It is my hope to come up with a summer reading list to share with you in the next month or so, especially since more of you should be traveling this summer and you’ll need something on the light side to entertain you as you sit by the beach watching and listening to the waves, or as you recline on a porch overlooking a mountain valley and/or gentle stream.
(Ahh . . . when can I leave?)
But for today, I want to share some memoir-type books I have read over the past year. It has become a genre I greatly enjoy.
To prepare for this, I researched the difference between a memoir and an autobiography.
Summing up several sources, an autobiography is the story of a person’s life written by that person and is usually chronological. A memoir consists of memories of the writer that typically cover a segment of time, such as a former president writing about his time in office.
The lines might blur, in that a memoir might include references to an author’s time growing up, or some other time in life. But a memoir will generally cover a specific time period or event rather than an entire life story.
I enjoy autobiographies and memoirs, but often find memoirs easier to read. Let’s face it, someone’s entire life, going all the way back to birth, can be a bit tiresome.
David Sedaris is an author and humorist whose essay collections might not be classified as memoirs, but considering the definition, I believe most would fit in that category as his writing generally draws on his life experiences. I’ve read a number of them, including “Me Talk Pretty One Day”, “Naked” and “Calypso,” among others. His cogent writing can be simultaneously dark and hilarious, and for me it’s addictive.
My favorite is “Holidays on Ice.” This collection includes perhaps what is his masterpiece, “Santaland Diaries,” about his experience working as an elf, in a supporting role to Santa Claus, at a department store during the Christmas season. If you haven’t read it, trust me, you owe it to yourself.
“The Tender Bar” by J.R. Moehringer chronicles Moehringer’s life growing up without his father, finding refuge – and acquiring a cadre of father figures – in a neighborhood bar where his uncle served as part-time bartender.
I read a blurb about the movie that will be made from the book, directed by George Clooney and starring Ben Affleck, and thought it looked intriguing. While I’m pretty sure I would not have wanted my sons heavily influenced by the raucous characters who hung out at the bar that became Moehringer’s second home, the narrative is compelling. I highly recommend it for “take this for what it is” reading.
I read Knox McCoy’s debut, “The Wondering Years,” when it was released a couple of years ago and I think I made mention of it in a previous column. In it, McCoy reflects on his formative years and the way pop culture – TV, music and movies – informed questions he had, especially faith questions.
In his follow-up, “All Things Reconsidered,” he continues that theme and makes the case that it’s not only acceptable to ask the questions raised in his first volume, but it’s also fine to change your mind about long-held assumptions.
You might not agree with all his conclusions (I did not), but you might enjoy his writing and find some things to think about in the process. When a book accomplishes that, I’m a fan.
Only a few weeks ago in this space I referenced “The World’s Largest Man,” Harrison Scott Key’s memoir of growing up in Mississippi, with a big emphasis on his relationship with his father. I don’t know that I have ever read anything in which I laughed out loud as much as I did with this book.
Unless it would be his next one, “Congratulations, Who Are You Again?” In this one, Key tells the story of his dream to write a book (which would become “The World’s Largest Man”), how that dream became a monster and the ensuing trauma and drama that ultimately ensued. Key is a new favorite of mine and if I could, I would force you to add both of his books to your TBR (To Be Read) stack and move them to the top.
Finally, “Good Apple: Tales of a Southern Evangelical in New York” by Elizabeth Passarella might whet your appetite if you have ever thought yourself cut out for urban living or lived vicariously through city dwellers.
Even if you have done neither, you might still enjoy this witty memoir of the author’s conversion to big city life. Passarella, who grew up in Memphis, recounts transition to life as a New Yorker while retaining southern roots and customs, describing marriage and family life in a two-bedroom flat in which one of her three children sleeps in a closet.
Believe me, I did not find myself envying her life, but it was great fun to read about it.
I hope something might be of interest to you here and, as always, I hope you will send any of your own recommendations my way. See you soon with the summer reading list.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at [email protected].