Friday, March 9, 2012

Ladies Night, and the Feeling's Right

So generally, as a rule, I've no interest in listening to  people talk about themselves when I could have the opportunity to be talking about myself instead. As you all know by now, I'm not a great reader; I'm slow, picky, easily distracted and will abandon a book half-read. Finishing a book holds next to no special satisfaction for me, unfortunately, and I rank that in my extremely abbreviated list of shortcomings. I realize it makes for an awkward situation, me being an English major that works in a book store and all, (although, I hesitate to mention, when I started this scholastic adventure I was a film major that worked in a video store, which also was not my speed. Someday I will be a TV-and-artisan-cheese major and I will work in my living room, and maybe then, finally, I will have something important to say about content that might mean something, but probably not) however, to clarify, it's not that I don't read; I read all the time. I just can't stick to any one thing.

That was why I was excited to discover essays. Essays are perfect! They're like the original blogs! Shorter versions of nonfiction books, a good essayist can jam a bevy of informative materials into 10 or 20 pages and never have you checking your watch to see if you've spent enough time Reading This Book to have your roommate take you seriously as a human being. Essays are the best if you have trouble focusing because you are a child of the internet and you don't have ADHD you just can't shake the fact that, somewhere in the back of your mind, you always feel like there is something else you need to be doing.

So I love essays, we get it, it's cool. 

However, a couple weeks ago I inherited the Biography section of our store. I would like to kick off what I imagine will be a most deep and meaningful relationship with biography by mentioning my favorite biographies, auto or otherwise, that I have managed to read all the way through. These four are all written by women, we're going to pretend that's because it's International Woman's Day, but really it's because sisters are doin' it for themselves, standing on their own two feet, ringing all their own bells.

I read Pamela Druckerman's "Bringing Up Bebe" for no reason other than I picked it up, flipped to a random page in a random chapter that mentioned the menu in a French creche, and was intrigued by what I read there. It does not make a whole lot of sense for me to read Druckerman's book otherwise; I do not have a baby, and I do not have a French baby, and there is most certainly no plan for me to be involved with either any time soon. However, I read "Bringing Up Bebe", and while some aspects of the memoir I found hard to relate to, I found Druckerman's style easy to read and compelling. She manages to toe the line of sympathy, neither chastising America for its poor child and maternal care, or becoming so Eurocentric that I can't read her narrative without pausing to gratuitously roll my eyes.

Not to, like, dramatically switch gears on you, but Mary Karr is not only my favourite poet right now, but she also has written what may be my favourite memoir of addiction. I hate the term "beach read" because that sounds so totally boring and like a grandiose waste of my precious Earth-time, so I read "Lit" this summer, occasionally poolside, and it was the best thing I could have done for myself. Karr's slow descent into alcoholism and motherhood is as heartbreaking as it is terrifying. I think the part closest to my heart is Karr's description of her rotting relationship with her husband; as it begins to turn sour, everyone involved sees it starting to decay, but nobody can bring themselves to make the first actual move towards ending it. That methodical, almost gentle, bubbling over of one's life is so realistically immobilizing, and I loved every second I spent with this book.

But maybe you're not into American mothers bringing up French babies, or you don't feel the same way I do about "seasonal reading", and can't enjoy a book about hardcore struggles with alcohol while at your annual family reunion. Never fear, gentle flowers, I've got you covered as well! I read "West with the Night" many years ago, and remember it most distinctly from Beryl Markham's descriptions of Africa, often, uniquely, situation from the air. Markham has a way of painting such an impressive picture of the African bush, and the quaint prose of this autobiography is very enjoyable. This would be a much better read for a sensitive reader looking for a good escape in something well written, but not quite so disturbing or tear-provoking.

Finally, the mother of all memoirs, "A Stolen Life" by Jaycee Dugard. This book is unbelievable, because Dugard's story is unbelievable. The book came out shortly after "Room", but because "Room" was such a brilliant success, I think it overshadowed Dugard's memoir slightly, even though it is the real-life version of "Room", except so much more horrible, and not only due to the fact that it is true. Dugard is captured when she is 11 years old and kept captive until she is finally rescued by police, 18 years later. When she finally walks free, Dugard is 29 years old and has bore two daughters by her captor, Phillip Garrido. This book is her incredible story, told both through the eyes of her 11 year old self as she experiences these atrocities, and from her current-day perspective as she reflects on the events of her life. If you want to know more about Jaycee Dugard, definitely buy this book, but you can also watch this clip of her interview with Diane Sawyer.

You should definitely come hang around our biography section, especially in honor of these awesome women who have written their amazing life stories down. These books are four fantastic memoirs of many fantastic memoirs, and each bookseller has their own favourites I haven't even mentioned. Come check it out!

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