If, like me, you find it far easier to examine other people’s lives than contemplate your own (who needs the stress?), then allow me to introduce you to a few of my favorite memoirs from the past year. And who knows: perhaps through reading them, you might even end up doing a little inadvertent self-reflection—good way to start off 2014, right?
The Death of Santini, by Pat Conroy
For over four decades, Conroy has earned his prominent place in the Southern literary tradition, and The Death of Santini, a follow-up to his novel, The Great Santini (1976), does his reputation justice. If The Great Santini, a novel inspired by Conroy’s tumultuous relationship with his emotionally abusive, ex-Marine father, Donald Conroy, showed a gulf between father and son, then The Death of Santini is proof that wounds can heal. This heartbreaking and ultimately redemptive memoir is hauntingly beautiful, and a complex tribute to family.
Stitches: a Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, by Anne Lamott
A follow-up to the compelling, best-selling Help Thanks Wow, Stitches is Lamott’s latest rumination on the power of faith and prayer. As always, she is humble, hopeful, and hilarious, offering an accessible narrative to those of us who can get bogged down in our search for meaning and peace in a frantic world. Lamott urges us to hold onto hope, reconnect with each other, and patiently repair ourselves, one stitch at a time.
Sister, Mother, Husband, Dog: Etc., by Delia Ephron
Delia, the second of four Ephron sisters , recently collected her thoughts in this touchingly candid collection of 15 essays. As the title suggests, Ephron offers insights on topics like siblings (in “Losing Nora” and “Collaboration”), maneuvering a complicated mother-daughter relationship (in “Why I Can’t Write About my Mother”), love and marriage (in “Blame it On the Movies”), and, a little apologetically, her dog (in “Dogs”). While Ephron’s tone is conversational, full of rhetorical questions and wry parentheticals that reveal a quirky literary mind, her prose is underscored by raw emotion and keen observation, lending her work peerless depth and vitality.
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett
In this collection of 22 essays and commencement addresses released last month, beloved essayist and novelist Patchett reflects on pivotal moments in her life, including her decision to become a writer, open a bookstore in her hometown of Nashville, and transition from divorce into remarriage. Additionally, she speaks candidly about her research for her critically acclaimed novel, Bel Canto, and in “The Right to Read,” her commencement address to Clemson University, she offers a defense of artistic freedom, invoking her memoir Truth and Beauty, which details her friendship with writer Lucy Grealy.
Let Me Off at the Top! My Classy Life and Other Musings, by Ron Burgundy
In a genre dominated by narratives of self-doubt and various neuroses, Burgundy’s memoir is a breath of fresh air. As the jacket notes explain, “Ron Burgundy has taken the time to write a book. We owe it to him, as honest Americans, to read it.” Filled with humorous and inspirational anecdotes from a man who claims to be the greatest anchorman alive, Let Me Off at the Top! is also a story of a modest man who, though the included color photographs would tell another story, lives a surprisingly normal life with wife Veronica, dog Baxter, and boat The Shining M’Lady.
My Mistake, by David Menaker
In this dynamic memoir, Menaker, the former editor of The New Yorker, offers a moving rumination on his word-loving life. From his early days as a fact-checker in 1969, to his 24 years as the New Yorker editor, Menaker deconstructs a hard-working life, which has had its share of luck, triumphs, and tragedies, in prose that is impassioned, witty, and lovely. Do not miss this one.
Playing House: Notes of a Reluctant Mother, by Lauren Slater
A psychologist and acclaimed writer, Slater was wary of the challenges and overwhelming responsibilities of raising a family, so she offers wry, helpful insights and commiseration to those of us who feel the same way. Though her brutal honesty makes it a difficult read at times, this book is an ultimately rewarding experience, and a wonderful meditation on the meaning of family.
What were some of your favorite memoirs of 2013?