After graduating with a four-year college major in the art of readings books (a.k.a. an English major), it’s been refreshing to find that my reading life is no longer dictated by a syllabus. Over the course of a few years, I’ve been encompassed by Victorian novels and poetry and King Arthur and Jane Austen and Shakespeare and very little nonfiction.
So what have I been drawn to in the 6 months since graduating college? Memoirs.
I don’t think I realized the beauty of a memoir until I was loaned a copy of Tina Fey’s Bossypants when I studied abroad in London two years ago. It was humorous, insightful, and quite easy to connect with, even though I have very little in common with Tina herself (besides an absolute adoration for the woman). I then got sucked into the genre of female comedy writers’ memoirs. It’s turned into something of a guilty pleasure, since the books were told in a way that is self-deprecating, hilarious, and ultimately ends in the success the women have found in the comedy world and beyond.
After making the rounds with the comediennes, I’ve come across a few more serious memoirs by other women that aren’t as famous, but arguably admirable. My two favorites have been Azir Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. While neither women have much in common (one’s a literature professor in Iran and the other a lost 20-something who went for a long hike in the 1990’s), both used literature as a focal point for describing what they were going through at the time of their life.
Nafisi writes about teaching a secret course on western literature to a group of women in Iran. It’s beautifully written, insightful, and centers each section of the book around the particular novel being read in the group. I learned more about Iran from this book that I have from any political news report.
Wild, on the other hand, follows a woman who chooses to do a solo hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in hopes of dealing with the circumstances of her mother’s death, her divorce, and substance abuse– despite being an inexperienced hiker. I read this book on my flight to Thailand, and I found myself identifying with Strayed’s need to travel in order to look at her life objectively and make future decisions. I highly recommend the book.
So after taking stock of all the memoirs I’ve read in the past 6 months, I’ve asked myself why I’ve unintentionally read so many in such a short amount of time. I truthfully think, like many people, I find there is a lot to be gained from other people’s experiences. All six of these writers have experienced life and found success, and in a not-so-unique way of many recent college graduates, I’m looking at the next step for myself. I know generally what I want to do after I return from Thailand, but I also don’t. I’m afraid of making the wrong decision and getting stuck in a rut of a career I don’t love. I’m stalling on indecision at (what feels like) a crucial time in my life.
But books, as always, have been a place of sanctuary and salvage. It connects me to home and carries me away. I find pleasure in a well-written sentence or perfectly structured story. It’s an addiction I don’t mind having. I know that my love for the unknown that I’ve garnered from books has lead me to be brave enough to move to Thailand.
And who knows, maybe what I read will point me where to go next.
“A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead” -Graham Greene