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Topic: Thoughts on Memoirs...

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Subject: Thoughts on Memoirs...
Date Posted: 5/19/2008 7:35 PM ET
Member Since: 5/23/2005
Posts: 6,081
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Someone posted in another thread here that she felt like she needed a shower after reading Running With Scissors.  I am in exact agreement with her.  I felt dirty, and ripped off, like a good portion was an outright lie, not just enhanced memories.

Then I read Glass Castle, and loved it.  A great story, with no real "dirt" about anyone.  Could have been fiction or non and I'd have really enjoyed it.

I followed that with Change Me into Zeus's Daughter by Barbara Robinette Moss, another pretty good story that reminded me a lot of The Glass Castle.  A lot. 

So, then I see Ms. Moss has written a sequel, Fierce, to the above book and at last, after a very long wait, I received the book.


What a rip off, I think.  The story is mostly day to day, her life as a young adult, into middle age.  Married, divorced, on welfare, married, divorced, raising a child as a single mom (which she seemed very good at, I do say).  Along the way we see how she cheated the system here and there to make it.  Then we watch her flee to Iowa to grow up, and then watch her go back home to Georgia (or one of the other nearby states) to fall into the same traps over and over again.  Just quick visits, but still...  Her father drinking, beating, crashing something.  Her brothers following in the same footsteps, drinking, beating, crashing something, threatening the wife with a gun, or a whole arsenal of guns, and where is the sheriff?  Well, she says, this is the south, and they don't come running when you say it is domestic violence.

Whoa...by her own admission, her brothers are mostly hard drinking, gun-toting good ol' boys, so are we supposed to be appalled at the sheriff for not wanting to come out again--on Christmas morning when in just a little while the wife will be hopping into the screaming husband's over-sized pick up and riding off into the sun rise, all lovey-dovey?

My point here, I suppose, is she needn't have written this book at all.  The first was a good book.  This was just page after page of rambling about what a mess her life was, and how messed up her siblings were.  I found no real redemption other than, gee, you really can write these books and make a lot of money.    I was so mad I immediately removed the first book from my keeper shelf and listed it.  As probably half a million women right now could have written this book, I felt really ripped off.

So...I have a bunch more memoirs to comment on...much better opinions, too.  But I'd like to hear what others think of these memoirs or any others you've read.

L. G. (L)
Date Posted: 5/20/2008 6:54 AM ET
Member Since: 9/5/2005
Posts: 12,412
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I'm glad you posted about the second Moss book - I would have been peeved too.  I have her first book on my TBR.

I liked Glass Castle, but it didn't have the appeal to me as A Girl Named Zippy did.  If you haven't read Haven Kimmel, you really should.  I have read Zippy, She Got Up off The Couch...(memoir) and Something Rising Light and Swift (fiction) and loved all 3.  She just has an amazing voice.

Another good one but extremely difficult to read was Jesus Land.  It's the story of a woman who lived in an extremely religious family with transraciall adopted African American brothers.  They get sent to a boarding school - I won't say much more except suffice it to dsay the boys are treated differently than she is, and it broke my heart, literally.  I have never hated people like I hate her parents.

Running with Scissors didn't bother me because I knew a family just about like that.  I found it plausible on so many fronts, even if it was "enhanced".

James Frey's My Friend Leonard was pretty good too - not spectacular, but good.   It's probably "enhanced" like his first book was, but it didn't bother me.

One book that I though absolutley stunk was Devil in the Details.  Sheesh.  I couldn't even finish it.  Another dog: Wasted: A memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia.  I finished that one but found the author whiney and filled with self-pity - and I don't belive she was ever in as dire straights as she made herself out to be.  Blech.  What a waste of time.

Sickened: The Memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood  by Julie Gregory is pretty good though.  Her mother got thrilled by schlepping her daughter from doctor to doctor her entire life.  The mother denies her claims, but Julie has stood her ground.

Anything by Linda Greenlaw is good - she was a swordboat captain and now is a lobster-woman.  There are a couple points where the fishermen show a real lack of respect for the fish (I have a real problem with fishing, anyway) but it doesn't negatae the value of her memoirs.

Among Grizzlies by Timothy Treadwell.  Absolutely beautiful!  If you love nature, you will love this book.  The follow up is The Grizzly Maze by Nick Jans - the story of Timothy Treadwell's untimely death.  If you read them, read them in this order.

Of course Into Thin Air by Jon Kraukauer is awesome (the only other account of the '96 Everest disaster that comes close, IMO (And i have read almost all of them), is Anaytoli Boukreev's The Climb.

Into the Wild by Krakauer is very good as well, though not a memoir - it's a biography, of sorts.  I cried at the end, and I don't cry often.

But now I am getting into first-person accounts, which are my favorites...

Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea by Steven Callahan.  A huge MUST  READ.  I even scrounged two copies for my keeper shelf.  I had my Mom read it and she loved it too.

Between a Rock and Hard Place by Aron Ralston.  The kid does the unthinkable to save his life.

 I am sure there are a ton more I am forgetting...will come back in and edit if I regain my memory. ;P

Last Edited on: 5/20/08 7:30 AM ET - Total times edited: 4
Date Posted: 5/20/2008 9:54 AM ET
Member Since: 5/23/2005
Posts: 6,081
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Oh, Lyn, great post.  Thank you.  I have 2 Greenlaw's, one in paper and the other in audio.  I think I will pop in the audio next.  I've heard good things about them.  And, I got both of them from you over the years!

I just finished Ruth Riechl's last book, the third in her memoirs.  I loved it...and think it the best of all three. 

Have to go to town today, but I will be back later with more thoughts on more memoirs.  I'm currently listening to Teri Garr's Speed Bumps in the car.  Liking it a lot so far. 

Date Posted: 5/20/2008 10:09 AM ET
Member Since: 3/10/2006
Posts: 2,819
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L, thanks for that long list!  I've been reading more and more memoirs lately, so your recommendations are quite helpful.  I'll definitely check out that Zippy chick and others, too.

I too wasn't blown away by Glass Castle. It was very good, but I don't love it like others do here.

I really enjoyed (?) JesusLand, too - what a heartbreaking story.

I have Krakauer's Into the Wild on my TBR, to be read soon.  I loved the movie - and it's rare I go back to read a book after a movie, but it's Krakauer, and his other book, Under the Banner of Heaven (about murderous fundamentalist Mormons) is amazing. 

I liked Augusten Burroughs' memoirs, but prefer Dry over Running with Scissors.  He has a new memoir about his father, but I wonder if he's kind of scraping the barrel at this point memoir-wise.  I'll end up reading it, I'm sure.

Aayan Hirsi Ali's Infidel is excellent as well.  It's about her African Muslim upbringing which led to her adult life in Holland and rejection of Islam.

One of my fave political memoirs is David Brock's Blinded by the Right.  How a gay conservative was forced to hide his sexuality and write untrue books about Hillary Clinton and Anita Hill at the same time. 

I recently read Diablo Cody's (of Juno fame) memoir of being a stripper for two years.  Pretty light reading and not altogether a unique story, but she's a smart and funny writer.

I'm a sucker for animal memoirs.  The Good, Good Pig is just amazing.  Also loved Grayson (about a baby whale lost) and Modoc, about one elephant's life that reads like a true fable.


Date Posted: 5/20/2008 11:25 AM ET
Member Since: 9/19/2006
Posts: 2,940
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I love memoirs, and am so behind on all those I want to read!

I loved The Glass Castle!  This was one I actually posted and then re-ordered so I could pass it on to friends.  Into Thin Air was also wonderful!

I have Zippy, Got off the Couch, JesusLand, Good Good Pig and just haven't gotten to them yet.

One to avoid is Rescuing Sprite.  Absolutely terrible!  This book could have been written by an 8 yr old.  There was absolutely no depth to it, and you could tell the author was trying to make himself seem important with all his name dropping.

I also recently read Diablo Cody's Unlikely Stripper book and found it entertaining.  I thought she was a hoot!  It was much better than Isabella St James' about living in the Playboy mansion.  The book itself was ok, but the editing was terrible.  There were spelling and punctuation mistakes everywhere.

I just got a Ruth Riechl book to read and am excited for it as she is a new author for me.

I didn't particularly like Devil in the Details.  It was fairly boring and repetitive.  It seemed like she just kept telling the same stories over and over and over...

Date Posted: 5/20/2008 11:51 AM ET
Member Since: 5/23/2005
Posts: 6,081
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Melissa, which Riechl book did you get?  I am pretty anal about reading things in order.  Are you?

Date Posted: 5/20/2008 12:11 PM ET
Member Since: 5/4/2008
Posts: 364
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I love memoirs!!  Some of my faves are:

The Glass Castle (Walls)

Change Me Into Zeus's Daughter (Moss)

A Girl Named Zippy and She Finally Got Up Off the Couch (both my Kimmel)

It's All Over but the Shoutin' and Ava's Man (both by Bragg)

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (Ryan)

All of Maya Angelou's books


All of these are wonderful books that give you a feel good feeling even though the subjects really had a hard time. 

Running with Scissors was just gross and it made me feel so dirty.  I liked A Million Little Pieces and I don't care what Oprah says.  Frey admitted that he had changed somethings in the book to protect people.  Everyone does that.  Oprah felt like he made a fool of her when the truth was that she made a fool of herself.

Date Posted: 5/20/2008 1:35 PM ET
Member Since: 9/19/2006
Posts: 2,940
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Bonnie, I usually am *very* anal about reading things in order and actually didn't know there was an order to hers...Anyway, I got Garlic and Sapphires.  Are there other books I need to read before this one?

Date Posted: 5/20/2008 4:21 PM ET
Member Since: 5/5/2006
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Editted because someone was logged in to someone else's account.  See post below.

Last Edited on: 5/20/08 4:48 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 5/20/2008 4:42 PM ET
Member Since: 5/23/2005
Posts: 6,081
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Duh.  That post above is me.  I never checked to see who was logged in.  Now I have to log out, log in under him, log out, log back in and transfer the note...


Date Posted: 5/20/2008 4:50 PM ET
Member Since: 5/23/2005
Posts: 6,081
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So, anyway, Melissa, here is what I wrote :

Yikes!!  That is the third one!  I just finished it and so absolutely loved it.  Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples are the first two.  You could read Garlic by itself, or any of them.  But, gee, try to get the others first.  Then just read them one after another.  I did the first two in a row, and waited forever for this one.


Date Posted: 5/20/2008 5:27 PM ET
Member Since: 9/19/2006
Posts: 2,940
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I guess I'd better go look for the others then!  :-)

Date Posted: 5/20/2008 6:35 PM ET
Member Since: 5/23/2005
Posts: 6,081
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What a good day, book wise.  I was able to order Zippy and Reading Lolita in Tehran from the same person and they are already on their way.   I have two other good books on the way.  Maybe 3.  I am about to take a walk, and am popping Lobster Chronicles into my walkman.  First I had to check on line to be sure she wrote that before Swordfish, but I'm still not sure.  Don't tell me if I am wrong, as I will get hives for reading out of order!  And, in researching this very important thing, I've discovered that Greenlaw is writing cozy mysteries with the protaganist being a fisherwoman!  How cool is that?

And, I just discovered I've been placing i before e in Reichl's name...it is the other way round.

A few years ago, Liese sent me The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio as a gift.  I treasure that book, and it is a keeper.  Not only for the gesture, but for the wonderful story.  Another where there are a passel of kids, an alcholic father, and a brilliant mother who keeps food on the table and furniture in the house by winning jingle-writing contests.  Remember those?  More though, it is a book so filled with love, hope and determination that in reading it, I just feel so filled up inside.  And you know, the movie was just as good.  Every single one of those actors gave the character they were playing such complete respect and consideration.  I highly recommend this book, and the movie.

Last Edited on: 5/20/08 8:12 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
L. G. (L)
Date Posted: 5/21/2008 2:41 AM ET
Member Since: 9/5/2005
Posts: 12,412
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Lobster is her third book, IIRC.  Maybe 4th.

I have the first two Reichl's on my TBR but not the third...I was going to get it from the library but if it's that good maybe I'll order it.

I really want to read Grayson (thanks Suzanne!) but haven't gotten to it yet.

I have Prizewinner on my TBR too.

It's too bad you guys can't see my TBR...600+ and most of them are memoirs.  Lots of great titles, at least.




Date Posted: 5/21/2008 12:00 PM ET
Member Since: 5/16/2007
Posts: 926
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Other than what has already been mentioned by everyone, I enjoyed these books also:


Winterdance by Gary Paulson

  This book was about running the Iditarod in Alaska.


Honeymoon with My Brother by Frank Wizner

  A wedding doesn't happen so the jilted groom takes his brother on the planned honeymoon.


The Cowboy & His Elephant by Malcolm MacPherson

 A man brings a baby elephant back from Africa and raises her on his farm. When Amy becomes too large she ends up in a circus but never forgets Bob. I love animals so this book was a good 1 for me!

Memoirs are becoming my favorite books to read and my TBR pile is heavy on these right now.


Last Edited on: 5/21/08 12:00 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 5/21/2008 12:16 PM ET
Member Since: 8/16/2005
Posts: 1,563
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Even if you're not a huge sports fan, Yao: A Life In Two Worlds by Yao Ming and Ric Bucher is a very, very good read because Yao is so personable and some of the culture clashes he experienced coming to the US from China are quite funny.

Another good sports related memoir you don't have to be a huge sports fan to enjoy is Covert: My Years Infiltrating the Mob by Bob Delaney. Delaney, currently and NBA official, was previously a New Jersey state trooper who infiltrated the mob.


Date Posted: 5/21/2008 2:25 PM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
Posts: 1,930
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I see a few books on my TBR listed and several that I've already read. I liked The Glass Castle a lot. Another I recently read and thought was very well written is Girls of Tender Age by Mary Tirone-Smith. Others memoirs I've enjoyed are:

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irine Gut Opdyke

Life on the Great Lakes, A Wheelsman's Story - Fred Dutton

The Opposite of Fate by Amy Tan

Heart in the Right Place by Carolyn Jourdan

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

Population 485 by Michael Perry

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali


These two are part memoir, part history:

Riding the Rails: Teenagers on the Move During the Great Depression by Errol Lincoln Uys

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan


I'll be the lone dissenter on Zippy. I really wanted to like that book but it just fell flat for me. Occasionally charming but I didn't really care for her writing style.

L. G. (L)
Date Posted: 5/21/2008 2:34 PM ET
Member Since: 9/5/2005
Posts: 12,412
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Not really memoir, but a great read:

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.  It discusses the culture clash between the Hmong immigrants in Modesto, CA and the medical service providers there.  A sad story, but an important one.


Date Posted: 5/21/2008 9:45 PM ET
Member Since: 8/19/2007
Posts: 1,156
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Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott

Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston

and Drinking: A Love Story (I can't remember the author)

Date Posted: 5/22/2008 1:31 PM ET
Member Since: 8/27/2005
Posts: 4,136
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I loved the last two memoirs I've read:

Ice Bound by Jerri Nielsen--the doctor who discovered she had breast cancer while snowed in at the South Pole.

Also, Miracle In The Andes, by Nando Parrado--one of the soccer players marooned in the Andes after a plane wreck.  After this incident happened a book was published about it but seemed exploitative, so I never read it.  A couple of years ago this book came out and I thought it was beautifully done--kind of a painful book to read but also very moving.

I also read an autobiography by Mia Farrow--I've always liked her acting and the fact that she has adopted so many kids, but I have to say, she made a lot of questionable decisions in her personal life.  Throughout the whole book I kept saying, what were you thinking, Mia!

L. G. (L)
Date Posted: 5/22/2008 1:58 PM ET
Member Since: 9/5/2005
Posts: 12,412
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Miracle in the Andes is very good.

Date Posted: 5/22/2008 2:24 PM ET
Member Since: 8/30/2007
Posts: 3,237
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I didn't like Running With Scissors, either, it gave me an anxiety attack. I don't like to read memoirs that are really explicit about horrible topics. I picked up Dry at the thrift store, knowing I could swap it here, and oddly enough, I thought that book was much better.

I agree that The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio is a lovely book and movie. The author's mother was truly an extraordinary person. And Into Thin Air--that is, hands down, one of THE best books I've ever read, in any genre!

There are several books mentioned here that are in my TBR pile: Zippy, Lobster Chronicles, Reading Lolita.

For those who've enjoyed Ruth Reichl's books, you might also enjoy Laurie Colwin's two books of essays, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. They're food- and cooking-oriented, but with lots of charming details and memories about her life. I also loved Elizabeth Ehrlich's book Miriam's Kitchen...it's a memoir about the author's Jewish childhood and family, and a chronicle of her adult efforts to learn how to keep a kosher kitchen from her mother-inlaw, Miriam, who was a Holocaust survivor.

I always recommend Growing Up by Russell Baker as a fantastic memoir, it's about his childhood during the Depression and his relationship with his mother. It's gently funny, but he doesn't downplay the desperation of those times for the people in his family.

Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin is the story of her childhood in 1950s New York and her relationship with her father and the bonding they did over the Brooklyn Dodgers. One of my favorites.

I'll peruse my shelves and see what else I can turn up. :-)

Date Posted: 5/22/2008 3:25 PM ET
Member Since: 5/23/2005
Posts: 6,081
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Oh, my goodness.  All the books to find and order! 

As for Winterdance, Lester has highly recommended that one, and it is on my wishlist now.

Amy Tan is one of my favorite authors, I especially love her first three books.  And she didn't disappoint at all with The Opposite of Fate.  If you've read Joy Luck Club, then you can follow along in this one and see how she took so much out of her real life.  And her mother's life.  Both books are then so enhanced. 

Annie Lamott is another favorite, but, oddly, I really enjoy her non-fiction far more than fiction.  Bird by Bird I have in both paper and audio.  What fun to hear her read that book herself.  She is quite funny,  as she showed later in Operating Instructions, a book on her first year as a single mother.  And then she came out with Traveling Mercies, the story of her alcoholism, her falling deeper and deeper into the depths of dispair, single and pregnant, and then she found this church --perhaps they are Baptists, can't remember-- and these people took her under their tender wings,  never judged her, and brought her back to herself and her God.  A jim dandy of a book.  I have the sequel to that, More Thoughts on Faith, on my TBR. 

Janelle, thank you for those recommendations.  A good part of what I especially liked about Reichl's books are the recipes, the food.  I am a food addict.  Unfortunately, I don't care much to cook.  But I sure do like reading about cooking.

Oh, so many many more books to look into.  Thank you all for chiming in.   Anyone read Jeanne Marie Laskis's books, essays in the "back to the land" theme.  Oh, gee, those are great!


Date Posted: 5/22/2008 7:46 PM ET
Member Since: 5/23/2005
Posts: 6,081
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By the way, hoping Ms. L. G. comes back and sees this:

1) I read "Lobster is her third book, IIRC.  Maybe 4th." and broke out in such a rash that I had to drive 20 miles to Walmart for Benadryl!  I hate reading out of order!  But I did keep going, am halfway through, and don't think it matters much as so far she barely mentions swordfishing.

2) I read "It's too bad you guys can't see my TBR...600+ and most of them are memoirs.  Lots of great titles, at least." and swooned off my chair, banged my head, and had to drive 20 miles to Walmart for Tylenol for the subsequent headache.

Now I know you've emptied your PBS shelf long ago...but hoping against hope, I just checked it out.  Bah.  Why don't you post some of these memoirs!  I have credits to burn....

Then again, why don't you hire a babysitter and write your own memoir?  It will knock 'em all out of the bestseller lists.

L. G. (L)
Date Posted: 5/23/2008 4:47 AM ET
Member Since: 9/5/2005
Posts: 12,412
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Well thank you, my dear - what a wonderful thing to say!! :)

I will admit - anything I don't keep I have been giving to a friend of mine, but I keep most of the good ones.  I will put you on my "offer" list and let you know the next time I have one that you might like. :)

I quit trading books when the postage went up.  I'm just too dang frugal - I can get used books here at $0.50 for PB and $1.00 for HC.  It's too good to spend over 2 bucks sending out books.  Once I use up my credits I'll probably sit for awhile and decide what to do.  I was buying them discounted but now I suspect the price will go up again.

Maybe I can send you my TBR list via email...Hummmm....it wouldn't have the links, but it would have the titles and authors....lemme think about that!