Right now I’m juggling three fiction writing projects all in various stages. By evening, I need to escape. I can pick up and read the kind of book I’m not writing – and sometimes I do – but even then I’ll find myself admiring a turn of phrase, or the pacing, or some element of characterization. I’m used to this (I’m a writer 24/7; there’s no ‘off’ switch), and I usually don’t mind. But once in a while, that admiration takes me out of the story I’m reading and slams me back into the one I walked away from a few hours earlier. It reminds me of what’s waiting at my desk.
I don’t have that problem with memoirs. Not the good ones at least. I’m usually too caught up in what’s happening to think about craft. That was the case with these five riveting reads.
‘Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail’ by Cheryl Strayed. Strayed takes an impulsive three month, 1100 mile hike to deal with the grief of her mother’s death, the unraveling of her life and the end of her marriage. In the process, the 26-year-old faces down rattlesnakes, black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls. Raw and compelling. I had trouble putting this book down.
‘Coming Clean: a Memoir’ by Kimberly Rae Miller. Miller’s story of growing up as the only child of severe hoarders and how it impacted every facet of her life. Honest and gritty. The love she has for her parents shines through, yet she doesn’t shy away from admitting her anger, frustration, embarrassment and shame. A wonderful read.
‘Heaven is Here, An Incredible Story of Hope, Triumph and Everyday Joy’ by Stephanie Nielson. Nielson seems to have it all – a beautiful young family, a happy, loving marriage. And then comes the crash of a small plane, co-piloted by her husband. Stephanie is a passenger. Burned over eighty percent of her body, Nielson is not expected to live. Her account of the accident, her near death experience, her grief as she struggles to recover and regain even a segment of her ‘old’ life, brought me close to tears more than once. A true testament to the strength of the human spirit.
‘The World is Bigger Now; An American Journalist’s Release From Captivity in Northern Korea – A Remarkable Story of Faith, Family and Forgiveness’ by Euna Lee. In March of 2009, Lee and journalist Laura Ling were working on a documentary about desperate North Koreans fleeing their homeland for China. Apprehended by North Korean soldiers, they were detained for almost five months before being tried and sentenced to twelve years of hard labor. Harrowing but ultimately uplifting, this is a rare glimpse into a little known country by a woman uniquely positioned to understand it.
‘Four Kitchens, My Life Behind the Burner in New York, Hanoi, Tel Aviv and Paris’ by Lauren Shockey. A great blend of history, culture, food and travel, as well as a humorous and honest look behind the scenes at what life is really like in a professional kitchen. Shockey has an engaging writing style. Great anecdotes and recipes too. You will drool, guaranteed.