100 Best in Memoir/Biography

The editors at Amazon just released this list of 100 memoirs and biographies to read in a lifetime.

I love this genre, so I was surprised that I’ve only read 29 out of 100. I guess a little over a quarter of the list isn’t TOO bad? Stand outs for me include Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy, Bossypants by Tina Fey, Just Kids by Patti Smith, The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, and The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer. (And of course Wild by Cheryl Strayed, which goes without saying.)

This one has been on my list for a while. Making it a priority this year.

Book cover of My Life in France by Julia Child

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How many of these books have you read? Any favorites? Anything you would add to the list?

This entry was posted in Memoir.

Lucky Us

This is the first Amy Bloom book I’ve read, despite hearing about her for years. I’m not sure why I waited so long.

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom

It starts with one of the best opening lines I’ve read in a while —

My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.

And so we’re instantly drawn into the world of young Eva, a practical worrier swept up in the wake of her more beautiful, glamorous, and bohemian older sister Iris.

We follow the girls through 1940s America as they run away from Ohio to Hollywood, where Iris becomes a bona fide starlet a la Esther Williams or Rita Hayworth, to New York.

The writing is clean and frank. Eva as the observer manages to be funny even through tragic loss and heartbreak.

Iris was just being Iris. I don’t think she was more observant or more intuitive than I was. I saw plenty, but I never knew what to make of it. Iris saw only what mattered to Iris, but she really paid attention, like a pilot watching for the flashing lights of the landing strip below. . . Iris said I was more like someone with a crazy radio inside of me, and half the time the radio said things worth knowing and half the time it said things like, “Crops fail in Mississippi.”

Isn’t that perfect? “Iris saw only what mattered to Iris” — one simple detail told in six words that pretty much sums up her entire personality. And the “crazy radio” . . . I don’t know, it made me laugh and totally fall for Eva.

It’s an adventure tale full of rich characters. The girls are down on their luck for most of the book but by the end, as the title suggests, we understand that luck isn’t about shine and sparkle. It’s about the bonds we forge along the ride, the family we choose, and love that lasts.

Have you read Amy Bloom? I want to read another one – let me know if you have suggestions.

Screen Overload

I am writing this on a screen (by necessity) to tell you that I was so maxed out on screens by the end of this holiday weekend.

At one point, I was sitting in my dad’s living room on my laptop doing some online shopping while everyone else was watching football on the T.V. Not that unusual, right? Bored of the shopping, I picked up my phone to check Instagram. And there I was – in a triple screen moment. Phone, laptop, T.V., all at once. I looked around. Everyone in the room was either on a phone or laptop while watching the game, too. Conversations were stilted because people were distracted.

multi device image

image (c) kicker studio

Sick of football, I went to a movie. Oh the luxury of just one screen, everything else quiet for two whole hours. A forced break from my little blipping phone.

It wasn’t like I was on the couch all weekend. I was out and about, walking, running, doing errands. But almost all my down moments involved a screen.

After dinner last night, B and I put the new Broad City. It was hilarious. When it was over, I picked up my phone to scroll through Instagram and Facebook and check my email. And I suddenly just felt gross. Like one does after any overindulgence. Ick. Enough. I deleted Facebook from my phone. Maybe this will prevent the mindless scrolling that really does nothing for my mental state except occasionally make me feel bad about myself because I don’t have a baby or make me judgy of people I barely know. Point. Less.

I crawled into bed even though it was only 8. I couldn’t look at a screen for another minute. I didn’t have the energy to start a new book. I just wanted to lie in the quiet dark and watch the streetlight out the window. B wanted to watch part of a documentary on his laptop in bed before falling asleep. And that’s when I realized how impossible it is to really escape screens. I wasn’t going to stop him; I understood. Plus, it’s his bed, too. So, I turned off my phone, shoved my earplugs in, and squeezed my eyes shut. I paid attention to my breathing and let my mind dance wherever it wanted until I fell asleep.

Now I’m up, blogging before I go to work to sit in front of a screen all day! I mean, I know this isn’t breaking news to anyone. But the screen stuff – it’s gotten really bad. I spent two days with my family this weekend and for most of that time at least one person had their face in a screen – or two. I woke up depressed. I worry my eyes will stop being able to see far distances. Ha. But seriously. What is this doing to us?

I need to cut back. Once something starts making you unhappy, you have to make a change, quick. Work is necessary. Reading blogs and online news and writing is necessary (for me). Totally unnecessary:

  • Commute. On groggy days, I can pass my 40 minute commute scrolling through social media and silly articles. On my good days, I read a book or listen to a podcast instead. That’s 40 minutes each way – plenty of time to actually learn something valuable or make a dent in a book. New rule: no screens on commute.
  • Apps. Having Facebook on my phone means I pick it up and check it to kill time. I’m never really interested in it. It’s just there. Taking it off my phone will take away the stupid temptation. I’m leaving Instagram on for now. But will limit myself to checking three times a day – morning, lunch, and evening. No need to check it every 30 minutes!
  • TV. With Hulu and Netflix, it’s so easy to get sucked into a show and watch a bunch in a row. When you’re hooked, of course you want more – and all you have to do is sit there and the next one will play. As a kid, we had to wait a whole week for the next episode of Party of Five or Dawson’s Creek. I’ll watch three episodes of The Good Wife before even realizing what happened. Must make an effort to limit binge watching. It’s become such a normal way to consume television.

I’ll start there. The funny thing is, I’m really not that sedentary (as this post may imply). I do a lot with my days. I just think this level of screen consumption is kind of the norm, at least in San Francisco. What do you think? Do you ever feel totally maxed on screens? What are some ways you try to keep it in check? I could use some more ideas. . .

This entry was posted in LIfe.

Dear Sugar is Baaaccck

You guys, Cheryl Strayed’s amazing Dear Sugar column is back. As a podcast!

(c) wbur

(c) wbur

I’ve missed Sugar and often turn back to Tiny Beautiful Things or the Rumpus column archive to get my fix. The first episode is up and streaming here.

I was worried about the podcast format. The experience of listening to her (and the original Dear Sugar, Steve Almond) respond to reader’s letters didn’t strike me as deeply as reading the written words. However, hearing their voices made me feel closer to the conversation – like we were friends sitting around for a good long chat. (And I’ve been dreaming of being friends with Cheryl Strayed for years.)

In this episode, Cheryl and Steve introduce the series and answer three listener letters. The format is looser, but I still managed to pull out a couple Sugar gems:

“One of the beautiful things about life is loving the things you’ve had to let go.”

Wow.

“The best advice I have to give anyone in all situations is: you do have to trust your gut. You have to listen to your truth. The body knows. . . Step into the truth, and then come what may.”

Step into your truth!

Thank you, Sugar.

P.S. With the popularity of Serial, people are saying this is a new dawn for radio. I know I’m interested in the medium of podcasts – it requires more imagination and attention than a screen and feels more intimate. What do you think?

2015

Happy New Year, pals!

Do you make resolutions? A lot of my friends say they don’t believe in resolutions. But I love the symbolism of a new year, a fresh start, a turning of a page. I enjoy reflecting on the past year, noting the good and the bad, the changes and the constants, and setting personal goals for the next.

sailing into new year

This year on New Year’s Eve I took a sunset boat ride with friends. It was the perfect way to close out a year — zipping through the water, watching the coastline recede behind us, sailing toward something fresh and new as the sun dipped down in a final curtain call on 2014.

Lighthouse

I’ve summed up my resolution as “radical self care.” I heard this term somewhere – maybe Brene Brown or Annie Lamott said it – and it stuck with me. For me, it means doing little things for myself, like flossing regularly and washing my face at night (seriously) to bigger stuff, like taking the supplements my doctor recommends and saying “no” to things I don’t want to be doing (harder than it sounds).

What are your resolutions, goals, or reflections for 2015?

sailing

We goofed off for most of the boat ride . . . (notice the free wine -bonus!)

The Search for Meaning

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

I’m in the middle of a big career/life change (more on that later), so this is the perfect time to read Man’s Search for Meaning. A psychiatrist by trade, Frankl’s memoir is about his time spent in Nazi death camps and what he discovered about the inner secrets of human survival in the absolute worst of situations. His story casts a harsh glare on our modern existence of relative comfort and excess, and dares readers to examine what is actually at the core of a life well spent, regardless of circumstance.

mans-search-for-meaning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

See It: St. Vincent

This is such a sweet movie. About unlikely friendship and finding the good in others even when it’s hidden under layers of flaws. Melissa McCarthy plays a more serious role than usual and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She’s a terrific actress. And Bill Murray’s gruff old man has a lot of soul this time around.

Toward the end of the movie, the main kid, Oliver, gets an assignment at school called Saints Among Us. The idea is to identify someone from your life who has the qualities of a saint. The movie will make you think about the people you care about most and  realize that even though everyone is flawed and the world bangs us around until sometimes we don’t even recognize ourselves, there are unlikely saints right in front of us making the road a little easier in their own bizarro way. Made me think.

This entry was posted in Movies.

Morning

“A great sorrow, and one I’m only beginning to understand: we don’t get to choose our own hearts. We can’t make ourselves want what’s good for us or what’s good for other people. We don’t get to choose the people we are.”  –Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

morning

Not That Kind of Book

I’ve been looking forward to reading Lena Dunham’s book. I like her show. I admire what she’s accomplished at such a young age. She fascinates me with her nudity and awkwardness and compulsive over-sharing.

I love the retro design of this cover. A great choice by Dunham and her publisher. SO glad it isn't just a glossy picture of her. It's timeless and impactful.

I love the retro design of this cover. Timeless and original. A great choice by Dunham and her publisher. SO glad it isn’t just a glossy picture of her.

I bought it at the airport and read it over two flights this weekend. It went quickly. It just wasn’t what I expected.

I guess I expected either something super funny like Tina Fey’s book or deeply honest and transformational like Cheryl Strayed or a new kind of feminist manifesto.

But it’s only kind of sort of all of these things. And needless to say, my expectations may have been a bit high.

It’s honest in the sense that she bares all and isn’t afraid to expose herself in a less-than-flattering way. But I struggled to pull deeper universal truths from her stories. They were entertaining but felt somewhat insular.

I laughed out loud a couple times, but was hoping for more hilarity like The Crackisdent (best episode of Girls ever). There are awkward moments told in vivid detail, but many of them have a layer of inner darkness that makes them less ha-ha funny. Which is fine. After reading this, I actually don’t think Dunham set out to write a funny book.

Dunham talks about navigating and succeeding in a male-dominated industry (entertainment/directing/producing/Hollywood). Props to her for that, seriously. She believes in showing her body as it is and talking freely about cringe-worthy sex stuff. She shares her neuroses and is self-aware and self-deprecating. The sheer boldness of Dunham’s work sends a message to women to have a voice. But a new feminist manifesto, this is not. It’s the  experience of one Manhattan millenial finding her way.

I love the illustrations by Joana Avillez. They bring a Judy Blume-like quality to the book. Some lightness. And maybe that’s what I was failing to remember as I read. That this is a young talent — someone who has accomplished so much, but still has a long way to go and much more to discover.

I remain a fan and look forward to more of Dunham’s work, on and off screen.