Adult Summer Reads: Moving Memoirs

 

Intimate, personal, and heartfelt. These memoirs will take you on a personal journey.

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What is it about memoirs? Is it a voyeuristic streak in the reader? What motivates us to read what celebrities and others have to say about intimate parts of their lives? Perhaps we seek inspiration, perhaps reassurance that for all their glamour famous people have the same mundane problems as we do. Then there is the non-celebrity memoir, why do we want to read about someone else’s friendships, childhoods or family relationships?

Reading any of our Adult Summer Reads: Moving Memoirs selections answers some of these questions. It does help put our lives in perspective to realize that others, famous or not deal with the same highs and lows, health issues both physical and mental, loves, losses and general vicissitudes of life as the average person.

Boys in the Trees: A Memoir By Carly Simon

One of the Alpha females of 70’s rock. Carly was known for her introspective lyrics, her high-profile relationships (James Taylor and Warren Beatty to name a few) and her beauty. You would think a person with this image would be confident and maybe even a little on the arrogant side. You would be wrong. Carly honestly reveals her struggles with anxiety, stage fright, and a speech impediment that nearly derailed her singing career before it had begun. Likewise her childhood, on the surface would appear to be idyllic; wealthy well connected parents (her father Richard Simon was the founder of the publishing company Simon and Shuster), summering in Martha’s Vineyard, being part of a large musical family. However, there was a dark side to her childhood which Carly unflinchingly exposes.

 

Dinner with Edward: The Story of a Remarkable Friendship By Isabel Vincent

This little gem of a memoir is of the non-celebrity variety. It highlights just a few months in the memoirists life which shows that a memoir unlike an autobiography does not have to encompass everything you’ve ever done, it this case “less is more”.  Isabel Vincent is an investigative journalist based in New York undergoing a lot of strain and eventually break down in her marriage. She is introduced to Edward the father of her friend and as he is quite elderly and recently widowed she promises to look in on him. What starts as an obligation turns into a joyful cross generational friendship. Edward is an accomplished chef and it gives him pleasure to cook for others. Isabel and Edward’s weekly dinners are described in mouthwatering detail. Edward needs to talk about his late wife, the love of his life and Isabel through listening gains clarity on her own life.

 

What Remains: Object Lessons in Love and Loss By Karen Von Hahn

This memoir, written by Toronto style writer and columnist Karen Von Hahn, belongs to a subgenre which I will call, “Memories of Mother”. Mainly written by daughters and mainly about larger than life, “difficult” mothers. This subgenre includes: Plum Johnson’s They Left us Everything and Rona Maynard’s My Mother’s Daughter. Both of which are also recommended.

The intricate push and pull, love/hate relationship that many daughters have with their mothers are exacerbated when there are issues such as money, competing careers, family dynamics and addiction thrown into the mix, in What Remains the author/daughter must deal with all. Karen’s mother was a flamboyant interior designer, who sometimes put “making a design statement” above her family’s well -being. She was a collector of precious objects and Karen uses these as a springboard for reflections on how our possessions define us.  Karen describes growing up in a now vanished era, where children were shooed outside during the summer months, encouraged to spend hours in the sun and where watching TV was “our cell phone our laptop, our Facebbook, our Instagram” and bonded a generation. She admired and was intimidated by her beautiful, poised mother who was by turns encouraging and neglectful.  Her materially privileged upbringing contrasts with the narcissism of her mother who let her children know that her needs came first and mocked the young author for her sartorial choices as she was also instrumental in inspiring her career.

This memoir was published 5 years after the death of the author’s mother, yet her grief is still palpable, despite all the emotional turmoil of this and other mother daughter relationships, this memoir makes the universal point that the death of one’s mother is a life altering event.

Have you ever read a memoir which helped you gain clarity and inspired you to change anything about your own life?

Many of our Moving Memoirs deal with mental illness and the effects it has on relationships. What would motivate a person to be so candid about such a personal issue?

Memoirs can also be fun, have you read any of these lately?

Check out all our Adult Summer Reads picks!

One thought on “Adult Summer Reads: Moving Memoirs

  1. I’m glad you mentioned “They Left Us Everything” by Plum Johnson, as I’m planning to read it soon. I’ve heard amazing things about it!

    To answer your question about memoirs that deal with such personal issues – I think that the writers’ goal is not only to intrigue and entertain readers with their life story, but also to let readers know that they’re not the only ones that go through these personal issues. Also, I find that writers are sometimes very upfront about the mistakes that they have made in their lives and perhaps use these mistakes as lessons for readers to learn from.

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