Monday, March 9, 2015

Ten Books For Readers Who Like Memoirs

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

Sorry I haven't managed to post much other than Top Ten Tuesdays lately — I've been sick for the past two weeks with one thing after another, so I haven't had much energy for putting together my own post ideas. Soon I will get back in the swing of things, I promise!

This week I'm sharing some great memoirs for those who like this genre or are interested in trying it out. The great thing about memoirs is that there are a wide variety to choose from — they might cover a brief period of time, from someone who went through a particularly difficult or memorable experience, or they might cover much of a person's life from someone who has many interesting stories to tell. They can give you the opportunity to get inside the head of people whose life experiences are very different from yours.

Here are ten I recommend:

1. Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas
I picked this up from my mom's bookshelf over a decade ago — we had Iranian neighbors who became close family friends, which I think is why my mom bought this in the first place. What I remember of it was funny and sweet, the typical ups and downs of being an immigrant combined with the eccentricities of Dumas' particular family. It also provides an outsider's view of America, and the cringeworthy ways in which Americans went from completely ignorant to open hostile toward Iranian immigrants during Dumas' childhood. Good for both the new perspective and the laughs.

2. Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets by Sudhir Venkatesh
One of my top nonfiction picks from 2014, this is Venkatesh's experience of spending several years getting to know the inner workings of a city gang, as well as the others in the projects where the gang operated. I found it most valuable for the lessons about poverty and crime, but the Venkatesh's firsthand experiences kept me hooked.

3. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
I reread this recently and was struck by what a talented memoir writer Walls is. Despite having a very difficult childhood with poverty and parental neglect, she doesn't spend time mulling over her own thoughts and feelings — she lets her stories speak for themselves. Although Walls does not excuse her parents' choices, she invites the reader to have a nuanced view of those who are homeless, poor, or neglectful of their children as people who may be highly intelligent but have a very different set of values and life philosophies than you or I.

4. I Had Brain Surgery, What's Your Excuse? by Suzy Becker
Once upon a time I was a volunteer shelf reader at our local library, meaning I sometimes came across books like this one with interesting cover art and intriguing titles. And sometimes they turned out to be really enjoyable reads as well. Through a combination of humor, illustrations, and honest writing, Becker tells the story of needing and recovering from brain surgery. Heartwrenching at times (if you live by writing and drawing, what happens when you suddenly can't form coherent sentences?), it's also funny and relatable, even if you've never had to have major surgery.

5. The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband by David Finch
Finch's marriage was close to falling apart when his wife suddenly realized that he had a lot in common with the kids she worked with who had Asperger Syndrome. One diagnosis later, and Finch decided that since he couldn't intuitively figure out how his wife wanted him to act, he would start taking notes. This book is the story of the rules he learned (like "Don't change the radio station when she's singing along" and "Apologies do not count when you shout them") and his journey of trying to implement them, which contains lessons for anyone who's struggled with building a life with someone else, neurotypical or not.

6. Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson
If you were sorting my books based on Number of Times I Laughed Out Loud While Reading, this would definitely make the top ten. Lawson's ridiculous life experiences and bizarre way of looking at the world are closely related to her struggles with mental illness, which are dealt with honestly and hilariously throughout this book. Whether you read it to better appreciate a different way of experiencing the world or just for the funny stories, you're basically guaranteed at least a few laughs.

7. My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor
From living with diabetes to being a Latina woman in America to ending up a Supreme Court Justice, there are a lot of reasons Sotomayor has an interesting and valuable story to tell. Her stories about her career in particular provide guidance for women looking to be taken seriously in male-dominated fields, but I think she could serve as a role model for anyone. She consistently chooses to take on new challenges as opportunities to learn, to serve others, and to reach her goals. Her writing could be stronger, but her story is worth a read.

8. An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina
Rusesabagina was the inspiration behind Hotel Rwanda, as he allowed his hotel to become a shelter for over a thousand refugees during the horrific Rwandan genocide. He not only tells of his own experiences during this terrible period, but he also provides valuable background for those whose knowledge of the Rwandan genocide and its origins is limited or nonexistent, as mine was. His condemnation of America's ignorance and inaction is painful but not unwarranted, and it made me glad I took the time to read his story and learn a little more.

9. Teacher Man by Frank McCourt
Everyone knows McCourt's first book, Angela's Ashes, but this is my favorite of his books. After his turbulent childhood and before he became a writer, McCourt spent three decades as a teacher. He starts out without much of a clue what he's doing and with plenty of students who have no respect for authority or education. Over time, he learns how to get through to his students, even when it means doing things unconventionally. I don't know if I would hold McCourt up as an example of The Best Teacher Ever, but I enjoyed taking the journey with him as he struggled to figure out how to best serve the ever-changing groups of students that passed through his classroom.

10. Warriors Don't Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High by Melba Pattillo Beals
I wrote about this previously as my favorite book of December 2014. Melba Pattillo was one of the Little Rock Nine, and her experience at Central High School was far worse than I ever imagined. This is worth a read both for its historical value and for the author's inspirational courage.

What are some of your favorite memoirs?

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  1. What an interesting list! :-) I think it's important to read memoirs. I definitely need to read some more!

  2. Libby @ Through the WardrobeMarch 10, 2015 at 12:31 AM

    Great list! Memoirs is definitely a genre I dip into rarely but SO glad you've got Jenny Lawson's on there - funniest thing I've read in a long time! Do you read her blog too?

  3. I don't; I've read a few posts when people have linked to them, but I found there were too many inside jokes and stream-of-consciousness continuations of earlier posts for my taste. I liked her writing better in a contained book format.

  4. Have you read any you've particularly liked?

  5. I'm not a fan of memoirs but heard a lot of great things about My Beloved World so I might look into it.
    Lovely list. :)

  6. I definitely need to read more funny memoirs, so I think Funny in Farsi and Let's Pretend This Never Happened should be added to my list :)

  7. You should — it's definitely inspirational!

  8. I hope you like them! I Had Brain Surgery, What's Your Excuse? is also quite funny.

  9. I haven't read any of these but several will be added to my TBR now. I would never have looked at #5 but the description has me really interested.

  10. That one was recommended to me by someone — I had never heard of it before, but it was a good read!

  11. Great list! I've not heard of many of these but I'm going to have to check some of them out.

    Krystianna @ Downright Dystopian

  12. I'm sorry that you have been ill! There were a couple of weeks in February when I was sick as well. I guess it's that time of the year, and the weather being so weird everywhere. I do love to read memoirs, so I will have to check out the books on this list! The last one I read and really enjoyed was Positive by Paige Rawl.

    Tiffany @ Beneath the Jacket Reviews

    My TTT

  13. Yeah, it seems like lots of people were sick. I guess it's that time of year. Thanks for the memoir rec!

  14. I like the idea of a "One Day" list vs. a To-Read list -- has much more of a feeling of "Books I'd like to read one day" than "Books I ought to read ASAP." Thanks for stopping by!

  15. Alex @ The Book BannerMarch 16, 2015 at 7:41 PM

    So many of these books are already on my TBR pile and the rest are going on there now! I love a good memoir and these all sound so interesting. Maybe one of these will be my next book. :D Great list!

  16. Thanks! It's great to find a fellow memoir-lover :)