I have always been fascinated by learning about people. The first biography I remember reading was about Helen Keller. I purchased it from a scholastic book fair. I had one of my first memorable “nerd” moments because I was excited that the back cover had braille. I quickly became obsessed with all things Helen Keller. This snowballed into a fascination with many famous figures and this reading trend is still going on to this day.
I read memoirs. I read biographies. I read autobiographies. I read about movie stars. I read about random people. I read about historical figures. It does not matter. I will read about anyone. If you have lived a fascinating life I want to know about it. If you lived with Hugh Hefner in the Playboy mansion I want to know all the juicy details. (I did this a few months ago with Holly Madison. It was a great audio book choice!) If you found yourself in the downward spiral of drug abuse I will read your story.
I have looked back on my extensive list of biographies/autobiographies/memoirs in an effort to discern what it is that makes me want to read them. I think I came up with a few thoughts so lets get started!
Makes You Appreciate the Life You Have
Memoirs that include child abuse are always difficult to read. I realize that these books are not meant for everyone. I am not sure why I am able to read these without too much issue; possibly because I do not have children. However, it does not mean that I do not feel complete and utter disgust at the life the people were forced to live.
I remember purchasing Driving with Dead People from the bargain books section at Barnes & Noble. The title may lead you believe that it is a weird purchase choice. While Monica did drive a hearse for an after school job, there is far more to her story. I purchased and read this book many years ago and I still remember it all clearly. It is one of my top book store discoveries.
I have always had a fascination with polygamist cults. I have read many books relating to Warren Jeffs and the FLDS. The Sound of Gravel is about a different polygamist cult based in Mexico. Ruth’s memoir is one of the best I have read in connection to polygamy. Despite her difficult upbringing, she is a talented writer and brings a touch of heart to her memoir that is lacking in others. She does not hit you with the unbelievable facts of family sizes, government assistance, and abuse like other polygamist memoirs tend to do. Her memoir is deeply personal. She is not telling her story for the shock value. There is far more too it. I listened to the audio version which is spoken by Ruth. Maybe that added to the personalized nature I experienced. Nonetheless, no matter your preferred method of reading, I encourage you to pick this one up.
Offers a Different Perspective of That Person
Like the rest of the world I loved Mara Wilson because she brought my favorite childhood character to life: Matilda. What I did not know was how difficult her life was. I listened to Where Am I Now? which was awesome because Mara was reading her life story to me. Her life was not the typical childhood star life of drugs, booze and self-destruction but in other ways. She lost her mother at an early age. She struggled with her identity. She struggled through puberty. She had trouble connecting with others. She was always negotiating her successful run as a child star. Had I not read her story I would never have realized the difficulty she had in life. The fact that her story is not your usual child star tale of woe is why I love it so much.
I had seen Gabourey in her heartbreaking role of Precious. I loved her character Queenie in American Horror Story: Coven. I will be honest. I knew her as that fat black actress with the complicated name. I feel horrible admitting that but as she says in This is Just My Face…she is a big black girl. I was in a reading rut so I decided to pick up her book. I had read some reviews and collectively everyone was struck by its honesty and humor. I loved three things about Gabourey’s memoir. First, I finally know how to say her name correctly. Second, she is hilarious. Third, holy crap has her family life has been a struggle. I follow her on Instagram and have fallen in love with her pet cat. I have become a new champion for Gabourey solely because I randomly decided to read her book.
Allows You to Indulge Further in Your Interests
My love affair with the Golden Age of Hollywood has been going on for a very long time. I love the glamour, Hollywood powerhouses and the look of a black and white film. There is just something so magical about that time that is impossible to properly put into words.
If you want delightful and historically accurate Hollywood gossip then Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud is the best way to go. I listened to this one and I was so heart-broken when it ended. Nothing is better than being immersed in the complicated relationship of Hollywood stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. It was delicious and gossipy. I loved every second of it.
Grace Kelly is one of my all time favorites. If I could look like any Hollywood actress I would, hands down, want to look like Grace Kelly. She was the epitome of Hollywood glamour and style. Her time in Hollywood was much too short but she left a lasting impression nonetheless. One of the best books on Grace I have read is Once Upon a Time: Behind the Fairy Tale of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier. While Once Upon a Time does provide information on Grace’s life before meeting Prince Rainier, it is primarily a book on her life as a Princess. She lived the ultimate Hollywood story of becoming a real life princess. However, do not let yourself be fooled. The life of a princess is not all it is cracked up to be.
The story of Judy Garland will always break my heart. If you are not familiar with her story all you need to know is that the Hollywood studio system destroyed her life by getting her addicted to drugs. If you want to learn about Judy Garland Me and My Shadows: A Family Memoir is the only thing you need to read as it is written by her daughter Lorna Luft. She refers to her as a mama while she is talking about Judy’s Hollywood films and the ups and downs of her life (Judy lived life like a continuous roller coaster ride). It is without a doubt one of my all time favorite autobiographies. I came across a hardcover copy at a flea market many years ago and quickly picked it up to add to my bookshelf.
They Help You Learn More About Yourself
I read When Breath Becomes Air only because someone in my book group read it. I had no other plans to pick it up despite it being a memoir. I was familiar with what it was about. To be honest, I did not want to read a memoir by an arrogant surgeon. However, Paul Kalanithi is not an arrogant surgeon. Paul’s story is about facing mortality. So it goes without saying that it makes you think about what YOU would do in that situation. This story is heartbreaking. It is not a long memoir so it will not take much of your time but the story will stay with you long after.
Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own is one of the most unique memoirs I have ever read. I will say that I read Kate Bolick’s story at an incredibly timely point in my life. I was close in age. I had packed up and moved to the state of Maryland. I was unattached and approaching thirty. I craved adventure and self-discovery. Bolick’s memoir is told through the lives of female writers. In learning about her favorite writers, Bolick applies their writings and lives to her own and how she identifies with them. It was a brilliant method for writing a memoir. It is a method I could see myself using should I write a memoir. That could be the reason it resonated with me. I also love the cover. It is very Jamie.
It is Always Interesting to Walk in Someone Else’s Shoes
Ever wonder what it would be like to have experienced the revolution in Iran as a child? Well then you should have picked up Persepolis yesterday. This is a graphic memoir and it is simply awesome. We walk with Marjane through her childhood and see the effect that political upheaval had in every single aspect of her life. Readers live in fear with her as people go to jail and houses of friends are bombed. We see the subtle ways in which she rebelled and how her parents tried to maintain a life of normalcy despite the state of their government. Persepolis is a trilogy. There is more to her story so do not miss out!
Alan Cumming’s memoir Not My Father’s Son was another random library selection for me. This could also go in the category of “it made me view them differently”. I do not want to say too much about it because I would risk giving away too much information. What I will say is that you never know what will happen when you search out the skeletons in your family’s closets. I do not envy Cumming’s childhood and the difficult relationship he had with his father.
I hope my enthusiasm for biographies/autobiographies/memoirs has not scared you off! I just adore being a voyeur. Books provide a safe distance for people watchers. Maybe that is the big take away…I am simply an enthusiastic voyeur!