Friday, June 1, 2018

Memoir Junkie

I am a memoir junkie. My book group refuses to read them---we only read novels and the occasional short story collection. But I love memoir. I read it, I write it and I teach it. Many of my students are writing memoirs.  They are the people I discuss memoir with. My college friend Rachel Hoffman Greenwald asked me to list my favorite memoirs and another friend just asked for a few recommendations to take on vacation with her. Here's my list. I love adding to it so if you have recommendations, please let me know. 

Memoirs and Essay Collections:

Sherman Alexie, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, great memoir about Alexie’s relationship with his bipolar mother. He is a native American poet, recently accused of sexual harassment, but book is still great.
George Hodgman, Bettyville, wonderful memoir about gay former Vanity Fair writer who moves home to take care of his aging mother, who won't acknowledge his sexuality.
Paul Kalinithi, When Breath Becomes Air, memoir about young surgeon who has cancer.
Mary Karr, Lit, great memoir about Karr’s marriage, alcoholism and deeply flawed mother. Karr is a poet and teaches at Syracuse, she’s brilliant.
Mary Karr, Liar’s Club, great memoir about Karr’s childhood and relationship with father.
Adrienne Lieve, The Rules Do Not Apply, great memoir by bisexual New Yorker writer who miscarries in Eastern Europe.
Ariel Leve, An Abbreviated Life, writer’s NYC artist mother has borderline personality disorder.
Yiyun Li, Dear Friend, From My Life, I Write to You in Your Life, writer has nervous breakdown and writes her way out of it by reading and writing about great books.
Phillip Lopate, A Mother’s Tale, Lopate teaches creative non-fiction at Columbia, taped conversations with his mother before she died and wrote memoir about it.
Phillip Lopate, The Art of the Personal Essay---there are so many brilliant, devastating, hysterical and inspiring essays in here. Check out: Consolation to His Wife by Plutarch; Of a Monstrous Child by Michel de Montaigne; On Marriage by Robert Louis Stevenson; Going Out for a Walk by Max Beerbohm; The Death of the Moth by Virginia Woolf; Such, Such Were the Joys by George Orwell; Aunt Harriet by Hubert Butler; He and I by Natalia Ginzburg; Meatless Days by Sara Suleri; Once More to the Lake by E.B. White; Once a Tramp, Always, by MFK Fisher; Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin; Split at the Root by Adrienne Rich; Goodbye to All That by Joan Didion; Do He Have Your Number, Mr. Jeffrey? by Gayle Pemberton; Under the Influence by Scott Russell Sanders. This book is my bible and is especially helpful if you are writing your own memoir.
Joyce Maynard, The Best of Us, memoir about Maynard’s second marriage to nice man who dies.
Joyce Maynard, At Home in the World, memoir about Maynard’s affair with JD Salinger; she dropped out of Yale to go live with him in New Hampshire.
Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior: Doyle Melton was bulimic, alcoholic, and unhappy in her marriage. She shares all. This book is hard to put down.
Glennon Doyle Melton, Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life. More from Melton. She writes about the challenges and ultimate deterioration of her marriage, as well as her emergence as a terrific writer. After the book was published, she married the two-time Olympic gold medalist and FIFA Women's World Cup Champion, Abby Wambach.
JR Moehringer, The Tender Bar. Great memoir about a guy who was raised by a single mother and grew up in a bar.
Dani Shapiro, Hourglass, Time, Memory, Marriage. Interesting, intimate look at author’s marriage. Shapiro also wrote Still Writing and Devotion. Still Writing is about her life as a writer, Devotion is about her search for spirituality.
JD Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Great memoir about a guy who grows up with drug addict mother and loving grandparents and becomes Marine/Yale law school-educated lawyer/venture capitalist, mentored by Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
Jennifer Weiner, Hungry Heart:  Adventures in Life, Love & Art. Wonderful collection of essays. Author’s father was mentally ill psychiatrist who became crack addict; author’s mother came out in middle age, after four kids. In addition to writing about her parents, Weiner writes about rowing crew at Princeton and getting thrown off the team for being overweight, the influence of John McPhee on her writing, her pregnancies and miscarriage, her kids, her marriage, her sister, her battles on Twitter and her beautiful, brilliant career as a novelist writing about and for women. I keep buying this book as gifts for people I love. Read it---you won't be sorry.
Surprisingly Good Celebrity Memoirs: My younger son David read these memoirs and I listened to them on Audible. It’s a total pleasure to listen to these people read their own work if you do have Audible.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Spring Syllabus: Diaz, Lahiri, Loehnen, McCann, Mukherjee, Munro and Sittenfeld

For the past nine months, I've been teaching intensively. The lovely thing about teaching is that you have summers off, if you want them.This summer, I plan to meditate and drink lattes with steamed almond milk in the mornings and then drink cold brew iced coffee and write for long stretches into the afternoons and evenings. Teaching makes my writing time feel precious, but right now, I don't have enough of it. That said, I love teaching writing. I love my students and I love being paid to read great writing, unpack it, explore it and then teach it. It is in so many ways a dream job. I've been lucky in that I work with several groups of writers, who are committed to our writing workshops, passionate about reading fantastic short stories, novels, memoirs and essays, and committed to churning out their own great prose. So many writers I work with are also fun and funny. It is a pleasure to know them and read their work.

Below are some of the readings my students and I have unpacked and discussed together these past few months. The best thing about  reading and teaching great writers? You are always in excellent company.


Junot Diaz, The Silence: The Legacy of Childhood Trauma (non-fiction). There has been a great deal of controversy surrounding Diaz and this piece. It’s a brilliant, disturbing read.

Jhumpa Lahiri, Trading Stories: Notes from an Apprenticeship (non-fiction). Great piece on how she became a writer.

Ben Loehnen, On Losing a Husband and (Almost) Losing a Wedding Ring (non-fiction). Lovely piece about what happens to a man's wedding ring after his husband unexpectedly dies.

Colum McCann, The Word Shed (non-fiction). Beautiful piece about McCann's writer-father.
Colum McCann, Looking for the Rozziner (non-fiction, originally published in Granta). Breath-taking piece about McCann's writer-father.
Colum McCann, But Always Meeting Ourselves (non-fiction, The New York Times). Lovely piece about how McCann was able to finally write about his late grandfather.

 Siddhartha Mukherjee, My Father’s Body, At Rest and in Motion (non-fiction). Beautiful piece about Mukherjee's last months with his father.

Siddhartha Mukherjee, Runs in the Family (non-fiction). Great piece about how schizophrenia runs in his and other families.

Alice Munro, Passion (fiction). *See note below on more Alice Munro stories.

Curtis Sittenfeld, And They Said It Would Never Last (non-fiction). Wonderful piece about a shirt Sittenfeld wore again and again.

Curtis Sittenfeld is a novelist and the author of a new short story collection, You Think It, I’ll Say It, which is terrific--- funny and tart. During the past year, we’ve read three of her pieces in The New Yorker: The Prairie Wife, Gender Studies and Show, Don’t Tell. The Prairie Wife and Gender Studies appear in her new collection.

*More Alice Munro stories: Reading Alice Munro always makes me want to write. She’s not always easy to dive into, but she creates beautiful, vivid worlds, and if you set aside a half hour or so to immerse yourself in one of her stories, she will take you to another place and will probably inspire you want to write too. Right now, I’m finishing up Munro’s short story collection, Runaway, which is terrific. Please see below links to the Alice Munro short stories I have assigned over the years. They are all fiction except where indicated and are all available free from The New Yorker, except for Train, which is available through Harper’s archives. Here also is a link to everything Alice Munro has published over the years in The New Yorker.  Enjoy!

Deborah Treisman Q&A with Alice Munro about Dear Life (interesting to read how she mixes fact with fiction)

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Two of my students mentioned  Washington Black  by Esi Edugyan  in class. One asked the other, "Do you like it?" The other nod...