1. The Idiot Girl’s Action Adventure Guide by Laurie Notaro.
The synopsis on Barnes & Noble.com simply says “'I've changed a bit since high school. Back then I said no to using and selling drugs. I washed on a normal basis and still had good credit.' Introducing Laurie Notaro, the leader of the Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club.”
2. Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett. Patchett tells the story of her friendship with Lucy Grealy, author of Autobiography of a Face. Their friendship is complex, lively and troubled, just like Grealy. The book lives up to its name.
3. Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krause Rosenthal.
"I have not survived against all odds. I have not lived to tell. I have not witnessed the extraordinary. This is my story." And in encyclopedia form! Clever and fun to read from cover to cover.
4. Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: Tales of Growing up Groovy and Clueless by Susan Jane Gilman. I'm just going to quote Publishers Weekly: "When her brother asks their dad why their Jewish family celebrates Christmas, she doesn't miss a beat: " `Because your grandmother's a Communist and your mother loves parties,' said my father. `Now eat your supper.' " Hee. From her hippie childhood to meeting Mick Jagger as a teen to caving in and getting married in a pouffy white dress, Gilman makes it all seem wildly entertaining, yet surprisingly normal.
5. Beeing: Life, Motherhood, and 180,000 Honey Bees by Rosanne Daryl Thomas. The title pretty much says it all.
6. A Book of Bees: And How to Keep Them by Sue Hubbell. Yes, I have read TWO memoirs on women who raise bees. Both were great. Beeing is more about the people. A Book of Bees is more about the bees and has more technical illustrations. Both are poetic nonfiction books about creating a new life. As David Quammen wrote in the New York Times, A Book of Bees is also about "the difference between solitude and loneliness."
7. A Thousand Days in Venice: An Unexpected Romance by Marlena De Blasi. A freshly-divorced American chef falls in love with a Venetian she calls "the stranger" in this memoir/cookbook.
8. Travels with Charlie: In Search of America by John Steinbeck. John Steinbeck set out with Charlie, his French poodle, to rediscover the country he had been writing about for so many years. It is amazing to see how much has changed since this travelogue was written, yet I still recognize small town America as he depicts it.
9. Maus I & II by Art Spiegelman. It's a tiny stretch to call these graphic novels a memoir; they're mostly about Spiegelman's father's experience of the Holocaust, but they include Spiegelman's life and creative process.
10. Living Up the Street by Gary Soto. Soto gives a lively depiction of growing up a poor Latino. The best chapter is "Mean Kids," tales of his naughty youth.
11. Tuesdays with Maurie by Mitch Alblom. Alblom writes a tear-jearker about the death of a beloved professor with a thirst for life.
12. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris. My first foray into Sedaris. He's hilarious, but his depiction of the strain his homosexuality created in his family is heartbreaking.
13. Leading a Literary Life by Carolyn See. One part memoir, two parts how-to. See guides us through the dark forest of wannabe-writerdom.
14. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. It's well-written, but I had to set this one down for a few days and when I picked it back up, I couldn't remember who anyone was. I'm sure I'll finish it...someday.
15. Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch by Hollis Gillespie. Hee. Oh, Hollis! Hollis and her crazy friends who use roadside religious signs and crack pipes to decorate their homes! She's a flight attendant, a commentator for NPR, a photographer and a columnist. I'm jealous of her colorful resume.
16. Ill-Equipped For a Life of Sex by Jennifer Lehr. Jennifer Lehr is hilarious, and her husband (formerly the mute brother on the NBC sitcom Jessie) is no slouch. Lehr is unflinchingly honest, as willing to tell you about her sexual debauchery as her heartache or her financial irresponsibility. This is a must-read for anyone who has fought for a difficult relationship and found it worthwhile in the end. Oh, and everyone else should read it, too. The pictures are fun and Lehr manages to admit her every flaw yet remain completely lovable.
17. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris Art, drugs, learning a new language and living abroad all get Sedaris' signature treatment.
18. Foreign Babes in Beijing by Rachel DeWoskin. DeWoskin moved to China in the early 90s to work for a PR firm. She somehow ended up on a soap opera, Foreign Babes in Beijing. The title makes you think you're in for a sexy romp (and there is a bit of that), but it's more about language and friendship. This memoir melds personal and academic perspectives into a rapidly-changing nation. During DeWoskin's time there, China struggled to accept new commerce without losing its cultural identity. Meanwhile, DeWoskin struggled to find her place in the world.
Get out there and buy some memoirs, y'all! Keep the market good and hot so some publisher will want to buy mine when it's done.