In the publishing world there is a lot of talk about there being too many memoirs published. My wife says she hates them. It certainly was not a genre choice for me before I started my job, purchasing nonfiction books for adults for the library. Now I know how many are published and it does seem ridiculous at times, but I have been intrigued by some of the reviews. More and more memoirs are finding their way onto my reading list.
Two that I have really enjoyed lately are In Due Season by Paul Wilkes and The Thing About Life Is that One Day You'll Be Dead by David Shields. Paul Wilkes is a freelance writer and filmmaker who concentrated much of his work on reporting on the Catholic Church in magazines like The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, and Atlantic Monthly. I'd never heard of him, but his spiritual journey fascinated me. He bobs back and forth between the material world and his call to a spiritual life. As he begins to achieve success in journalism in New York, he decides to follow Dorothy Day's example and chooses a life of voluntary poverty, helping the poor from a Brooklyn storefront. From there he is pulled back into the New York highlife by a successful television documentary series based on a book he had written before giving everything away and pursuing a life of voluntary poverty. Later, inspired by Thomas Merton's example, he tests out a monastic life, which also doesn't feel completely right. I found experiencing his journey vicariously through his memoir well worth it.
David Shield's meditation on our deteriorating bodies through stories of his life and reflections on his dad is illuminating, sobering, and often hilarious. He fills the book with information about how the body ages and then succinctly points out how his father seems to always be the outlier, defying the odds.
Do you read memoirs? Maybe it is time to start. There certainly are plenty of them.
In Due Season