Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Smashed and Loose

So Day 5 of the Book Challenge asks me to share a non-fiction book that I "actually enjoyed." Don't make me laugh, challenge. After graduation, I read almost exclusively memoirs, all but one of which I enjoyed immensely. Most of them were grit, based on things that are not usually nice to talk about. Similar to the reason I love Chuck Palahniuk, things that seem dark, disgusting, or irreputable take on a different sheen and cast when spoken of well. The right words shine light on the bits of motivation and intention on things that seem unimaginable and incomprehensible.

The kick-off to these memoirs for me was one written by a very favorite professor of mine, but he will have his own post and his own day. But after having him as a professor, and then reading his book, I finally understood the notion of the author reading to me- I could hear him telling me his stories. Memoirs took on a new fascination for me when I realized that if I was an attentive enough reader, I could pick out the voices of any author from the pages of what I was reading. I just had to try very hard, or stop trying too hard, and sink into the words.

The memoirs I read right after graduating college negate what I said about happy childhoods. They were mostly about girls who had an addiction or disorder: anorexia; alcoholism; the choices were endless. Some were screwed up by their parents, while others did it all on their own. All of them had one thing in common- they pulled themselves up to overcome, or at least battle what ailed them, and in doing so found strength enough to write about it. I admired these girls, these women. I admired them for being bold enough to write the deepest secrets of their hearts, something I played at in college, but never truly touched.

One such memoir for me was Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood. This book is incredible. The voice is compelling. The story is heartbreaking. Is there more that needs to be said?

Another favorite was Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity. Are you getting the picture? These books,these stories of girls completely out of control gave me some sort of control over my own life, which felt like it was in turmoil. I wanted to be out of control; I was afraid I was out of control. I discovered that in comparison, of course, I was not. I still don't know if that was a disappointment. I haven't had the heart to do the soul-searching required to discover that.

These stories can be seen as toeing a thin line between exploitation and self-truth. Because, as we know, nothing draws an audience like a trainwreck. These are our tabloids, our 72-hour celebrity marriages and our realistic zombie apocalypse theories.  The rubber-neckers of the literary world are dying to read these stories. But does that give them less merit? We love to watch other people fall apart, because it means we in comparison are living safe, sane lives. We have self-control because we aren't out binge-drinking every night of the week and showing up at work hammered, if we show up at all. We aren't living lives of quiet desperation because we have 401ks or 403bs or IRAs that we put money into so we don't end up homeless living in our cars. We would never do something as stupid and foolish as these girls did, because we aren't anything alike.

But one thing always hits home with me when I read these memoirs. I identify with them. Sometimes almost completely.I understand their vulnerabilities and their fears because I have them, too. One wrote such an amazing description of a panic attack that I almost burst into tears because that's exactly what my senior  year of college felt like. I've felt like them. And therein is the crux. I have been these girls to a lesser extent. I have been almost as out of control, as neurotic, as jealous, as scared, as anxious, as bat-shit crazy. But I haven't run my own life as perilously close to running off the rails. Yet. So is it just a waiting game?

Memoirs have power over me, because if I read patiently and carefully enough, if I wait and let the words all sink into my soul one by one like pasta softening in boiling water, I can immerse myself into the story. And escape. And see the warning signs. And laugh because otherwise I'd cry.

So read a memoir. Learn something new about yourself by looking into that literary funhouse mirror.

1 comment:

  1. I love memoirs. I've never read Loose Girl, but now I think I'm going to have to order it. Koren Zailckas wrote another memoir called Fury (I think). I really want to read that as well. I've read Smashed so many times I feel like Koren is a good friend of mine.