A RECENT STUDENT said simply, “I write to understand myself.” And I loved that. The world would be a better place if we all understood ourselves just the eensiest bit more, don’t you agree? Does it mean that all the people who are writing about themselves should publish? Of course not. In fact, this particular student has no aspirations toward publishing. And good for him. His aspirations delight me, as does his increasing awareness of the life he leads. How about you? Have you got something you’d like to examine about yourself? I bet you do, and that all you need is a little inspiration. Here’s some.
Here are some great reads that might inspire you to write down something about you.
One of my new favorite websites is Bookslut which, true to its name, is passionate about the printed page. Home to reviews, features, a blog, and columns, this is a place for lovers of the book. And it is here that I discovered Deb Olin Unferth, whose adventures in socialism sound like the perfect memoir for those of us who want to learn to laugh at ourselves while learning a little something about what one woman did to follow her political leanings. The title is Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War (Henry Holt). It’s next on my bookshelf, and can be on yours, as well.
That book reminded me that I’ve been meaning to tell you about the astonishing Late for Tea at the Deer Palace: The Lost Dreams of My Iraqi Family, (Harper Collins, 2011) by Tamara Chalabi, whose insights and exquisite use of details make this book positively shimmer. Chalabi’s father was among those who provided the U.S. with intelligence on weapons of mass destruction that led up to our misguided invasion of Iraq. Talk about a difficult detail to write about. She does it beautifully, and while you might think that details such as this do not appear in your life, think again. What gnarly thing is it exactly that keeps you from writing something down? Right. That one. Read this, and learn how to turn those previous obstacles into firm navigation markers. And here’s the beautiful part of Tamara Chalabi’s book: that is but one small detail of her story. Read it and learn, sisters.
For those of us newshounds who cannot get enough of life behind the keyboard/camera/microphone, there is a fine book by Belva Davis entitled Never in My Wildest Dreams: A Black Woman’s Life in Journalism. The first black woman television news reporter in the West, she has reported on some of the best stories of recent memory. Here is all you need to know: The incomparable Maya Angelou wrote of this book, “No people can say they understand the times in which they have lived unless they have read this book.”
For those of us who like to eat and cook, and eat, and well, I guess this is all of us, the most fun I’ve had outside the kitchen is reading the brand new Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, by Gabrielle Hamilton, the famous chef from Prune, NYC’s cool-chic-fun eatery. Gabrielle Hamilton is a writer and a cook, and while you may know that she is among the best chefs around, the writing part, quite honestly, is giving her culinary skills a serious run for their money. This book is a total joy. The structure is the key here, and I will nor ruin if for you, except to say that you’ve rarely had more thrills reading about food, I promise. A contributor to The New York Times’ Chef’s Column, the New Yorker, Bon Appétit and other food magazines, Hamilton earned an MFA in fiction, studied at Iowa Writers Workshop and has the words to prove it.
Not to be outdone in the kitchen or the page, is Kim Severson, whose memoir, Spoon Fed: How Eight Cook Saved My Life. The Atlanta bureau chief for The New York Times, this foodie can write, as well, and dish, and tell a good tale about one’s life. What I love about her is her generosity, crediting those people who have taught her some good solid lessons. It’s an intelligent woman who credits those who educate her, yes, or do you not remember that is one of my 15 Rules for Us Girls to Live By?
Upcoming memoirs, you ask? We can look forward to a memoir by Ashley Judd coming out with All That Is Bitter and Sweet (Ballantine Books) in April. And then, my very favorite wait-by-the bookstore upcoming tidbit is that the great Angelica Huston is penning her memoirs, to be released in 2013 by Scribner in the United States and Simon & Schuster in Britain. She reports to be writing about “the exceptional highs and lows” of her life, and will discuss her famous father, John Huston, her beautiful mother, Enrica Soma, some insights into being part of the only family trio – grandfather, father (Walter Huston) and herself – to win Oscars and, of course, Jack Nicholson.
Read a good memoir recently? Add to my list, please.