Friday, November 14, 2008

Book Week: Day 3, Memoirs

"Above all else, it is about leaving a mark that I existed: I was here. I was hungry. I was defeated. I was happy. I was sad. I was in love. I was afraid. I was hopeful. I had an idea and I had a good purpose and that's why I made works of art."  - Felix Gonzales-Torres

I love memoirs. All art is about deciding what to edit, what to leave in and what to leave out, and I imagine it must be even more challenging within the genre of memoirs. Four that I'm most grateful for:

519HKX9M69L__BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_ Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

Sometimes while reading this, I think maybe I shouldn't be, maybe it is too private. Frank is so honest, so vulnerable here, about the transition from young girl to woman, about mothers and daughters, and then about the unspeakable evil that surrounded her family.

Mostly I am just grateful that we are able to read this book. And in awe that such a young girl could capture in her words, written only for herself, such characters and drama and truth.

41YQTH3QZ2L__BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_ Bring Me a Unicorn by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead is the greater work of art, the story of joy followed by tragedy. But I love this collection of Lindbergh's early letters and diary. It gave me such hope as a young girl myself, because she comes across as sensitive and immature and all the things a young girl is, and I knew she eventually became the woman who bared the worst and wrote so beautifully in Gift from the Sea.

41MDSDAH05L__BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_ Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

I was assigned this by a speech teacher my first year at Loyola. I don't know how it was connected to Speech 101, but I'm grateful to that teacher all the same. It is a slight book, but contains so much. It's far from perfect, and in many ways isn't a memoir at all but an explication of his theory of "logotherapy." For me, it was the right book at the right time and I still pick it up whenever I see it at used bookstores so that I can give copies away.

Frankl survived four different concentration camps, only to learn they had taken all of his family, including his pregnant wife. I'm attracted to such stories not because of the drama or the terrible pain involved, but because I'm curious about what we become when the worst happens. Frankl suggests that it is completely up to the individual:

"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

Also love this: "The immediate influence of behavior is always more effective than that of words."

The misanthrope in me is heartened when those who have seen the worst of humanity can still find meaning in anything. I still have much to learn from Frankl.


West with the Night by Beryl Markham

Since I already mentioned Out of Africa, on Day 1, I'll include Markham's book here. I don't know much about the controversy surrounding whether her 3rd husband may have ghost written it with her, but it is the best written of all the books listed here. The kind you reread not only for the great stories but also to wonder at the writing itself. The kind of clean, clear prose that I am unable to write but adore. And the stories themselves are amazing---my favorite is a battle between her beloved dog and a lion.

Thanks, Anne, for the inspiration of Book Week. Check out more great books at her site and the links to others who participated. I meant to post more than three days but it's been a crazy week. Nolan also turned 8 months old this week, but I'll wait to update next week.

Here's to a great weekend and wonderful books.

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