5 More Memoir Book Reviews

by Jerry Waxler

Here are five more memoir books for your reading list. It’s a motley assortment, built up from a combination of bookstore browsing, word-of-mouth, and availability through audible.com. (I listen to a lot of books.) Feel free to add your recommendations or comments.

Strange Things Happen: A Life with The Police, Polo, and Pygmies by Stewart Copeland
Stewart Copeland played the drums so well he helped propel the band “The Police” to rock and roll success in the 1980s. The memoir, “Strange Things Happen,” centers on the tour the group took when they regrouped in 2007. In addition to nostalgia value for fans, the book has interesting features for anyone interested in musical culture. I was intrigued by his insider look at the “tribal energy” of live performance, of what it felt like to be driving a crowd into a rock and roll frenzy. He gives an excellent inside look at the production of a concert tour. I enjoyed his detailed description of his interest in the sport of polo. And I was intrigued by his self-promotion instincts — for example, he saved his old tapes, he created a movie which cross-promotes the band and this book, and he unashamedly pitches and promotes himself every chance he gets. Surely there must be lessons in there somewhere for us internet author-entrepreneurs.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

This is a deliciously written book by a refined woman, about teaching English literature to a class full of students who have basically become prisoners of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. “So many teenagers were executed,” she says. Their crime was Western decadence. A typical charge was “promoting prostitution.” One young man felt aroused by a girl whose scarf revealed a patch of white skin. He had the girl expelled from the university for this offense against the revolution. From the modern secular society Iran had become under the previous ruler, the country was now plunged into chaos in the name of religion. Azar Nafisi uses literature to inform her students, as well as her readers, about the power of reading as an escape and a commentary on this life. It’s a fabulous insight into the role of the university and “the intelligentsia” in movements of social change.

Match dot bomb by Francine Pappadis Friedman
The author’s husband died when she was in her late 40’s, too old to be young, and too young to be old. She assumed she would live alone, but pressure from her friends caused her to reconsider. She entered the internet dating market, and this memoir is her journey through a series of disastrous dates. What does it feel like to be a widow, starting  over? The book demonstrated once again the power of memoirs to open a window into a different slice of life. In addition to the dates, she offers a lovely portrayal of her relationship with her supportive girl friends. And the book contains an excellent flash-back of her childhood visit to her grandparents in Greece. The book has a lovely, polished feel – well written and crafted, and excellently edited.

Tis: A Memoir by Frank McCourt
This memoir picks up where McCourt’s first memoir, “Angela’s Ashes” left off, making it an excellent example of a memoir sequel. In this one, he tries to settle in and establish his life in New York City. Like his previous memoir, this one has tremendous authorial voice, resonating with McCourt’s signature inner dialog. He is a great observer of the immigrant melting pot experience. Everyone keeps telling him to “stick with his own kind.” He recounts many excellent stories about teaching in high school. Inch by inch, McCourt blends into society, grows older, and satisfies the American Dream, not in easy storybook fashion, but through the messy hard work of years.

The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer
This memoir is about a boy without a father, who struggles to make sense of his life. He is fascinated by the men who hang out at the neighborhood bar, many of whom are just getting by. When the author goes to Yale, his buddies in the bar celebrate, but they don’t want him to get too far ahead. It’s one of the more downbeat memoirs I’ve read, with several redeeming factors. The protagonist wants to pursue a career in writing, and his entry into the writing life is a good story. Another interesting feature of the memoir is that he’s a kid with no direction and then he goes to Yale. By coincidence, that is exactly what happened to Mark Salzman in the memoir “Lost in Place.” Finally, J.R. Moehringer is the ghost writer of one of my favorite memoirs, Andre Agassi’s “Open.”

More memoir writing resources

To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on Memory Writers Network, click here.

To order my step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.

To learn about my 200 page workbook about overcoming psychological blocks to writing, click here.

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