Category Archives: 100 Must-Read Memoirs

Brother & Sister: A Memoir by Diane Keaton

Brother & Sister - A Memoir by Diane Keaton Title: Brother & Sister: A Memoir
Author: Diane Keaton
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0451494504
Genre: Memoirs, Autobiographies,
Pages: 176
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

I finally got a chance to read Diane Keaton’s memoir of herself and her brother. It brought out a lot of emotions in me as a sibling. This book is of course about the love she has for her brother Randy, but it is also about the love that doesn’t see after a while, the kind that is oblivious to what is going on with the other.

The book starts off with them being an ordinary family – one big sister, one little brother, Mom, Dad, and some more siblings, all in the middle-class California of the 50s. Things are obviously fine on the surface – the picnics, the family trips, the camps, and such as the other side beings to reveal itself. Of how things go wrong – when you grow up, do not keep in touch, become involved in your respective lives, how the brother is diametrically opposite of his sister, and how he lives a life that isn’t considered “normal”.

Brother & Sister is a book about relationships, and how mental health illness and alcoholism can be and is a real threat. This is also seen through the scrapbooks, journals, letters, and photographs kept by Diane’s mother – it is almost a progression of sorts.

Brother & Sister isn’t about judgment as much as it is about trying to understand someone you love so deeply, about what went wrong with them, why did the relationship suffer, and perhaps a way to piece it all together. Sibling relationships aren’t easy at all. But the idea of perhaps confronting demons and deep-diving into the family history to understand relationships and people makes this book so readable, relatable, and extremely relevant.

A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid

A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid Title: A Small Place
Author: Jamaica Kincaid
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374527075
Genre: Nonfiction, Jamaica Caribbean & West Indies History, Memoir
Pages: 81
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

So, this is my first Kincaid read, and all thanks to the 2020 Reading Women Challenge. Their first prompt is an author from Caribbean or India. Since I’ve read a lot of women from India, I thought let’s give the Caribbean a shot and started with A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid – a rather short, but extremely powerful and engaging book about colonialism and its effects in Antigua. There were so many things I wasn’t aware about Antigua till I read A Small Place, and like I said I was only too happy to read something out of my comfort zone and thereby discover the writing of an author I had intended to read for a while.

A Small Place is a memoir, it is also a history of Antigua in a way, it is also an essay of anger against the people who colonised Antigua, it is also a voice of great empathy that Kincaid has for her country and people. The book begins with an attack on tourists who visit Antigua – what they expect and choose to see versus what the place is.

A Small Place is a short book – but extremely powerful and angry. Kincaid writes about home – about what it meant to her, and what has become of it. Of how the English ruled them, and how their independence has only worsened the situation because of corruption and bureaucracy. Jamaica Kincaid speaks candidly – almost to the point of being brutal – there are no holds barred. The prose comes from an extremely personal space and therefore the writing shines the way it does.

For instance, when she speaks of lack of clean water in the country or even about the beloved old library that was destroyed in an earthquake and how nothing was done to build the new one. And now that there is a new one that has been built (way after the book was published), but there is still doubt if it is open to public or not.

Kincaid’s book is large – very large not only in its scope but also in what it has to say – and how she manages to say it in all in less than hundred pages is nothing short of a feat. That explains the writer she is – succinct, bare-boned, and yet so deeply emotional that every emotion is reflected on paper, and in turn is felt by the reader.

When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl’s Book by Naja Marie Aidt. Translated from the Danish by Denise Newman.

When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back- Carl's Book by Naja Marie Aidt Title: When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl’s Book
Author: Naja Marie Aidt
Translated from the Danish by Denise Newman
Publisher: Coffee House Press
ISBN: 978-1566895606
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 152
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

You cannot overcome grief. Grief hangs around, till it decides to leave you. Till such time you cannot get rid of it. It will not let go. As Naja Marie Aidt puts it so eloquently, that it breaks your heart: “Sorrow cannot be cured”.

When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl’s Book is a book about Naja’s son Carl and how she and her family lost him when he was twenty-five years old. Lost him to what? Lost him to whom? How does one overcome such a loss? Does one really? The answer is always no.

The book is about Carl. His life, his loves, his innocence, his need to be there for everyone, and his love for his friends and family. Naja bares it all. She gives it all to the reader – in the form of Carl’s notes, his poems, her poems, other writer’s works on death, grief, and loss. From Whitman’s poetry (which she found in her son’s green jacket afterward) to Anne Carson and Gilgamesh, this quest is also personal (only personal) – that of understanding the nature of loss and how to cope with it (if there’s a way to it).

We all have different ways to deal with death. How many of us acknowledge the loss and speak of it again and again and again? How many of us choose to ignore what we feel and continue as though nothing has happened? The loss of a loved one cannot be contained. The loss of a child more so.

Naja’s book made me see how I deal with death. How I manage my emotions, what I feel, how I communicate, and what happens to me when someone beloved is no more.

The book tore me severely in so many places. The times she speaks of her son – always so lovingly, the way she speaks of who he was and what he was made of, her anger at her son not being present in the world, how he was buried, the future he could’ve had, the reactions of the family, and more – all of them shook me, made me weep, and made me realise how important it is to tell people you love them – to make them know it again and again and again. Death isn’t easy. Living without is most difficult. We all hold on to scraps of memories. That is all what remains.

And here is Naja Marie Aidt’s interview about the book. A must-watch:

 

In The Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado

In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado Title: In The Dream House: A Memoir
Author: Carmen Maria Machado
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1644450031
Genre: Memoir, Gender Studies
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I had read a couple of short stories of Machado before picking up this memoir. I was also aware that this memoir, to a very large extent, would make me see my life and what I had gone through in a toxic relationship. Abuse need not be physical. In fact, the worst kind of abuse is the one that isn’t physical. The kind where no bruises are exposed, no scars are seen, no indication of violence is made known, and the one that isn’t heard or we feel that we cannot talk about it, as it is our own doing that got us here.

 In the Dream House is a book of abuse, hope, and resilience. It is a book about emotional exorcism which we all need to undertake once in a while, no matter the relationship or the intensity or lack of it. It is a memoir of Carmen’s toxic relationship with her first girlfriend and also a history of queer domestic violence. The chapters alternate from one to another. Some chapters read like parts of a larger fairy tale, while others are just downright horrific.

 And what is not surprising at all is the downright honesty of Machado’s writing. She is aware. She knows. The writing spills the heart on to the page. There is manipulation, deceit, a lot of heartache, and in all of this, she gives us glimpses of love. Love for which you stay. Love for which you are willing to perhaps forgive, till you realize that even that cannot change anything in the relationship or the person.

In The Dream House is beautiful and ugly. It is the kind of writing you want to shy away from but you cannot because you are engrossed, absorbed, and not as a voyeur but as someone who has been there (in my case) and knows every word, feels it, and can sense the pain it may have caused.

 There is grace – a lot of it, and then the candour springs on you from these very pages and grabs you at the throat. There is the Dream House as a Lesbian Pulp Novel, Dream House as Epilogue, Dream House as American Goth, Dream House as Sci-Fi Thriller, and Dream House as Ending. Dream House could be anything and is – a beautiful relationship, an abusive one, a one that won’t let go of you, family history, remembrances, queer history, and the author’s life at the core of it. The story she chose to tell and the manner in which she is telling it.

 In the Dream House is confrontative. It enters a territory which doesn’t get spoken about – queer domestic abuse. Machado also mentions at one point that we think queer folks are good and beautiful, but that’s not the case. We are as capable of ugliness. We are after all only human. The past is called on. The bits and sections are not clichéd narratives. There are no stereotypes here. What is there though: A gut-wrenching, redemptive story of the writer’s experiences. A story that needed to be told, and needs to be read.

Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country by Pam Houston

Deep Creek by Pam Houston Title: Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country
Author: Pam Houston
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
ISBN: 978-0393241020
Genre: Non-fiction, Memoirs
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

Pam Houston’s Deep Creek has to be read, actually savoured with enough time on your hand. It cannot and shouldn’t be rushed with. This book is about home and place and what is their meaning to someone who has spent half her life travelling around the world. More than that though, it is about the places we inhabit, the landscapes we belong to, the daily rituals of living and caring for people around you. Deep Creek is all about celebrating nature, and above that survival not only in the wilderness, but also around you.

The book is about Pam’s 120-acre homestead high in the Colorado Rockies. It is about more than that though. It is about what it means to take care of land, nurture it, care for creatures on it, and finally make it such a part of you that nowhere else really is home. Pam Houston’s book isn’t something others perhaps haven’t written on or dabbled with. What makes this book special then? In all honesty, and to put it as simply, and as clichéd as it might sound: The writing.

What struck me the most delightful about the book is the connections Pam makes between her ranch and the travels she undertakes. At the same time, the beauty of it all in the ranch being the only place she sees as home and almost a sanctuary – the place that provides her much comfort and solace, after going through a childhood of parental neglect and abuse. So that’s another aspect to the book, but Houston for once doesn’t stray away from the core of the book as it were.

Pam’s writing to me is as lucid as the air she breathes. It is as stunning and clear as her experiences with nature – land, animals, seasons, the fire experienced, and in all of this the person she becomes or evolves to be. The thing is that while reading the book, I wanted to be a part of the landscape that Pam inhabited, with every single turn of the page. At times, I thought there was more to every chapter, but more than happy with what is written as well.

Deep Creek is the kind of book that makes you soak in all of it – it is a memoir,    it is written from the heart (to me any book that does that is more than enough worthy to be read and it shows), and more than anything else it is absolutely fascinating to see what it feels like to lose contact with land and then to regain it (this will become clearer as you read the book).

The stories in Deep Creek are real (but of course) and motivated mainly by gratitude – for spaces that are available to us, and nature that surrounds us. There is this sense of comfort, longing, and delight while reading it. I read it over a period of time – a couple of chapters here and there and loved it even more. Deep Creek to me, must be read by all, cherished, and passed over to spread the hope and perseverance.