December 18, 2009

Holiday Memoir Round-up

What do you want to get for Christmas/Chanukah/Quanza/Festivus? What should you give that special book worm in your life? Well, you can be sure that I have thoughts, opinions, and a wish list.

My top 5 Giftable Memoirs - as you can imagine, some memoirs don't make the best gifts because of subject matter and other reasons. So this list is my list of favorites that would make a great gift to most people, whether they profess to love memoir or not. I have included some of the book summary notes from Amazon and linked them too. Enjoy!

An American Childhood - by Annie Dillard

"Annie Dillard remembers. She remembers the exhilaration of whipping a snowball at a car and having it hit straight on. She remembers playing with the skin on her mother's knuckles, which "didn't snap back; it lay dead across her knuckle in a yellowish ridge." She remembers the compulsion to spend a whole afternoon (or many whole afternoons) endlessly pitching a ball at a target. In this intoxicating account of her childhood, Dillard climbs back inside her 5-, 10-, and 15-year-old selves with apparent effortlessness. The voracious young Dillard embraces headlong one fascination after another--from drawing to rocks and bugs to the French symbolists. "Everywhere, things snagged me," she writes. "The visible world turned me curious to books; the books propelled me reeling back to the world." From her parents she inherited a love of language--her mother's speech was "an endlessly interesting, swerving path"--and the understanding that "you do what you do out of your private passion for the thing itself," not for anyone else's approval or desire. And one would be mistaken to call the energy Dillard exhibits in An American Childhood merely youthful; "still I break up through the skin of awareness a thousand times a day," she writes, "as dolphins burst through seas, and dive again, and rise, and dive."

Born Standing Up - by Steve Martin

"At age 10, Steve Martin got a job selling guidebooks at the newly opened Disneyland. In the decade that followed, he worked in Disney's magic shop, print shop, and theater, and developed his own magic/comedy act. By age 20, studying poetry and philosophy on the side, he was performing a dozen times a week, most often at the Disney rival, Knott's Berry Farm. Obsession is a substitute for talent, he has said, and Steve Martin's focus and daring--his sheer tenacity--are truly stunning. He writes about making the very tough decision to sacrifice everything not original in his act, and about lucking into a job writing for The Smothers Brothers Show. He writes about mentors, girlfriends, his complex relationship with his parents and sister, and about some of his great peers in comedy--Dan Ackroyd, Lorne Michaels, Carl Reiner, Johnny Carson. He writes about fear, anxiety and loneliness. And he writes about how he figured out what worked on stage. This book is a memoir, but it is also an illuminating guidebook to stand-up from one of our two or three greatest comedians. Though Martin is reticent about his personal life, he is also stunningly deft, and manages to give readers a feeling of intimacy and candor. Illustrated throughout with black and white photographs collected by Martin, this book is instantly compelling visually and a spectacularly good read. "

Me Talk Pretty One Day - by David Sedaris

"Every glimpse we get of Sedaris's family and acquaintances delivers laughs and insights. He thwarts his North Carolina speech therapist ("for whom the word pen had two syllables") by cleverly avoiding all words with s sounds, which reveal the lisp she sought to correct. His midget guitar teacher, Mister Mancini, is unaware that Sedaris doesn't share his obsession with breasts, and sings "Light My Fire" all wrong--"as if he were a Webelo scout demanding a match." As a remarkably unqualified teacher at the Art Institute of Chicago, Sedaris had his class watch soap operas and assign "guessays" on what would happen in the next day's episode."

Modern American Memoirs - edited by Annie Dillard and Cort Conley. (This one is on my wish list!)

"Annie Dillard and publisher Cort Conley have collected excerpts from the memoirs of 35 20th-century American authors. The selections represent the best in autobiographical writing published between 1917 and 1992. Included are nine women and 26 men, both black and white, some better known than others, all distinguished writers and wonderful storytellers. Chris Offutt's "The Same River Twice" tells about the author's stint working in the circus; Anne Moody's "Coming of Age in Mississippi" describes her participation in the 1963 Woolworth sit-in. The editors precede each entry with a biographical and contextual note. There's an opening essay on the art of the memoirist and an afterword listing additional classics in the genre. This rich collection serves as an introduction to the nation's best modern writers and a primer on the American experience."

The Gift Card - Okay so i know I said 5. In reality, the best gift if you are not sure what to give them is a bookstore gift card. (Thanks Dad!)

On my wish list:

An Unquiet Mind - by Kay Redfeild Jaimison (several of our fans listed this as their fave and I am intrigued.)

Modern American Memoirs - Annie Dillard and Cort Conley (I want this!)

Driving with Dead People - Monica Holloway (Looks like a downer but I heard her read and she is lovely.)

The Gastronomy of Marriage: A Memoir of Food and Love - by Michelle Maisto (I miss NY and I heart food.)

On my Shelf - Just for your own voyeuristic interest, these are the books that are half finished or that I hope to get around to soon.

The Possibility of Everything - Hope Edelman

Einstein- by Walter Isaacson (ok this is biography)

The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion

Feel free to share or comment on your favorites or your opinions on gifting memoir. Happy Holidays.

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