Recent Revelatory Reading Part 3
Today’s list of favorite reading from this last year focuses on memoirs. I really enjoy a good memoir/biography/autobiography. Do you? There’s something about real lives that really feeds into my work as a writer – they help me discover the truth of complex characters and the way people meet and overcome challenges. Basically that’s what most great stories are about.
Even nicer today, two of my favorite memoirs from recent reading are Australian. They’re both available internationally so if you’re not one of my Aussie readers here, why not take a chance on a writer who lives off your home patch?
First up is a book I just couldn’t put down. It reads like a really good novel with that compelling storyline that keeps you turning pages. Richard Glover writes a weekly humorous column for the Sydney Morning Herald here and when I lived in Sydney, I used to love reading his piece every Saturday about the ups and downs of family life. He has a wry, funny take on the absurdities and dramas of domesticity and an appreciation of the bedrock truths that underlie human relationships.
In his memoir, Flesh Wounds, he tells his own story, but more importantly, he tells the story of his parents who always won the “Who’s Got the Weirdest Parents?” game Richard used to play with his friends. But beneath the hilarity, there’s a poignant story about lost, questing people who mean well but never quite get it right and who remain a mystery to their son, even after he’s uncovered so many of their secrets through researching this book. With its frank and touching dissection of frustrated hopes and the strange paths life can take people along, this is a book I’ve thought about a lot since I finished it at the start of the year. Definitely worth a try.
My next memoir is another Australian bestseller, Salvation Creek: An Unexpected Life by Susan Duncan. Susan was a major figure in Australian media (editor of the Womans Day and Womens Weekly, two of our biggest magazines) who fell in love with the beautiful and rather forbidding landscape of the Hawkesbury River north of Sydney and eventually decided to settle there. Because of this decision, her life changed forever. She goes through tragedy and heartache and betrayal and self-revelation, and eventually realizes that she wants to leave the rat race behind forever and commit to living in this wild and isolated landscape where the only access is by boat. In the process, she falls in love, she loses some close friends to cancer, survives her own cancer treatment, and finds a meaning and fulfillment she never before imagined.
This is a great book for people who dream of getting away from it all and establishing their own piece of paradise on their own terms. It’s also a foodie book – you’ll be salivating as Susan describes the wonderful meals she cooks and enjoys. I wish she’d ask me over to dinner – I think the food would be great and the company would be even better.
My last selection is one of the best books I’ve ever read in any genre. Like Richard Glover’s book, it’s got the compelling narrative of a novel with the added benefit that it’s all true. I laughed, I cried, I cheered, I sat in the bath for two hours just so I could finish it. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Darren James Brown is a masterpiece, and that’s a term I don’t use lightly.
Brown uses the life of Joe Rantz, a member of the University of Washington eight-oared crew who won the gold medal in 1936, as the focus for a truly epic story about the challenges of sport, friendship, the Depression, the rise of Nazism, politics, education, love and family. As you’ve probably gathered, this is a BIG book on big themes, yet all those profound issues are handled with the grace and intimacy of a conversation with a good friend.
The funny thing is you start reading this book knowing that the boys in the boat are going to triumph, and yet the last hundred pages will have you on the edge of your seat as you hang in there to see if they win. You’ll learn to love Joe and his family and crewmates, and they will stay with you long after you read the last page. This is such a moving story and one that I’m sure you’ll never forget. If you pick up any of the books in today’s My Favorite Things, pick up this one – it’s magnificent.
One more piece to come on this year’s reading. As I said, I was surprised when I thought about all my reading (and I read a LOT!) and so many of my favorites were nonfiction. So next month, I’ll round up a couple of more nonfiction books that I really loved. See you then!