I love memoirs. I’m reading two right now - Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman and Her by Christa Parravani - and it’s gotten me thinking about how many of these personal tomes I’ve read in recent years. A well-written memoir evokes empathy in the reader, provides a sense of connection to a time or place that we may not be personally familiar with, and makes us feel something - happiness, sadness, anger, shock, anything really. Here are my personal top five memoirs and a few honorable mentions that I couldn’t help but include (all listed alphabetically):
- Atlas of the Human Heart by Ariel Gore
Atlas of the Human Heart follows sixteen-year-old Ariel Gore as she drops out of school and heads to China with virtually nothing but a copy of the I Ching. The next three years take her across Asia and Europe as she squats in abandoned buildings, smuggles drugs, studies at a language institute, and eventually ends up pregnant in Italy before returning home.
- Chanel Bonfire by Wendy Lawless
In Chanel Bonfire, Wendy Lawless recounts a childhood marred by an alcoholic, inattentive, and suicidal mother with a taste for luxury. Lawless and her sister struggle to grow up and eventually to carve out lives for themselves away from their histrionic mother.
- Loose Girl by Kerry Cohen
From a young age, Kerry Cohen believed that using her body to get male attention was a surefire path to happiness and love. Loose Girl examines an adolescence and young adulthood of promiscuity, from Cohen's reliance on sex to her eventual understanding of true intimacy and love.
- The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok
The Memory Palace tells the story of Mira Bartok's brilliant mother, Norma, whose descent into schizophrenia rips her family apart. As Norma's episodes became more violent, Mira and her sister are forced to abandon their mother and go their own ways. Years later, after an accident leaves her memory impaired, Mira attempts to reconcile with her mother one last time before her death.
- Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel
Elizabeth Wurtzel's Prozac Nation is a searing portrait of a young life entrenched in anxiety and depression. Wurtzel's teenaged and college years are marred by suicide attempts, hospital stays, and drugs before she finds her way back to stability and hope.
In making this list, I've realized how enamored I am with women's stories. Only one of the books I came up with was penned by a man (the honorably mentioned Jean-Dominique Bauby). Of course I read books by both men and women, but I guess when in comes to memoirs, I'm generally drawn to the experiences of women. And those experiences tend to be difficult, life-changing ones that beg for understanding.