Diaries and memoirs worth reading

The latest from David Sedaris, Theft By Finding: Diaries 1977-2002, was released on Tuesday, and I can’t wait for my copy to arrive! The New York Times describes it as an “elliptical, weirdly addictive narrative.”

Aron and I have gone to see him read at the UC Davis Mondavi Center the past few years when he’s come through on tour and he usually includes a passage from his diary in every evening—he’s been keeping one since he was a child and they often lead into drafts for his published works. It’s often been the highlight of his appearance. This volume is a collection of entries pulled from the diaries Sedaris wrote between 1977 and 2002, and it’s my impression that there’s another volume on the way.

A master of satire, sometimes shocking and often touching, Sedaris’s humor is almost in a genre of its own, but I would count Sedaris as my all-time favorite memoir writer. If you need a brief introduction, start with his short story “SantaLand Diaries.” If it’s not too irreverent for you, move on to Me Talk Pretty One Day.

Which made me wonder: do you like to read memoirs? They’re definitely a hit-or-miss genre, so I wouldn’t fault anyone for skipping over it completely. But some of the most captivating and moving reads of all time fall into this category—from Anne Frank to Maya Angelou, Barack Obama to Gabrielle Hamilton. Recently, some of my favorite books have fallen into this genre in the celebrity category.

Bossypants stands out still for its just-right blend of humor, wisdom, and sentimentality—along with some key behind-the-scenes peeks at Saturday Night Live.

We read Patti Smith’s Just Kids for our bookclub a few months ago and it was one of the good ones. I loved the glimpse it offered up of New York in the 1980s. And it sent me down a rabbit hole of YouTube videos and Wiki pages for hours after I put it down. Lena Dunham’s, however, was disappointing—reading as if it were a too-soon consequence of profit-margins, despite my belief in her talent. And Diane Keaton’s, while much more interesting to me, seemed forgettable soon after I finished.

Memoirs, diaries, personal essays… Which have been on the hit-list for you? Which are worth the read? 

P.S. Reading after kids and the art of “Auto-fiction” and some somethings I read.


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