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Three Memorable Memoirs

By Melanie Moffett
In Bayou Pages
Jan 4th, 2016

As the old adage goes, everyone has a story to tell. Whether that story is happy or sad, cautionary or inspiring, depends as much on the teller as it does the events as they happened. At the same time, there’s a certain comfort in curling up in other people’s memories, a confirmation that, no matter what we’ve been through, what we’re going through, someone else has been there.

It’s one of the reasons memoirs have endured as one of the more popular forms of nonfiction for decades. Sometimes, the memoirs are famous people behaving badly, but we relish the gritty details of their lives. When events are sad, we find empathy. Even in the mundane, there is comfort in knowing that our favorite singer enjoys knitting and Grey’s Anatomy.

Now that the holidays are behind you, maybe you have a few minutes to spare. It’s as good a time as any to get acquainted with the lives of others. And who knows? Maybe you’ll find inspiration to share your own story along the way. Here’s a selection of three popular memoirs we think you won’t be able to forget.

The Glass Castle
by Jeanette Walls

A contemporary classic, Jeanette Walls’s The Glass Castle chronicles the Walls family as they move from town to town, often under the cloak of darkness. It seems Rex Walls isn’t quite all he could be, and his frequent cons, binge drinking and pipe dreams of a successful and secure future aren’t enough to support his wife and their two children.

Faced with the challenges of growing up impoverished, the Walls children’s imaginations flourish, even as they bounce from tenement to trailer to rented camper to, eventually, the home of poor relations in West Virginia. Readers will revel in Walls’ eventual escape from poverty and her ultimate success as a journalist. In the end, we’re just a little bit surprised, and more than a little ashamed, that our judgmental natures have shone through, when Walls reveals the true secret of The Glass Castle.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
by Bill Bryson

Fans of Bill Bryson are no doubt familiar with his biting wit, his British charm and his sometimes caustic observations about all things life. For some, though, learning that our favorite British essayist is actually a boy from Des Moines, Iowa. Bryson is, after all, the son of famed sports writer Bill Bryson, Sr., who–as Bryson recalls–happened to be at the 1951 World’s Series where he witnessed Bobby Thompson’s grand slam, the famous “shot heard round the world.”

With a master’s touch, Bryson turns his powers of prose to coming of age in Des Moines during the 1950s and 1960s, a turbulent time rendered somehow manageable and inspiring by American exceptionalism, science fiction, and the amazing social and technological leaps of the era.

At once a wide-eyed vision of the possibilities of youth and an adult foreigner’s look at the curious parental habits of mid-century America, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid will leave you pining for the good ol’ days and thankful you escaped them without (more) scars.

Drinking: A Love Story
by Caroline Knapp

Memoirs of the drinking life are hardly a novel idea, with writers from Hunter S. Thompson to Tucker Max touching on the topic. Few writers, though, handle the topic with the honesty and insights of Caroline Knapp, a well-bred, socially positioned New England woman who grew up in a world of “liquid armor.”

Moving through the perils of adolescence to college years, Knapp takes no prisoners while talking about the attraction and perils of alcohol and how quickly liquid armor slides into liquid escapism. A journalist by trade and training–she graduated from Brown, after all–she outlines her path to rock bottom and her slow climb back, rehab at 36, and the insights that pulled her through.

Drinking: A Love Story is as much a memoir about learning to cope as it is about coming back from the edge. With hints of Carrie Fisher’s Postcards from the Edge, you’ll appreciate the ringside seat to Knapp’s love affair and breakup from alcohol.