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Addicted to memoirs

No matter what the season, I am always drawn to the latest memoir. It’s been an ongoing interest of mine my entire adult life, and since becoming a literary agent almost 15 years ago, I have always tried to mix my list up with the occasional I-can’t-believe-how-amazing-this-story-is memoir. I tend to like dark, psychological memoirs. I’ve sold books about sexual abuse, autism, and bipolar disorder. They always have some measure of redemption, and the journey is often painful but inspiring.

So, this spring season is no exception to my memoir craze. Right now, I’m really enjoying Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (I know, I’m not the only one riding that train as evidenced by its #1 NYT bestseller status). Although it’s not a memoir, there’s a lot about her own history in there that I find compelling.

Other memoirs on my reading shelf at the moment are Emily Rapp’s The Still Point of the Turning World. This one is difficult reading. It’s about her son’s diagnosis with a fatal genetic disorder. He died just a couple of weeks before the book’s release. But Rapp is a transformative writer, her prose is gorgeous, and it is worth it to check this one out.

Being the mother of identical twins, I am fascinated by all twin stories. There is a new memoir, Her, by Christa Parravani, an identical twin who lost her sister at twenty-eight to a drug overdose. It’s a fascinating look at the identical twin connection and the intense grief when one sister loses not just a sibling, but a part of herself.

I’d love to hear from our readers what memoirs you love, old or new, that I can add to my large and growing collection. Until then, I will be reading the memoirs on my shelf and looking for new projects in this category to blow me away.

8 Responses to Addicted to memoirs

  1. EDWARD says:

    Memoirs are a sad and painful business. Any wall you can insert between your pain and your past makes history a bit easier to swallow. The advice Mary Poppins had about “a spoon full of sugar” can be taken as a corrective for all sorts of life’s woes. Including memoirs. Saul Bellow said that all fiction is autobiographical. Even George Orwell, who sharpened his fiction to a fiercely tuned political weapon, could not resist the urge to draw his protagonists as alcoholics. Bellow was an awful pedant, even though he defended himself by saying, No, no, it is merely my characters which are pedantic as part of their personality. The boundaries between memoir and fiction are very, very blurry. Even books such as DUNE or THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP lose much of their glitter when placed under a psychoanalytic microscope. I would argue that many of these “fictions” get closer to the marrow of their subjects than memoirs we erroneously regard as “nonfiction”.

  2. Siri Kirpal Kaur Khalsa says:

    My all-time favorite memoir is Joel ben Izzy’s The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness. Might not be dark enough for you. Joel ben Izzy is a storyteller who lost and regained his voice. He intersperses folktales as commentary throughout his own story.

  3. Tamara says:

    Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle recently made me bawl my eyes out at 1 a.m. when I finished it.

  4. Joelle says:

    I recently attended the Galiano Island Literary Festival and read three memoirs by other authors who were going to be there. Of the three, I think you might really like MOST OF ME by Robyn Michele Levy.

    My all-time favourites are Carol Burnett’s One More Time and Doris Kearn Goodwin’s Wait ’til Next Year.

  5. Kevin A. Lewis says:

    I have to admit I got really burned out on sob-story memoirs as a bookseller; they quite often are about very real stuff and all, but it’s all part of the bad-smelling outhouse we all have to spend a certain amount of time in, and apart from a certain streak of literary masochism I have no idea why anyone would hang out there for fun. Even though the YA historical I’m shopping around takes place in 3rd reich Germany with all it’s horrors, I went to quite a bit of trouble to make sure it didn’t come out as just another bleak, humorless, Holocaust dirge if that seems possible. Perhaps if I took all the wit and irony out of it, I’d have a better chance of selling it; is that what I’m hearing here?

    • Siri Kirpal Kaur Khalsa says:

      I wouldn’t take wit and irony out. And not all memoirs are sob stories, but you probably know that.

  6. Susanna says:

    As a memoir writer myself, I love to read memoir, but I don’t always love the books – I tend to be highly critical of others’ memoirs to support my habit of being highly critical of my own manuscript. I recently read HALF A LIFE by Darin Strauss and found that very thought-provoking and memorable, and last week I finally read WHY BE HAPPY WHEN YOU COULD BE NORMAL? by Jeanette Winterson, which I really loved. She has a great combination of honesty, insight and knowing what to leave out, in an interesting and individual writing style.

  7. Joe S. says:

    It was this posting, which inspired me to submit a Query Letter for my memoir on chronic, end stage alcoholism, to Ms. Glick. While I can only speak for addiction memoirs, the vast majority end in the spirit of “…and then I got sober,” which certainly does warrant a dialogue on sob story – as mentioned above. I have allowed my writing to follow me after the last drink and into the life I lead today, which hopefully neutralizes that line of discussion as a moot point. I believe that there must be more of a message to the story-telling, in other words, a careful combination of euphoric recall and experience-based guidance.

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