Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Two Memoirs and a Collection

I just found out yesterday that a friend of mine just left her husband. I was in her wedding, but somehow it didn't cross her mind that I should be told. I had to find out through a friend of a friend. The story goes that her husband was drinking and hanging out with the wrong crowd and he wasn't willing to change the behaviors and my friend wasn't willing to put up with them anymore. So she left. And. Well. I kind of want to know HIS side of the story.

Okay, I hate memoirs. I hate them. I don't know how it happened that recently I've read two of them. Here's my reasoning: they are always suspect. Memories fade, stories are retold, and (probably most importantly to me) there are always more sides to the story than presented. People come off looking badly and they can't defend themselves. Just like my friend's husband comes off looking like a chump in her story, but I can't help wonder how she comes off looking like a chump when he tells his side.

So how did I end up reading two memoirs last week? Well, a friend sent me one and a co-worker recommended the other one.

American on Purpose is Craig Ferguson's (the late night show host) memoir. And it was fine. The writing is a bit disjointed and I wonder about the timeline a lot, but it was okay. I'm reading the reviews on Amazon and they are all "funny, riot, laugh a lot, vivid, hilarious" and I disagree. The book made me sad. His childhood: sad. His alcoholism: sad. His divorces: sad. His stumbling into a career: sad. His book: sad. Honest, I guess. As honest as one side of the story could ever be. But it's not funny and it's not particularly well written.

The Film Club is a memoir by David Gilmour about how he let his son drop out of school and all he asked him to do is watch movies with his father. In case the italics don't tell you how upset I am about the premise of this book (frankly, the premise of this man's life), let me tell you that I started the book feeling like this guy was a major jackhole and ended the book the same way. He let his son drop out of school. He "taught" him through movies. I just can't describe how much my stomach hurt the whole time I read this book. So it's hard to get behind a memoir when you can't stand the narrator. Don't ever read this book. It was published in 2008, so I'm a little late with it, but if you were ever considering it, just don't.

So after the debacles of the memoirs, I read State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America, a book edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey. Weiland and Wilsey had an author write an essay on each of the fifty states. Their central thought behind this collection was that, despite the interstates and all encompassing sameness of big box stores and strip malls, each state is unique. The goal for each author was to explore this uniqueness.

There are some hits and some misses in the essays. Alison Bechdel's illustrated story of Vermont is a highlight, as are Mohammed Naseehu Ali's Michigan, and Jonathan Franzen's New York. Dave Eggers writes an essay about how Illinois is the best state that had me peeing my pants with laughter. Jack Hitt deconstructs some bumper stickers that illustrate serious divides in his home state of South Carolina that made me reconsider some of my own personal beliefs, and Rick Moody's essay on the suburban turmoil of his childhood in Connecticut struck an unexpected chord with this girl from rural Michigan.

The misses are more factual, more historical, and left me feeling as if I had read a travelogue (come to Alaska! see our state parks!) than feeling as if I knew what the state was about. I won't call out the bad essays, but they sneak in there.

This collection is definitely worth reading. It's like a trip through the States in the comfort of your living room. Maybe get it from the library?

1 comment:

  1. I'm reading Eggers memoir right now! He's a very funny writer.

    Thanks for the reviews. The book about the States sounds like something my hubby would enjoy (he likes non-fiction more than I do)

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