Saturday, August 3, 2013

Currently Reading: Memoirs

My dream has always been to write fiction, and for years I was adamant about my refusal to read nonfiction for fun (picture: pretentious teenage Elizabeth claiming "Oh, I only read fiction.")  Obviously, this was really stupid, and over the past several months, creative nonfiction, personal essays and memoirs in particular, have been some of my favorite genres to both read and write.

I am 100% a product of the 21st century, so when my internet spontaneously stopped working a few nights ago, I panicked trying to figure out how I would entertain myself.  Obviously, I headed straight to the bookstore in search of something mindless and fun to read during these dark times, and came back with Diablo Cody's memoir, Candy Girl.  This book is fantastic, and inspired me to write about a few of my other favorite memoirs.

Candy Girl by Diablo Cody - I have been a fan of the famous stripper-turned-screenwriter ever since the release of Juno, so I knew her writing would be clever, unique, fast-paced, and very very funny.  This book chronicles the year Cody spent working as a stripper in Minneapolis, and in addition to the fascinating behind-the-scenes look at these establishments, as someone who grew up in Minneapolis, I was infinitely entertained by trying to count how many strip club names I recognized from driving past them on the way to my summer creative writing classes.  Not to mention her descriptions of Minnesota, such as, "Minnesota is like a church basement with a leaky popcorn ceiling and a bingo caller who's afraid to amp things up past a whisper" are spot-on.

On Writing by Stephen King - This book is half-memoir, half-how-to-write, and strikes a perfect balance between the two.  King gives an intimate insight into several personal details of his life, including his experiences writing for small publications as a teenager to his terrifying drug and alcohol addiction.  He counters this with step-by-step descriptions of the writing process and advice on everything from vocabulary to the publishing industry, while always maintaining a conversational tone that is easy to read, and never comes across as textbook.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers - This fictionalized memoir is Dave Eggers' first book, and though Eggers writes both fiction and nonfiction with success in both genres, his memoir seems to receive the most praise.  At age 22, Eggers moved from Chicago to California following the deaths of his parents to raise his 8-year-old brother, and he recounts this time in his memoir through not only stories, but lists, fictionalized interviews, and charts.  It's sad, and funny, and creative, and takes crazy risks in its writing but succeeds immensely.  The personalized writing advice I received from Eggers at a signing when I told him I wanted to be a writer definitely only added to my love of this book.

Just Kids by Patti Smith - I read Patti Smith's memoir about living as a starving artist in New York in the late sixties and early seventies before really knowing anything about her music or career, and fell in love with it so much that I quickly developed an unhealthy obsession with her music and art.  (I even skipped my poetry night class one night to see her in concert, using my grocery money to buy the ticket, which is so Patti Smith in and of itself that I can't even handle it.)  This novel is beautifully written and illustrates perfectly and honestly what it means to be an artist.  I love this book because it allows those of us who have dreamed of the starving artist lifestyle to live vicariously through Patti Smith's.  I'm not exaggerating when I say is one of my all-time favorite books.

Read on,

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