So why do we need this book?
Mary Laura Philpott’s article looks at books of the ordinary lives that most of us lead: birth (or not), love (or not), marriage (or not), and death (oh yes). As much as the sensational books grab our attention, it’s the quieter books about quieter lives that can speak more loudly to us.
I have read to Liz before her bedtime for many years, and we’ve found that the best books for that are memoirs of ordinary people, but with a twist of some kind.
- Eugene Walter was certainly not ordinary, but his memoir Milking the Moon is a delight all the way through
- Cornelia Bailey’s memoir of life on Georgia’s Sapelo Island took me to a time and place not that far away from me, but it depicted a different world. (My appreciation of the book.)
- Betty MacDonald of The Egg and I fame also wrote a harrowing yet terrifically funny memoir of her year in a Seattle tuberculosis sanatorium in the ‘30s, called The Plague and I. Every page is a gem.
- Roz Chast’s graphic novel memoir of her aging parents’ decline, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, captures the poignance with a crooked smile and Chast’s knack for the telling detail.
- We’re now reading The Bridge Ladies, a memoir by a woman who joined her mother’s bridge club and sees another side to the generation of women she went to college and the big city to escape.
Philpott worries for her own book of memoirish essays and whether its normality will speak to readers. Her hope for why readers may find it of interest rests on the concept of “relatability.”
People come in all the time seeking not just an entertaining read, but (sorry, here comes that word) a relatable one. They pull down books in which they find some version of themselves as they are now or were in the past or hope to be one day. They start out seeing themselves in others; then they see the other in themselves; then they’re able to see themselves and their own futures differently. I’d say these books transform people, but it’s more that the books help people along while they are already transforming.
Perhaps. I would say instead that way down deep, in a place before words are formed, we know that we are all connected, we are all One Self. A good ordinary memoir cracks open the door to that place and reminds us of that truth.