The B List: Six new memoirs you can't put down
This article firs appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 2, 2013 - Everybody talks about summer reading but what about the books you curl up with under the blanket by the fireplace? Fall’s fast approaching and if you’re a lover of the personal narrative, you shouldn’t miss, in my opinion, six of the best memoirs of 2013.
“Confessions of a Sociopath” by M.E. Thomas: Often charming, quick-witted and successful, one in every 25 people share a common label: sociopath. Attorney M.E. Thomas (a pseudonym) wants to make sure readers know she’s also a practicing Mormon, gives 10 percent of her income to charity and is a not a killer, although she has planned a few deaths in her head. The people in her life are required to serve some useful purpose. But then, shouldn’t all relationships go both ways? See if you can spot at least small bits of yourself in her.
“The Still Point of the Turning World” by Emily Rapp. It’s a cold slap of cruelty that Rapp, a March of Dimes poster child, should grow up to bear a son who’s destined to die. Especially since she’d been cleared during pregnancy for the possibility of the Tay-Sachs that paralyzes and then kills Ronan at the age of 3. Why read such a grim story? Because in an era of Tiger Moms and Helicopter Parents, the world Rapp builds with her little boy is often a beautiful place, with no expectations, only appreciation for every moment.
“Monkey Mind" by Daniel Smith. Plenty of nonfiction books document depression (“Prozac Nation,” “An Unquiet Mind”) but when’s the last time you read a good anxiety memoir? In college, Smith’s ruminations on his way to therapy are both agonizing and fodder for jokes: “I was 23 years old and I looked like Nixon resigning the presidency.” Other historical figures are recalled in an exploration of anxiety through the ages. In his own life, therapy does help. But watching “Singing in the Rain” is “musico-visual Prozac” when all else fails.
“She Matters” by Susanna Sonnenberg. If you remember Sonnenberg from her memoir “Her Last Death," you’ll understand how the trauma of an unstable, inappropriate mother interferes with the bond that cements friendships: trust. Sonnenberg’s intense, passionate relationships with women, many forged through their children’s playgroups, teach her -- and the reader -- something about our own roles in relationship difficulties.
“The Cooked Seed" by Anchee Min. Known for “Red Azalea,” her riveting account of becoming a propaganda film star after years in a Chinese labor camp, Min now explores her adult life in the United States. The tenacity that made possible her escape from China, acquiring English by watching “Mister Rogers’” and graduating college underpins the raising of her daughter, and her eventual realization that she cannot live her child’s life.
“After Visiting Friends” by Michael Hainey. In 1970, when Hainey was a small boy, his newspaper copy-desk father collapsed and died under mysterious circumstances, “after visiting friends,” the obituary noted. But no one ever speculates about what friends. His mother’s silence safeguards the secret until Hainey grows up to be a journalist himself, whose investigative work reveals the truth about that night, and about how children must reconcile the fact that parents are people too.