Lit: A Memoir

Lit: A Memoir

3.5 179
by Mary Karr

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Lit is about getting drunk and getting sober; becoming a mother by letting go of a mother; learning to write by learning to live. Written with Karr's relentless honesty, unflinching self-scrutiny, and irreverent, lacerating humor, it is a truly electrifying story of how to grow up—as only Mary Karr can tell it.


Lit is about getting drunk and getting sober; becoming a mother by letting go of a mother; learning to write by learning to live. Written with Karr's relentless honesty, unflinching self-scrutiny, and irreverent, lacerating humor, it is a truly electrifying story of how to grow up—as only Mary Karr can tell it.

Editorial Reviews

Pam Houston
“Scrappy, gut-wrenching. . . . Irresistible. . . . [Written] with trademark wit, precision, and unfailing courage.”
Redbook Magazine
Body + Soul
“Mary Karr sparked a memoir revival with The Liars’ Club—now she’s back with Lit to describe how she turned those early troubles into literary gold.”
Michiko Kakutani
“Searing. . . . A book that lassos you, hogties your emotions and won’t let you go. . . . Chronicles with searching intelligence, humor and grace the author’s slow, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes painful discovery of her vocation and her voice as a poet and writer.”
Samantha Dunn
“Karr could tell you what’s on her grocery list, and its humor would make you bust a gut, its unexpected insights would make you think and her pitch-perfect command of our American vernacular might even take your breath away…. [Karr] holds the position of grande dame memoirista.”
Susan Cheever
“In a gravelly, ground-glass-under-your-heel voice that can take you from laughter to awe in a few sentences, Karr has written the best book about being a woman in America I have read in years.”
Melanie Gideon
“As irresistible as it is unflinchingly honest. . . . With grace, saltiness and profanity galore, Karr undeniably re-establishes herself as one of our finest memoirists and storytellers.”
Rebecca Steinitz
“Dazzling. . . . Lit reminds us not only how compelling personal stories can be, but how, in the hands of a master, they can transmute into the highest art.”
Ken Tucker
“[A] radiant, rueful, rip-roaring book. . . .Warm enough to burn a hole in your heart.”
Carmela Ciuraru
“There isn’t a single false note in Lit.”
Bob Minzesheimer
“A redemptive, painfully funny story.”
Michelle Green
“Karr movingly depicts her halting journey into AA, making it clear her grit and spirit remain intact.”
“Lit matches its predecessors in candor and outstrips them in insight.”
Valery Sayers
“Karr’s sharp and funny sensibility won me over to her previous two volumes, but what wins me over to Lit is the way her acute self-awareness conquers any hint that hers is the only version of this story…. Karr is as funny as ever.”
Steve Ross
“With this third book Karr has managed to raise the bar higher still on the genre of memoir.”
Beth Greenfield
“[Karr] continues to delight with her signature dark humor and pitch-perfect metaphors delivering large doses of wit and painful insights. . . . There are plenty of memoirs about being drunk, but this one has Karr’s voice-both sure-footed and breezy-behind it.”
Elizabeth Foy Larsen
“Mary Karr has never lacked for material. But she’s always delivered on the craft side, too, with her poet’s gift for show-and-tell.”
“A brutally honest, sparkling story.”
Vanity Fair
“Mary Karr restores memoir form’s dignity with Lit.”
Library Journal
Currently an award-winning, best-selling memoirist who described herself as an "on-my-knees [Catholic] spouter of praise" in a 2007 New York Times blog interview, Karr (The Liars' Club; Cherry) narrowly escaped a troubled upbringing and early adulthood that included alcoholic, psychotic parents, being raped as a child, and her own descent into alcoholism. She describes hitting rock bottom—an event that marked her transformation into the mother she was trying to escape—and her subsequent conversion to Catholicism in addition to the maturation of her writing style. The writing here sometimes seems affected, but her tale is riveting, her style clear-eyed and frank. That Karr survived the emotional and physical journey she regales her readers with to become the evenhanded, self-disciplined writer she is today is arguably nothing short of a miracle, and readers of her previous two books won't be disappointed. VERDICT This latest installment of Karr's autobiographical saga is essential for fans of lurid, meaty memoirs. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/09.]—Megan Hodge, Randolph-Macon Coll. Lib., Ashland, VA
Kirkus Reviews
Acclaimed poet and bestselling memoirist Karr (English Literature/Syracuse Univ.; Sinners Welcome: Poems, 2006, etc.) deftly covers a vast stretch of her life-age 17 to her present 50. The author picks up where her 2000 memoir Cherry left off-escaping her toxic childhood in small-town Texas for the California coast. Quickly bored, and realizing it was a mistake to turn her back on higher education, Karr secured loans and sought the book-lined security of the college campus. Most of the scenes that unfold from here, unlike those from her eccentric childhood, are more familiar: the college student desperate to manifest her intellect; the poor country girl trying to prove to her rich WASP dinner hosts that she's worthy of their son; a sleep-deprived new mom with a pot roast to cook; the AA newcomer who thinks she doesn't really have a problem; the sinful skeptic arriving at faith. The difference, though, is the way in which Karr renders these stories. She still writes with a singular combination of poetic grace and Texan verve, which allows her to present the experiences as fresh, but she also brings a potent, self-condemning honesty and a palpable sense of responsibility and regret to the narrative. These elements were necessarily absent from her previous memoirs, in which there were plenty of adults to blame; she is writing from a significantly different place now. Her confessional of outrunning her past only to encounter the same monsters, before being saved by prayer and love for her son, is richer for it. Karr also provides fascinating anecdotes from her experiences as a writer, especially her time at Harvard and the emotional publication of her universally praised debut memoir, TheLiars' Club (1995). Will ring as true in American-lit classrooms as in church support groups-an absolute gem that secures Karr's place as one of the best memoirists of her generation. Agent: Amanda Urban/ICM

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HarperCollins Publishers
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4.50(w) x 7.00(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Mary Karr is the author of three award-winning, bestselling memoirs: The Liars’ Club, Cherry, and Lit, as well as The Art of Memoir, also a New York Times bestseller. She received Guggenheim and Radcliffe Fellowships for poetry and is the Peck Professor of Literature at Syracuse University.

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Lit 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 179 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this book even more far-reaching and important than The Liars Club! It is one of the most candid and useful memoirs having to do with recovery that I have encountered...and I am sixty-four years old. Mary Karr is honest, skilled and most interesting as she describes relationships and events in her life. I am so grateful that I took the chance and purchased this wonderful book! I would have missed so much otherwise! Fred Lippert
harstan More than 1 year ago
This is a fascinating memoir as writer Mary Karr obviously has come a long way. In Texas her parents were alcoholics who when sober were psychotic, but when drunk were beyond the fringe. However, much of that period is in her previous autobiographies The Liars' Club as a preadolescent and Cherry as a teen. Instead Ms. Karr picks up her saga in her late teens and takes it to her current age of fifty years old. She left for college on the west coast, but though bored tried to desperately to prove she belonged at school and with her boyfriend's affluent parents. Like her parents she turned to alcohol to numb her past so those demons would not harm her present. When she became a devout Catholic Ms. Karr feels that changed her emotionally so that she can feel good about living inside her skin as even Harvard failed to give her the inner confidence of belonging she desperately sought. Well written with incredible insight and yet filled with self deprecating humor, Mary Karr explains her obsessive human need for self actualization and acceptance. Ms. Karr's third memoir looks deep at herself seemingly even more so than before; perhaps because this time the adult cannot use the unintended consequences of the shield of a child (The Liars' Club) or a teen (Cherry ) to garner empathy from her readers. This is a winner of a courageous person overcoming her roots to make it in her mind. Harriet Klausner
JiminAk More than 1 year ago
Having read "The Liars' Club" and "Cherry" I had great expectations for "Lit", which were fulfilled. Karr's bitter honesty about her self appraisal, her life, and desires keeps your nose in the book. I had no idea that Karr had carried this tremendous weight for so long. Hats off to her, and hope her telling of this difficult story releases some of her demons she has kept at bay for so long. This book will significantly effect many who read it.
jnetb More than 1 year ago
Anyone who read The Liar's Club and Cherry has probably already bought or borrowed a copy of Lit, Karr's their memoir, which takes her from college to marriage, parenthood and divorce. A genetic donation from her alcoholic parents lands her in a mental institution, which she survives. Her son's curiosity about religion awakens her own, somewhat begrudging, faith. Karr is an entertaining, yet earnest storyteller, as exemplified by the book's title, meaning someone drunk on booze or literature or both. She records conversations and event details more clearly than most people living in a fog of liquor. The grace and vigor of the writing could only from from Mary Karr, poet and Texan.
Scarla More than 1 year ago
It may seem as though the memoir genre has been thoroughly strip-mined, but "Lit" is by Mary Karr -- the progenitress of the category -- and is just as bone-deep honest and moving as her first autobiographical volume, "The Liar's Club". It's a must read for anyone in recovery, or has struggled with addiction, not to mention co-dependency issues. And if you think your family is bizarre or disfunctional, this book is definitely for you. Karr's gifts as a poet shine through in this book -- I've been recommending it to everyone I know.
JBT22 More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. The writing in particular was outstanding. I don't normally find myself reading memoirs but Lit almost seemed like I was reading a novel. This is my first time reading Mary Karr and I now want to read The Liars Club.
Edgar_Winston More than 1 year ago
Lit is Karr's third memoir, and it's her best. That's saying a lot, as her first, The Liars' Club, pretty much set the standard for the contemporary memoir. She is witty without being overly clever. She is moving without being sentimental. She has startling insight into what it means to be a mother, a drinker, an ex-drinker, a catholic, a writer, but most of all, a human. This book is better than the slew of memoirs that come out each year because it doesn't depend on the shock value of its content. As some other reviewers have pointed out, there are memoirs that have lower "rock bottoms" and crazier events. Those comments miss the point. We don't read memoirs (at least I don't) for an accounting of extraordinary circumstances, but for an extraordinary accounting of common human experience. Lots of us have dealt with alcoholism, spirituality, motherhood, etc. But few of us have Karr's gift for metaphor, her insight into what makes these experiences important, her ability to simultaneously take us on a journey through memory while taking apart and examining the machinery through which we remember. Karr's self-narrative is also about the ways in which we create ourselves through memory--and this makes it universal. I'm an avowed atheist, and I was moved by Karr's journey out of alcoholism and towards God. She is not preachy and Lit is not a "woe is me" pity party. She is a brilliant story teller who can write a sentence like nobody's business.
Terry_M More than 1 year ago
This is the hard one, the adult recollection of an adult's embarrassing failures. Mary Karr confronts her alcoholism and explains the faith that saved her - perhaps an unpopular point of view now among academics, but that it is what it is makes it a better read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There unfortunatley are a million Marys but few that can put it to words and creat a story. I could not put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Parts were well done while parts truly dragged. The addiction story rang true tho and for that.....i give it a 3
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Don't waste your money.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldnt finish the book. Lacked a sense of purpose from the start.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I woudn't waste my time on that book! It was to edgy kept going off topic and too depressing!
nookcookAL More than 1 year ago
This is an insightful portrayal of a life complicated by alcoholism, quite a page turner. I would highly recommend this book. She sheds light on the struggles she went through and shares with the reader things she learned along the way. For those who find themselves grabbing a glass or three of wine this book is a refreshing wake-up call.
justluvbooks More than 1 year ago
Karr's portrayal of the characters in her life is honest and believable. Her choices of words & phrases make this memoir, to me, as her descriptions of people, places, and events make you feel as if you are with them always as the story unfolds. I appreciate her honesty and candor, as well as her ability to be so imperfectly human. It is beautiful. Only a poet could incorporate such depth and precision into the imagery and emotion of a book...thanks Mary! I related so well to your dry wit and crippling cynicism, as well as your ultimate resurrection.
Linda123CB More than 1 year ago
I have family members with some of the same issues and most likely similar stories. It felt so good to be able to get into Mary Karr's head and try to understand what she must have been going through. You don't often find books like this written so well -- they are usually too preachy and the writing is dry. But Lit is a page-turner as well as life changing book.
DorothyB More than 1 year ago
I am a fiction writer and when I turn to nonfiction, a book only has a few pages to prove its worth. 'Lit' taught me more about life and writing than most novels can. Karr's writing is beautiful; I am envious of her prose. But more importantly, that mastery of craft informed how much I cared about the narrator and her story -- and it is a moving story you won't soon forget.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book, I couldn't put it down. I also enjoy her other two cherry, and liars club.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How many times have you said that you could write a book about your family? Well somebody did. The result is a page turner that will remind you that you are not alone in how chaotic family life can be. For anyone who still feels bound by their anger, guilt, hurt or pain from their family, I also recommend "When God Stopped Keeping Score." I thought that the book was just about forgiveness, I soon learned, it was about so much more than that. I was about how you should deal with friends, family and yourself and more importantly, how to keep these relationships strong when things go wrong. Having read it, I feel like a better person. Maybe it is because this book spoke to me and not down to me. I have read a lot of books that was written like I didn't know anything. What the author of "When God Stopped Keeping Score" does is talk to you like a friend. I needed that. You will understand why when you read it. "When God Stopped Keeping Score" is available here on
soccermomRV More than 1 year ago
Long, sometimes grueling account of a woman's struggle with herself as well as those around her. Her descent into alcoholism and loss of connectedness to her son and husband is painful to read. She does not spare herself in her self-appraisal.
thewanderingjew More than 1 year ago
This is the third book Mary Karr has written about her life. It is not necessary to know anything about her first two to understand this one. Her background and upbringing defy normal reality, but she makes it so easy to read about with her sense of humor and stamina, in the face of the worst situations, that her experiences almost seem commonplace and the people who have been so destructive in her life, do not seem hateful, but rather likable, although terribly flawed. I found Lit to be a very absorbing book. If the author didn't have that special gift of putting words on paper to draw you into her milieu, without the horrifying effects of it, the book might be near unreadable. Each time you learn about one of her awful life experiences you are flabbergasted, thinking, how could someone survive this? When she does, and goes on to face another even more difficult situation which she somehow muddles through, you are in awe of her strength in the face of the horrifying odds against her. Mary Karr overcomes the adversity in her life with unbelievable courage and perseverance Her survival is a testimony to her indomitable spirit.
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