By Jake Sexton
In May, the library will be hosting a memoir-writing class by local author and writing coach Marni Freedman. Writing a memoir is a way to reflect on your own past achievements and triumphs, and even to see your failures and regrets as something that helped build you into the person you are. Reading someone else’s memoir can be a way of expanding your own perspective, and hopefully enhancing your own wisdom by experiencing the struggles and successes of another. So let’s look at some interesting and well-crafted biographies from recent years.
Born in India and transplanted to Northern England, Aasif Mandvi grew up as a Muslim in a British industrial town, while dreaming of becoming an actor. A series of unusual events led him to the world of comedy, and he spent many of his recent years as a prominent “correspondent” alongside Jon Stewart on the satirical and influential “The Daily Show.” His memoir “No Land’s Man” tells 16 short stories, all vignettes from his life, about his childhood, the casual racism of the British schoolyard and the Hollywood audition room, his stubborn parents, and the unexpected opportunities that allowed him to make an impact.
“The Other Wes Moore” is a pair of narratives, about two men of roughly the same age, who grew up in the same city, and were given the same name. One Wes grows up to be a scholar with a successful career in politics and business, and is startled by a news article about this other man with the same name: the other Wes is serving a life sentence in prison for murder. The one Moore writes a tentative letter to the man in prison, and the two begin to learn about the similarities and differences in their lives, and the decisions that determined their wildly divergent outcomes.
Ta-Nehisi Coates has become lauded for his compelling essays for the Atlantic Monthly on culture and political issues. His memoir, “Between the World and Me,” combines his political insight, intimate personal story, and thoughts on the future. It’s written as a series of letters to his son, as Coates discusses his experience of growing up black in America, tying his past to the past of the nation, how all history shapes the present, and what his son can hope to expect as he grows older. The book has received much acclaim both as literature and political analysis.
G. Willow Wilson’s “The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam” is filled with deliberation and thoughtfulness about the meaning of faith and society. After years of spiritual malaise, young Wilson finds herself comforted by the words of the Quran, explores its meaning and learns Arabic. She then travels to Egypt to become an English teacher, meeting her future husband. But the story does not follow the path of a woman on an adventurous, romantic journey, it spends more time examining what about Islam she finds most honest, and the ways that she navigates her faith and identity through both her native and adopted cultures.
New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast turns her pen and sense of humor to her own life in “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” Alternately funny and tragic, the grim topic of caring for her aging and ill parents is treated with warmth, understanding, and exasperation. The memoir is told in graphic novel form, combining colorful cartoon illustration with ironic narration and dysfunctional dialogue.
The aforementioned Memoir Writing Class at the library will be held Wednesday, May 18 from 4 – 6 p.m. Call the library to sign up, 619-469-2151.