Hi! With three weeks left to submit to the 2023 Narratively Memoir Prize, we know many of you are looking for inspiration. That got us thinking: What’s the best memoir you’ve read lately? Whether it’s a book, a Narratively piece or a story from another publication, shout out the most riveting and moving first-person story you’ve recently read. (And yes, writers, please feel free to shamelessly plug your own memoir. We want to read it!)
I was blown away by "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous" by Ocean Vuong. I've never read a memoir by a poet before (and honestly, I didn't know if I would like one!) But the way he uses a lyrical style to paint this vivid, striking scenes from his own life is just so impactful. https://www.oceanvuong.com/copy-of-home
I love memoirs written by poets. Favorite one I read this year--Victoria Chang's Dear Memory, which led me to her prior book, Obit. Amazing, inspiring, beautiful writing.
My memoir, Heartbreaker, details my harrowing affair with JUDY GARLAND. Yes, really. We spent eight dramatic weeks together, during which I tried to revitalize her moribund career. This is an up-close, personal portrait which many Judy fans regard as "the best book about Judy." Doubleday released it, and Kensington re-issued it.
I'm working on a short memoir piece to submit for the contest but thought I'd also drop a link to my new book, Honeymoon at Sea: How I Found Myself Living on a Small Boat, the story of a life-changing journey. https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B0CGDJ5ZN3/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?ie=UTF8&qid=&sr=
I highly recommend Tent for Seven: A Camping Adventure Gone South Out West, a true story of a calamitous vacation in the Canadian Rockies that turned life-threatening. Thousands of miles from home, my father, coauthor Marty Ohlhaut, faced a terrifying ordeal with 5 kids in tow. Some of us still can’t talk about it to this day... Told with candor and wit reminiscent of Bill Bryson, Tent for Seven is here on Kindle and in print: https://amzn.to/44mhdsy.
Here on Substack, I'm writing a real-time "flash memoir" where I document the remodel of our 1950's ranch style home. Answering the questions: What does it mean to be home? Who makes up a home? How do you build a home when there is always someone missing from the dinner table?
This is the first paragraph...
"My husband Nick is in the driver’s seat of a U-Haul, and My daughter Peyton (10) is sitting next to him. I’m in my car. My oldest son, Owen (12), plays with Baby Tatum (eight months) in the back seat. In the front seat next to me are two framed photographs of a boy with big blue eyes, and next to those is a soft bamboo box. On the box is the blue-eyed baby’s name and some dates: Aiden Thomas Henderson February 18th, 2018 - November 12th 2019. "
As for memoirs I love, Heavy by Kiese Laymon, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, The Liar's Club by Mary Karr (that one really f*cked me up) Narritively recently re-published an essay about a woman meeting Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee Herman) that was gorgeous! Also, I'm not above saying, I loved Britney Spears's book.
Probably Natasha Trethewey Memorial Drive and Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley Ford
For books, I'd say The Liar's Club by Mary Karr. But for essays, the other day, I reread Melissa Johnson's essay in Narratively: How I Wrote Myself into a Real-Life Romantic Comedy... and that is definitely my most recent favorite. I sent it right off to a friend.
I loved Ann Patchett's These Precious Days and Delia Ephron's Left on Tenth. Both are incredible.
I have two that I simply love, Penny Marshal - My mother was nuts which I listened to on audio read by her which really mad it. Then Bad Karma by Paul Wilson, very good read for a first time author, have told many about it!
"Forget Me Not" by Jennifer Lowe-Anker is one of my all-time favorite memoir books, and "The Fourth State of Matter" by Jo Ann Beard is one of the best memoir essays — just blew me away in story and pacing and format.
The best memoir I've read lately was "Half-Broke Horses" by Jeannette Walls. I love the way she highlights how her family legacies indirectly affected her.
Lori Jakiela’s “They Write Your Name on a Grain of Rice” - just came out from Atticus Books, and is a beautiful memoir in essays. I love her work!
I loved I'm glad my mom died by Jennette McCurdy - some of the best accounts of living with an eating disorder and a controlling parent I've ever encountered.
"The Chronology of Water" by Lidia Yuknavitch is, by far, the best memoir I've read. I felt something shift on a core level from the experience of reading this book. Her mastery of language and imagery, her honest and authentic voice, and her willingness to tear open her past and walk us down her pathway to surviving childhood abuse invokes a sense of healing and hope. I didn't just read this memoir, I experienced it at a cellular level.
"Kaffir Boy" by Mark Mathabane.
Mikis Theodorakis, Matthew Perry and Vamvakaris! All three are favourite memoirs!
I love Emilie Pine's Note to Self, the essay approach and rawness of the writing took my breath away.
The just published, REARRANGED: An Opera Singer’s Facial Cancer and Life Transposed by Kathleen Watt. This illness narrative/narrative medicine memoir is short-listed as a finalist for the top 100 indie books for 2023.
“REARRANGED tells of leaving the operatic stage for a starring role opposite the Big C. A rare bone cancer [osteosarcoma] in my cheek ended my career as a New York City opera singer, and brought me face to face with mortality, disfigurement, the meaning and uses of beauty—and a lot of left-over pieces. A small corps of medical elites convened to excoriate my diseased bones with surgical wizardry and lethal toxins, and stayed on to restore me to myself through a brutal alchemy of kindness and titanium screws. REARRANGED is a tale of letting go to hold on, of putting old pieces to new uses—and of the unlikely arrangements that make it all work out.”
As Kathleen’s domestic partner, I was the primary caregiver during her medical odyssey. Since we’ve remained good friends, I’m now helping to get the word out about her incredible story of bone cancer and the ten-year battle to reconstruct her face.
The reviews are excellent: https://www.kathleenwatt.com/#advancepraise
Capitalism Killed the Middle Class has many elements of a memoir: rich anecdotes that introduce a concept like the shortcomings of our educational systems that reveal how those systems failed him and others.
The author reveals he grew up poor and found his way into the middle class just to find how fragile his position was in it. He reveals his arrest and conviction for drug charges that may have led to a different outcome for a person of color.
McCrory uses personal experiences as a lesson for others.: healthcare, politics, homelessness. And when his own experiences fail to drive home a point, he quotes the experiences of others.
Capitalism, the book, like all great memoirs, contains valuable life lessons and insights meant to help and inspire future generations.
I read "Building: A Carpenter’s Notes on Life & the Art of Good Work" by Mark Ellis. It is an inspiring account of finding humility — as well as pride — in pursuit of excellence, in the cause of doing things well. It's about how amateurs and diletantes try to get it right and professionals never get it wrong.
Everybody thinks they know what a carpenter is and does, as in my case (having just finished writing "A Photographic Memory: No On Was Hurt When Their Names Were Dropped", everybody thinks they know what a photographer is and does because everybody has a camera), but Ellis belongs to a rarefied cohort that serves an equally rarefied clientele: billionaires who want to gussy up their third or fourth home, that 40,000 sq. ft. apartment in Manhattan.
I've read so many memoirs that start out something like: I was a crack baby, then my parents abused me and I ran away from home at eight, sold myself on the street, and ultimately straightened myself out to sell 10 million records. RETCH! Anyway, Ellis's book is unlike that. And I have tried to create a "photoir" that is every bit as trenchant as a "me-moir" but without ripping off any scabs. I hope people will enjoy putting on the boots of a photojournalist, if and when it is published. << End of rant. :-) >>