Forget Self-Help, Read a Memoir

November 12, 2010 | Jane

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Several years ago I read an article in one of the Toronto newspapers called, if I remember correctly, “Forget Self-Help!  Read a Memoir”.   What people decide to reveal about their lives can be even more educational than say, reading books by Dr. Phil on relationships, or how to reclaim and maintain our youth by Suzanne Somers.   Not that fixing your relationships or regaining your youth are bad things, but if you hunger for something deeper, try reading a memoir.

Some memoirs are like reading a Dan Brown novel - fast paced and hard to put down.  “A Million Little Pieces” and “Eat, Pray, Love” are real page turners.   We learn way too much about James Frey, his foul mouth and pill popping habits but still want more when it's over.  His adventures true or otherwise (he may have made some of it up!) are a great read!    Elizabeth Gilbert’s tale of escape from motherhood and marriage by eating, praying and loving moved many to tears and is now a Hollywood film starring Julia Roberts.   We forgive the small inconsistency in Ms. Gilbert's follow up memoir on... yes, the joys of marriage.   After all, when the author exposes his/her own flaws we, their readers, learn something about persaverence.

Other memoirs are more like reading Dickens - literary, rich, at times funny and serious but and perhaps more  heart wrenching than the page turner type.  “The Boy in the Moon” and “The Year of Finding Memory” are two such memoirs.  Ian Brown allows himself to learn from his son who can not speak or eat and Judy Fong Bates takes us with her to China, her parent’s homeland, where she discovers things about her parents that shock her and us into a greater understanding of their lives as immigrants. These Canadian authors make us proud.

Authors who write memoirs take us where we would, and perhaps could, not go ourselves.  They lead us through their experiences to a better understanding of human nature.

So, forget self help and read a memoir: