Confession: I once thought memoirs were boring. I had the impression that they were dry and mostly linear. I’m a speculative fiction fan; instead of reading about people’s real lives, I wanted to read about imaginary worlds. However, during the pandemic, I decided to expand my horizons – and found myself taken in by a new genre.
Most of this is thanks to Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House (available through CLAMS and Overdrive), an account of an abusive same-sex relationship. Her voice is candid – she doesn’t hesitate from relating the euphoric highs and devastating lows of her partner’s moods. The book is written as a series of vignettes, describing the relationship as the “dream house” and the way it falls apart. Near the end, she even incorporates some elements of the much-beloved “Choose Your Own Adventure” genre – what choices could you have made sooner? It’s a spiral staircase of emotion.
Another memoir I recently enjoyed in a similar vein was The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijung Wang (available through CLAMS and Overdrive). In this collection of essays, she relates her struggles with mental illness and its effects on the people around her. She relates her perspective with treatment as an Asian-American, at one point being told she had too much fire energy: “He advised me to eat less meat and fewer spices. I sipped a chai latte from a to-go cup in his office, and between sips I became anxious that he would smell the chai on my breath, and chide me for feeding an already raging conflagration.” She expresses the shame that comes with a diagnosis and how the willpower to simply “work through it” doesn’t always work; one essay about her college years is aptly titled, “Yale Will Not Save You”. It’s heartrending and knocked the breath out of me.
One book that surprised me was Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (available through CLAMS and Overdrive), which is mostly self-help mixed in with reflections on her life. I am a notorious clutterer, but I loved this book for her whimsical voice and her reverent treatment of her possessions. Before letting certain items go, she recommends thanking them for their service, such as thanking an old pair of shoes for all the support they’ve given you. This book is inspiring and I can only one day aspire to her level of organization.
If you’re in need of a road trip memoir, I highly recommend I Might Regret This by Abbi Jacobson (of Broad City fame) (available through CLAMS), in which she takes a cross-country car trip after a horrible breakup. She recounts the oddity of doing “couple” things as a single person (such as staying at a bed & breakfast and the weirdness she felt), her battles with her sleep cycle, and being brought to tears as a skeptic by the sheer mystical energy of Sedona, Arizona. All this is interspersed with fun sketches of her road trip life and influential albums.
Finally, if you’re craving a book about social interaction, I loved Drinking with Men by Rosie Schaap (available through CLAMS). A memoir about her life hopping from bar to bar, interacting with its regulars and becoming part of the backdrop herself. It’s a global work encompassing everywhere from Dublin, Ireland to Bennington, VT. She creates lifelong friendships, but it is not without self-reflection: though she doesn’t consider herself an alcoholic, should she worry that this is part of her personality? A great read, especially if you’re the type of woman who finds herself falling in with men more than other women – she highlights the perks and downsides of that particular dynamic.