Books

The Wednesday Five: Fall Memoirs of Note

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In this week’s Wednesday Five we share with you memoirs of note by five compelling women—Joyce Carol Oates, Margo Jefferson, Mary Karr, Sally Mann, and Sandra Cisneros—arriving just in time for your fall reading list.

 

1.

The Lost Landscape: A Writer’s Coming of Age by Joyce Carol Oates

9780062408679_custom-1ed110952d0fde4c0575e85190cb376af5b16a06-s400-c85“Her memoir is a study in contrasts, moving from scenes of a happy childhood to stories tinged with tragedy or violence. In one of those abandoned houses she used to pass by, an abusive father tormented a neighboring family. The one-room school she attended looked like something from a Norman Rockwell painting and Oates was a natural student who loved to learn. But the older farm boys who went to the school only because they had to terrorized their young classmates. . . There is a part of Oates that still yearns for that “lost landscape” of her youth and for the energetic, loving parents who raised her. But she knows she is lucky to have moved on from there and to have the luxury of looking back on it from a distance, with the eye and the imagination of a writer.”
Lynn Neary, NPR

 

2.

Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson

9780307378453_custom-eb5175fad1c3803bc2b641129d235032522d5260-s400-c85“Jefferson’s memoir pushes against the boundaries of its own genre. Yes, it begins with a scene from the author’s childhood. And yes, we learn about Jefferson’s older sister, Denise, and their parents: a father who was the longtime head of pediatrics at Provident, once the nation’s oldest black hospital; and a mother who was an impeccably dressed socialite. But it quickly swerves into social history; a good 30 pages of the book’s opening are dedicated to defining and chronicling the rise of America’s black upper class. Such unwillingness to abide by the conventions of genre also informs Jefferson’s approach to herself as the vehicle of her story. She remains conscious, possibly even suspicious, of the two roles she has signed on to play: character in and curator of these many poignant memories.” —Tracy K. Smith, The New York Times

 

3.

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

02-art-of-memoir-mary-karr“In Art she interrogates not only the work of other revered memoirists—Vladimir Nabokov, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Hilary Mantel among them—but also her personal experience and process. She dissects why early, stilted attempts at mining her life story in poetry and fiction were massive failures (in part because she hadn’t yet accepted her true, honky-tonk voice). She lays out her rules for dealing with family and friends (send them the manuscript pre-publication, and let them pick their own pseudonyms).” —Julia Felsenthal, Vogue

 

4.

Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs by Sally Mann

Sally-Mann-Hold-Still-55“Among the subjects around which this self-deception occurs is, of course, race. . . But then another surprise of this volume is learning what a good critical mind Mann has. Not all artists possess, as she does, the ability to articulate her vision in clear language. Late in the book, telling of the process of photographing black men, she is blunt about the compromises her work makes: “Exploitation lies at the root of every great portrait, and all of us know it. Few photographers, especially those having been through what Mann had, would feel totally comfortable committing that idea to print no matter how true they themselves knew it was.” —Michelle Dean, The Guardian

 

5.

A House of My Own by Sandra Cisneros

9780385351331_custom-0a50bddadba068e335c0ca0a39846691bf954000-s400-c85“One surprising element of “A House of My Own” is the author’s openness about her struggles before and after her literary success, shattering any romanticized perceptions her readers might have about her fame or fortune. She doesn’t hesitate to mention “the year of my near death” — a depression following the triumphant rerelease of “The House on Mango Street” that she dubbed “Hell’s basement” — and the times she would accept any dinner invitations because she was “subsisting mainly on French bread and lentils so that my money could last longer.” But she’s quick to reassure us (and perhaps herself): “Despair is part of the process, not the destination,” proving there’s even a lesson to be learned from a writer’s low points.” —Rigoberto González, The Los Angeles Times

Click on any of the books’ covers to purchase on Amazon.com. Proceeds from your purchase help fund Women’s Voices’ nonprofit mission.

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