One of the necessities of my life is having something to read. I love good books. I cannot fall asleep without reading for 20 or 30 minutes at night. I can't travel by air without a book into which I can escape. I always have a book going. I carry them around the house, hoping for a few minutes here or there. My daughter and son-in-law gave me a Kindle for Christmas last year. I never knew I wanted one. But, oh, I love it. I discovered I could download a Kindle app for my phone and sync it to my Kindle. Now I can read my current book on my phone while waiting for the Novocaine to kick in at the dentist's office or standing in line at the Post Office.
Somehow this year I have been on a memoir jag. Other peoples' lives. Why are they so fascinating? I don't know, but they are. I started with last year's National Book Award winner, Just Kids by Patti Smith.
Patti Smith, the iconic songwriter/singer/poet was born the same year I was. She did what I would never have had the courage or confidence to do, though it was what all us art majors of the '60s talked about doing. And perhaps that is why I was so sucked into this beautiful book. She went to New York to become an artist. There she met Robert Mapplethorpe who would become first her lover and then lifelong friend. It was a connection that lasted until Mapplethorpe's death from AIDS, but the book is really about the early years when they were "just kids" living a Bohemian life, an artist's life among the likes of Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol and Allen Ginsburg. This was before they were all famous. But it is not just an account of famous names and big adventure. It is a journey of love and struggle and passionate ideals and deep sadness at times. Told by a poet, it is a story of a time that seems almost mythic. I loved this book. I did not want it to end.
Then I read Reading my Father by Alexandra Styron.
She is the daughter of William Styron, author of The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie's Choice among other books. One of the most honored authors of the 20th century, Styron was the victim of crippling, devastating depression and a difficult man to live with. His daughter says, “At times querulous and taciturn, cutting and remote, melancholy when he
was sober and rageful when in his cups, he inspired fear and loathing
in us a good deal more often than it feels comfortable to admit.” After his death his daughter read through all his papers, writings, letters and book drafts in an effort to better understand her father. The resulting memoir is a fascinating insight into the literary world of the 1960's and a brutal, but ultimately loving and forgiving portrait of a complex man. Beautifully written. I liked this book very much.
I got caught up in reading food memoirs. I read all of Ruth Reichl's books, which are quite good, as well as Julia Child's My Life in France, which I quite enjoyed. Then I came across Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton.
This is a wonderful book! Gabrielle Hamilton is a beautiful writer and her story is tragic and funny and at times infuriating. This is why other peoples' lives are so fascinating—because they are, well, stranger than fiction, completely unexpected and painfully human.
Right now I am reading Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Not a memoir, but so far very engaging.
Have you read anything good lately?