What We’re Reading: Remarkable memoirs

If you follow the mamas on Twitter (@nwaMotherlode) you’ve probably seen my (Shannon’s) tweets about the memoir Signs of Life. I was especially twitter-pated when the author, Natalie Taylor, tweeted back to me. It was … awesome to hear back from her, because I was right in the middle of the book and completely in awe of her writing.

My initial tweet was: “@mymessyhouse I’m reading your book right now. Elizabeth Berg was right.” (Berg had written a review that said, basically, once you pick up the book, good luck putting it down. Yup.)

The writing is entrancingly lyrical and brutally honest. It completely sucked me in. The book is about a 24-year-old English teacher who lost her husband of 18 months in a tragic accident while she was five months pregnant. It sounds depressing, I know, and it was quite sad at times. But the author, Natalie Taylor, has a wicked sense of humor and she is merciless in skewering some of the people around her: her students, in-laws and her single mom group, for example.

I love that her imagination helped get her through the first year of the grieving process, particularly with the help of her Fairy Mom Godmother.

As an English teacher, she loves literature (so do I) and her discussions of various works like Of Mice and Men and The Color Purple add another rich layer to the book. If you’re going through a sad — or challenging — time, this book will give you hope.

I just finished In Spite of Everything, a memoir by Susan Gregory Thomas. Those first few pages grabbed me by the heart (her dad did WHAT?!) and didn’t let go. Another brutally honest writer who shares shockingly raw details from childhood and into her marriage with kids. When she married, she made a promise that she would never make her kids go through the bitterness and horror of divorce. But then divorce came.

It’s a memoir, but Susan is a journalist, so it’s also a book about Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1980) and the legacy of divorce for that generation. Some of the subject material is rough — and I didn’t always agree with the author’s takeaways on life — but it really made me  think. I like that in a book.

Here’s an example of her excellent writing: “It is a hard truism that each generation is shaped by its war. The Greatest Generation (1929-43) was forged by World War II; Baby Boomers (1944-64) were defined by Vietnam and the civil rights and antiwar movements. Generation X’s war, I would argue, was the ultimate war at home: divorce.

“Sociologists have shown how the effects of the mass divorces of the 1980s linger subtly but powerfully in our behavior as adults now, in our struggle to do everything differently.”

My background isn’t like Susan’s (my parents have been married for 42 years) but I can relate to some of the angst. I was mostly amazed by her revelations about herself and others and how someone could be that self-aware. I’m still mulling over some of the ideas she introduced in the book.

Happy Thoughtful Reading!