Reading Unique Personal Stories as Inspiration
With growing frequency, publishers are rolling out books addressing questions of identity, memory and personal histories. Each sheds new light on how we preserve our individual stories and emphasize why it’s important to do this at all.
Fans of the novel “Still Alice” will be able to pick up a non-fiction book by its author, Lisa Genova, in late March. Entitled “Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting”, the book promises to demonstrate the myriad ways context, emotion, insomnia, and stress can all affect what we remember. It promises to offer some great insight to those who are trying to capture or retrieve some of those memories in order to pass them along to their children, grandchildren or other loved ones.
There are plenty of other recent and classic books demonstrating that you don’t need to have the literary chops of Vladimir Nabokov (“Speak Memory”) or the wit of Gerald Durrell (“My Family and Other Animals”) to breathe life into your own memories and history.
You’re never too young to write a personal history. Check out “Notes From a Young Black Chef”, by Kwame Onwauchi, about the author’s journey to found his own elite restaurant and his quest to blend that passion for cuisine with his own heritage.
Coming of age epiphanies are always popular, for a reason. One recent classic is “Educated” by Tara Westover; also worth checking out is “Lab Girl” by Hope Jahren, about a young woman passionate about science.
Journeys of self-exploration come in all forms. Take a look at “The Salt Path” by Raynor Wynn, the tale of the new adventure that awaited a couple after they literally lost everything. “Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love” by memoirist Dani Shapiro recounts what it’s like when you discover suddenly (thanks to a DNA genealogy test done on a whim) that you’re not biologically related to your father.
Some much lauded books address how our passions propel us into specific professions. Take a look at “Skyfaring” by Mark Vanhoecker for a rare glimpse into what it’s like to work as a pilot.
The ways we come to grips with bereavement, dislocation and trauma make up all too many personal stories. At their best, these narratives can help others mourn the loss of our “normal” lives. For examples, take a look at “All At Sea” by Decca Aitkhenhead (my personal recommendation for those who unexpectedly lose a spouse or partner), or the recently-published “Wuhan Diary” by Fang Fang, the author’s witness of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Personal reflections on our roots and our ancestors’ lives can have tremendous resonance. For proof, take a look at the award-winning “Slaves in the Family” by Edward Ball.
– Suzanne McGee