I have long felt that well-written memoirs can make for some of the most powerful narratives. The baring of one’s soul, the vulnerability, the courage, and the heartfelt expression of our often painful and messy human condition is inspiring to me. That said, I have to admit that it isn’t a genre I’ve spent a lot of time reading.
As a psychotherapist I spend much time listening to the struggles of life, so in my reading time I more frequently grab something to help me escape. But I also believe in the power of telling and hearing each other’s stories—to heal, to understand, and to connect. Since signing with She Writes Press, which publishes many memoirs, I’ve read and become a bigger fan of the genre.
Years ago, I read a memoir written by Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor: Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother and Daughter Journey to the Sacred Places of Greece, Turkey, and France. I had read and enjoyed Sue Monk Kidd’s novels and was drawn to the travel aspects of the book. The struggles that each of the women grappled with in the book, and the symbolism drawn from the places they were visiting, all spoke to my belief in the power of relationship and connection in our quest for healing and self-understanding. It was a wonderful book that, as I write this, I realize I’d like to go back and read again!
We’ll Always Have Paris by Jennifer Coburn was another mother-daughter travel memoir that I related to intimately. In Blog #3: A Traveling We Will Go I talked about taking my first overseas trip to London with my young adult son and learning to let go of some of my fear in the process. Jennifer learns a similar lesson on the coattails of her teenage daughter Katie. And it was set in Paris. Need I say more?
My first She Writes Press memoir was Andrea Jarrell’s I’m the One That Got Away. I was captivated by the title and cover, curious to know from what and how she had escaped. I wasn’t disappointed. Jarrell’s willingness to be transparent and vulnerable was powerful and courageous. And her beautiful writing made it read like a novel. I couldn’t put it down. With my own abuse history, it touched me deeply and left me wanting more.
Betty Hafner’s Not Exactly Love was another She Writes Press publication about the complexities facing women in abusive relationships. Set in the sixties and seventies, Hafner describes the dilemma, the confusion, and the difficult choices that faced many women in an era before shelters and support from law enforcement. Like Jarrell, her writing read like fiction while being both courageous and insightful.
A third She Writes Press memoir that I loved was Betsy Graziani Fasbinder’s Filling Her Shoes: A Memoir of an Inherited Family. I read this book in two evenings, crying all the way. It was beautifully written, tender and real, and a wonderful tribute to the power of love and resilience. I was deeply touched and completely engaged. I can’t remember the last time I read through a book so quickly during a work week! Betsy puts her heart and soul onto the page. I was sad to have the book end but was left feeling deeply satisfied.
Most recently, I read a truly inspirational memoir, Not a Poster Child: Living Well With a Disability by Francine Falk-Allen. I am (just) young enough that polio was not a part of my childhood reality. I’m ashamed to admit that living with the sequelae is not something that has ever been in my consciousness, but Falk-Allen has changed that with her funny, candid, honest, and informational book. My heart went out to the little three-year-old girl, alone in the hospital for months, trying to make sense of her new world — and to the girl, teenager, and woman who never gave up despite the challenges. I finished the book feeling a deeper empathy and understanding for the impact of polio on its survivors.
Have you read a personal story that stayed with you long after you finished the final page? What is the most memorable memoir that you’ve read?