Truth Is Indeed Stranger Than Fiction: More Recommended Memoirs
It has been said that truth is more interesting than fiction. While some may disagree, the fact remains that memoirs appeal to a wide variety of readers. Certain readers will immediately dig into memoirs about famous figures such as former U.S. presidents, movie stars, Olympic athletes, and so forth. Other readers may enjoy only travel fiction, and will therefore gravitate towards books which describe exotic locations. Several memoirs on this list I read because I had already read the author before and wanted to read more; others I stumbled upon more haphazardly and serendipitously. Since I don’t think finding good reading material should always be left to chance, however, here are my recommendations.
Danny Wallace’s Join Me! remains one of the most amusing and engaging books I have read as an adult. In witty, honesty, and occasionally self-insulting prose, this memoirs tells about how, at the golden age of 24, he accidentally started a cult of people who do good works on Fridays. It all began with a simple ad in a London newspaper which said “Join Me” and included his contact information. Soon he was meeting with a young man in a pub who was wondering what Danny wanted him to join. This meeting made Danny realize he didn’t have a great plan about his new group, though, in time, he decides that his group should do good works on Fridays based on a comment his grandfather once made. The zaniness of this story involves Danny’s sensible Norwegian girlfriend who does not understand why Danny is suddenly sucked into this new world of his good deeds movement, as well as many other offbeat characters. Even if the book doesn’t interest you, check out his blog at www.join-me.co.uk/.
Because I read Join Me!, it was hard to resist reading Danny Wallace’s memoir Yes Man. This book was eventually made into a movie starring Jim Carey, yet let me assure you that the book is even funnier than the movie. It is, as the title may or may not indicate, about saying yes instead of no to possibilities. This seems all well and good until Danny starts to get into a few tangled situations which force him to question if saying yes to everything for a year is a wise idea after all. Philosophical, silly, and ultimately redemptive, this is a memoir worth looking for if you need a good laugh and some food for thought.
On a more serious note, Acedia & Me by Kathleen Norris is a more serious, soul-searching memoir. She chronicles the history of the term acedia—which was called the “noonday demon” by the ancient desert monks—as well as her own struggle with this force. She also comments on our society as a large and how even our busy rushing around cannot keep us safe from the forces of acedia forever. Honest, searching, deftly researched and written, this is a memoir which should readers to examine their relationship with boredom, one of the main symptoms of acedia. She writes, “Must we consider boredom as not only necessary for our life but also one of its greatest blessings? A gift, pure and simple, a precious chance to be alone with our thoughts and alone with God?”
Bill Bryson’s memoir The Life and Times of Thunderbolt Kid offers a delightfully detailed and recalled account of his childhood growing up in Des Moines, Iowa in the 1950s. With characteristic wit and sporadic exaggeration, he writes about events such as spending all afternoon trying to get a sliver out of his thumb—and what great entertainment this was for a boy—as well as offers commentary about the political and social themes unfolding in the United States as a whole while he was too young to realize it. He describes his parents with superb detail, and, over six year after reading this book, I can still recall his descriptions of his father doing isometrics while on an airplane. Informative, educational, and well-penned, this is a memoir for anyone who wants a fast, easy read with a dose of history mixed in.
Rachel Friedman’s memoir The Good Girl’s Guide To Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure describes her travels as a young adult in Ireland, Australia, and South America. Her travels abroad begin in Ireland, and it is here she meets Carly, the woman who would become her best friend and traveling companion. Even if the details she offers about her various locations—which are lush and evocative—don’t interest you much, the way she describes the evolution of this friendship may hold your attention. She also dabbles with other common themes in travel writing: what it means to really leave a place; why we explore; how coming home is often harder after you’ve been away; the fact that travel can change a person, and suddenly one’s future doesn’t seem as cleanly mapped out as it did before; and so forth. She writes, “I could stay, I tell myself. People do it all the time. They just forget their old life and get a new one. … But going home is about more than starting a real life. I have to return and face all the questions I’ve left unanswered. To stay would be running away from the expectations awaiting me, not confronting them, like I need to. In travel, I have found a passion, and I know I will keep on seeing the world. But I have to go home and make some conscious choices about my perhaps less-traditional-than-my-parents-hoped-for place in the world.”
Bill Bryson discusses "The Life and Times Of Thunderbolt Kid"
Under The Tuscan Sun is author Frances Mayes account of buying a ramshackle house in Italy and restoring it, and incidentally, changing her outlook on life at the same time. With often poetically coined prose, she offers her readers a glimpse both at the state of her psyche and the state of the house throughout the story. This home in Italy is originally intended to be a vacation home, and therefore she has to return to California throughout the story to work and live her life there. She is, consequently, fully immersed in Italy for a period before being forced to return to her old life. Her act of immersion, especially as she and her boyfriend start to repair and remodel the home, is intriguing. Upon returning to Italy after time in California, she writes, “Splendid to arrive alone in a foreign country and feel the assault of difference. Here they are all along, busy with living; they don’t talk or look like me. The rhythm of their day is entirely different; I am thoroughly foreign.” Encapsulating a love affair with her new home, the country of Italy, and her newfound life in Italy, this is a sumptuous, enjoyable read.
This list of recommendations, akin to all lists I can offer, is naturally incomplete. Over the years I’ve neglected to record all of the books I’ve read, and therefore it is likely I am forgetting certain titles because I didn’t bother to extract quotes from them. Regardless, I hope this list offers you possible book options the next time you need a diverting and potentially edifying read.