time.  It is hard to understand what it means to be fat unless you lived or are living that life and to see it through Gay’s lens is eye-opening.  I would urge people to read this memoir to take a look through that lens, if only to empathize with a fraction of what Gay faces each day.

So there you have it.  Five compelling and uniquely different memoirs that have come my way in the past 12 months.  It is a genre worth discovering because you never know the impact a person’s story can have on your own life.

books · genre · reading · science fiction · what if

A Step Out of my Comfort Zone – My Discovery of Science Fiction

It started in grade 9 English when I read The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.  What should have been an epic entry into the world of Science Fiction turned sour very fast.  The book was confusing and choppy and at the time, my English teacher was having some issues or at least we think she was.  Perhaps if I had some better guidance I would have embraced Bradbury and his attempt to write in the short story genre (more on short stories in a later blog post).

Fast forward a few decades and I have learned to like and even enjoy the genre.  Why wouldn’t I as a self-professed lover of Star Trek, Star Wars and Firefly?  As I delved deeper into the genre at the behest of my husband, I learned to appreciate the genre for its unique qualities.  As Joyce Saricks says, “Even the biggest science nerd in the world appreciates a good story, and the SF novels that tell good stories are the ones we need to know to share, especially with readers who might not consider themselves fans of the genre.”  And she should know as the Queen of genre writing.

My first real attempt at enjoying the genre came as I read The Unit by Swedish author Ninni Holmqvist.  I was skeptical but intrigued.  As I read further into the book I started to see the appeal of this multi-faceted genre.  My conscience was rattled.  My ethical radar shot up as the story unfolded.  I started to think that this could happen to us!  After reading the novel I thought about it for days.  That is one thing I really appreciate about the SF genre is the WHAT IF? questions that stew in your brain long after the book is closed.

From that time I have read other SF books including most recently A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle which I would have loved as a 10-13 year child.  The genre is valuable for so many reasons and I often found that my students would gravitate to this genre reading such titles as:  1984, Ender’s Game, Frankenstein, Dune, I Robot, and The War of the Worlds.  

As for Mr. Bradbury, I rediscovered his writing through the highly original Fahrenheit 451 which offered me a good look into the dangers of censorship and defiance.  Book burning!  Oh the horror!!  I’m not done with this genre yet.