When I interviewed New York Times reporter Frank Bruni a couple of months ago, I was struck by the emphasis he placed on reading. He said that when preparing to write his memoir, Born Round, he devoured memoirs to see how other writers told their life stories:
“In part I approached my own story the way I would someone else’s. To supplement my own memories I debriefed family members and friends. But mostly I took some time to read, in rapid succession, the kinds of memoirs I’d read before but never with a particular focus. I looked closely at how they were done, how they were paced, their tones. And I tried to draw from that some internal sense of how I should proceed with mine and what I wanted it to read and sound like. …
While slowly writing my own memoir, I’ve been reading books about food, mothers and daughters to get a sense for how other writers structure their stories, how many details they share, and how they draw connections between the past and the present.
I’ve found some memoirs to be too self-absorbed for my liking. The memoirs I gravitate toward most are the ones that make me feel as though I can relate to the characters, even when I may not have experienced the same things they did. Ultimately, that’s what I want to do with my own memoir — write it in such a way that helps other people realize they’re not alone. When readers tell me that they can relate to my personal essays, or that they learned something about themselves from reading them, I know I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.
The other night I compiled a list of memoirs that I think will help me write my own memoir. I hope you’ll look at the list and add your own recommendations.
- Who Do You Think You Are? by Alyse Myers (About to finish this one.)
- Eating Pomegranates by Sarah Gabriel
- The Memory Place by Mira Bartok
- Imperfect Ending: A Daughter’s Tale of Life and Death by Zoe Carter
- The Journal Keeper by Phyllis Theroux
- Mother, Missing by Joyce Carol Oates
- Her Last Death by Susanna Sonnenberg
- The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
- If You Knew Suzy: A Mother, a Daughter, a Reporter’s Notebook by Katherine Rosman (Already read this and wrote about it.)
- The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke
- Swallow the Ocean by Laura Flynn
- In the Long Run by Jim Axelrod
- Born Round by Frank Bruni (Already read this.)
- Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family by Cheryl Tan
- When Food is Love by Geneen Roth (One of my favorite books. Also love Roth’s other books related to food, including her latest one, Lost and Found.)
- Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love and War by Annia Ciezadlo
- Cakewalk by Kate Moses
- Tender at the Bone: Growing up at the Table by Ruth Reichl
Have you read some of the books on this list? If so, what did you think about them? Which ones should I add?