Three Memoirs

In my previous blog, you can read about several ways that memoirs can be a blessing.  Today, I’ll share a few examples.

In the future, I’ll put together a post about widow’s memoirs, since I have read dozens of those. But for today, since I just finished a long trip where I had the luxury of reading a lot, I have lots of types of books fresh on my mind.

I will share three very different memoirs I’ve spent time in over the past months, just to get you thinking about the range available to you.  By previewing or talking about some of these ideas, you might find it easier to think through whether memoirs would bless someone you know.


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A Few Memoirs to Sample

Thrift Store Shoes

By Connie Lounsbury. Thrift Store Shoes is a great model for someone interested in writing their own memoir.

This memoir is not full of lofty, impractical thoughts.  Nor is it a brag about amazingly perfect lives. This story does, though, clearly illustrate that the memoir of an average person can be  do-able and meaningful —- and that real life is often more interesting than fiction.  The author isn’t afraid to include the hard things like poverty, parental failures, and marital stresses, told factually.  She also allows the heroic feats to shine, with no need for embellishment.  And she shares reflections on the events, both at the time and later.

The author takes care to include interesting historic details that may no longer be remembered or may never have been experienced by her readers. Notice that when she tells a brief story about visiting an aunt who was a hairdresser, she describes her aunt’s hair, her aunt doing her hair and how rough she was, kind words her aunt often said to her, a favorite family story about her aunt, the cheerful yellow curtains, the Sunday morning donuts, and the rare treat of watching Hopalong Cassidy on her aunt’s TV.

The book is laid out in short, easy-to-finish chapters.  Probably the biggest take-away is that all of us have stories that could benefit our understanding of ourselves as well as helping others to understand the complexities of life, including family, community, and faith.

A special chapter is actually a memoir-within-a-memoir, where she lets her uncle tell his own story about heartbreak with its own beautiful ending.

A Three Dog Life

By Abigail Thomas. Memoirs have value even when they aren’t written by someone just like you. It’s good to remember that each memoir represents one personal journey and is authentic only to its author’s experience.  This can be a good lesson as you reach out to someone who isn’t experiencing things just the way that you would.

The author of A Three Dog Life handles life situations differently than I have and writes differently than I would.  In contrast to my very chronological mind, she said in one of her books that she hates chronology.  I can never tell whether her events are described in order, and I feel off-balance without a consistent scale showing the importance of events by their weight in the story.  However, her style seems to reflect exactly who she is.  Her memoir allows me into what feels like her journal or personal essays about life. I can wander around and lift up the rocks to see what is underneath.

At the center of her memoir is one event that changed everything.  It is something I have never experienced but has the intensity that hits close to home.  Her husband ran into the street after their dog and ended up with a permanent, progressive brain injury.  Three dogs are a prominent part of her coping, as, I believe, is her writing.

Her viewpoint has twists of ironic humor, whether sharing about her dogs or about things her memory-challenged husband says. In the chapter  “Accident,” she seems dispassionate even as she conveys emotional upheaval: “There is an exhilaration to it, a high born only partly of exhaustion, and I find myself almost frighteningly alive. There is nothing like calamity for refreshing the moment. Ironically, the last several years my life had begun to feel shapeless, like underwear with the elastic gone, the days down around my ankles.” She conveys a lot in brief scenes, such as when looking around her un-inhabited rooms and thinking that she can’t sit everywhere at once. I smiled when she knit 323 scarves.

The author included an intriguing section about things her husband spoke about which were happening in her life but he couldn’t possibly have known or even understood, and another section describes a period of obsession with “outsider art” by those with brain injuries or the otherwise marginalized. This seemed connected to her start at writing memoirs.

It’s an easy book to pick up since the “chapters” are brief and distinct from one another.  She has an interesting style and seems like someone it would be good to know, especially to ask whether she ever found a bit of faith or hope.

The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ

By Andrew Klavan.  As you can tell by the subtitle, this memoir centers on the author’s faith journey, which is a type of memoir that you might discover your someone has an interest in.  It is a type of memoir that might resonate with a reader whose faith is close to their heart, especially during hard times, and who might even be inspired to pass down his own faith odyssey.

The author reads his own audio, which is always great.  He writes with balance —- clear yet lively, tragic as well as comic, neither too flowery nor too dry, with references to books and ideas that influenced him but never straying so far that the connection gets muddled.

The Great Good Thing is also a good tale, since this author has also written crime novels, some of which became movies. Stories in this book include growing up Jewish in New York, working in various areas of journalism, and building a marriage.

As a novelist at heart, he says: “Stories are not just entertainment, not to me. A story records and transmits the experience of being human. It teaches us what it’s like to be who we are. Nothing but art can do this. There is no science that can capture the inner life. No words can describe it directly. We can only speak of it in metaphors. We can only say: it’s like this —- this story, this picture, this song.”

Happy reading!

Blog #25, COMMENT BELOW:  Continue to share memoirs —- has one in particular blessed someone you know… or you?


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