I’m generally a fiction reader, but it so happened that I’ve started the year reading quite a bit of non-fiction, specifically memoirs. One I really enjoyed, and the other I really didn’t.
While reading, I couldn’t help but wonder what makes a good memoir. Do you have to like or empathize with the subject of the narrative? I don’t believe that’s necessary in every case. However, unlike a biography, there is no separation between the author and the story. They’re writing about their own lives, so if you have a personal problem with someone, best to stay away from their memoir!
Some people have very interesting lives, but aren’t good storytellers. If someone’s memoir is badly written its probably not worth the trouble – you might as well just read their Wikipedia page instead.
So, on to the mini reviews.
Let me sum up The Hungry Years to save you the trouble of reading it. A man gains weight. The man has a problem with overeating, alcohol, and cocaine. It takes this man an entire book to come to the conclusion that his problems stem from a psychological place.
This was a rather tiring read, the author’s own loathing of his fat self brought up constantly. It is vaguely linear, with many inserts disturbing the timeline enough to be irritating. Are you telling me a story or regurgitating past interview and facts from other sources?
Honestly this book felt a lot like a self-pitying and self-loathing life story that I didn’t sign up to read. I was hoping for a deeper insight into overeating, but I certainly didn’t get it.
On the other hand, A Three Dog Life was an immensely enjoyable read. It’s a small book that spans five years, the aftermath of an accident that changed lives. A man undergoes permanent brain trauma, and his wife learns how to live with it.
This is a sad, funny, and insightful read about coping with loss. It’s a book about learning to be happy with circumstances out of your control. Most of all, it’s a beautifully narrated story. The author’s voice is consistent and interesting – you just want to keep reading.
The narrative is linear, at times providing flashbacks to juxtapose the past with the present. Context is always given, and you’re never lost wondering what’s going on.
I would definitely recommend this memoir to anyone even remotely interested in the subject. It’s an unassuming little book that turned out to be absolutely wonderful.
Do you read memoirs? What are some of the best and the worst you’ve come across? What do you think makes a good memoir? Let me know in the comments below!