For almost three weeks prior to Aspen Summer Words 2011, I had my nose in a book. When I arrived at the writing retreat, many of my fellow students compared it to college days: reading during meals, toting along a book to read in any spare moment, finishing one memoir and immediately starting another. While it was intense, it was an interesting way to prepare for a writing workshop.
A few of you asked which memoir of the required list was my favorite. Not counting Mary Karr, who I’ve long claimed as a favorite author, I really loved Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. I had avoided the book because everyone said it was so depressing. While the subject is intense and heavy, McCourt wrote it with beautifully sparse language, letting much of the story unfold at its own pace and speak for itself. It’s a lovely example of the writer getting out of the way of the story and characters.
This was the first time I was in a writing workshop where writers had been required to read the same books. It was helpful to have common reference points and texts that could be used as specific examples when asking technique or subject-related questions. While our reading list leaned towards alcoholism and recovery, it was interesting to dissect the different styles, such as the use of quotation marks vs. no quotation marks and creating scenes vs. summarizing.
If you were to create a “must read” list for anyone interested in memoir, which books would you include? My top five:
- The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr
- This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff
- The Lost Night by Rachel Howard
- Girlbomb by Janice Erlbaum
- I’m Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Your turn. Please share your top five memoir picks for anyone interested in or currently writing in this genre.