Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Best of 2011 Countdown: #11

Home stretch! Today we have a couple of great memoirs.


Chinaberry Sidewalks
Rodney Crowell

Several musicians wrote books this year, and Random House was lucky enough to publish a few of the best (Joe Henry’s Lime Creek was on my top 30 and Josh Ritter’s novel is a favorite as well). What separates Crowell’s biography from so many others is that he worked on it for about a decade and wrote every word himself. Thoughtful and authentic, two words not normally associated with music memoirs, but Crowell digs deeper.

His book is more along the lines of The Liars Club or even All Over but the Shoutin’ (and clear influence from Kardashian Konfidential). This memoir is funny, sweet, dark, and in parts quite sad. He is the son of an alcoholic father and an epileptic, Pentecostal mother who also had a temper. Let's just say…there were fights in that house.  You will in fact get a good sense of his young life when he recalls a story of having to break up his parents New Year's party when gunfire broke out.   It is where the saying “It's not New Year's until there is gunfire” comes from! Well that should be a saying.

It's all here in this incredibly well-written memoir; love, sex, violence, music, drinking, poverty, more music, and then a little more music on top. If you’re like me (if you are, try to change) you’ll hope Rodney has another book on the way.

Visit his website to see an interview with Mary Karr:

Blue Nights
Joan Didion

Nothing says "Happy Holidays!" like...a memoir about a woman coping with the death of her daughter.  Blue Nights, however, is written by Joan Didion, literary giant.  Following her memoir about the death of her husband, The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion manages to keep going only to once again find herself immersed in tragedy months later when her daughter Quintana passes away.  

Didion's grief is raw, but she intersperses her tough moments with a striking elegy to her daughter's life, from growing up in Malibu to her life as an adult woman, newly married.  Didion and her husband John Gregory Dunne were friends with Vanessa Redgrave, and their daughter Quintana was a friend of Natasha Richardson.  Redgrave's own loss of her daughter (Natasha Richardson died after a skiing accident) weaves into Didion's story; Vanessa Redgrave actually played Didion in the Broadway show of The Year of Magical Thinking.  

I am not a parent.  Zorro the cat is already too much responsibility for me.  I have, however, recently experienced the loss of a family member.  To read Joan Didion's memoirs about grief is to find one's own sorrow and pain and hope and strength.  Death is the universal experience; Joan Didion gives a voice to ones still living.

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