BY JAEDA ENGBERG
Hello, New Rivers Press fans, and Happy May!
I hope everyone is staying healthy and sane during these trying times. The weather is blossoming, and summer is soon approaching, so with all the difficulties surrounding us, at least we have warm weather, vibrant surroundings, picnics and reading in the sun, and outdoor activities to look forward to!
Lately, memoirs have become some of my favorite books to read. I love the diverse history and intense life stories of individuals who have been brave enough to share their stories with the public.
Here Are Five Must-Read Memoirs from My Bookshelf:
Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo
Joy Harjo, our Poet Laureate of the year, is brilliant beyond measure. Her beautiful Native American background is so infused within her writing that it was no surprise when she wrote a memoir. Crazy Brave captures Harjo’s journey to becoming the renowned poet she is today. She incorporates authentically visionary traditions, personal abuse, spirituality, family, and branching out to find one’s voice. Harjo is elegant, brave, unique, and transformative.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
This striking memoir tells of essentially growing up as a nomad with very eclectic parents and a sensational family bond that is eventually tarnished by Walls’ father’s alcohol addiction. Walls captures her parents’ unique attributes with such vivid imagery and genuine admiration. Overall, she challenges unconditional family love that is strong despite its flaws. She is a brilliant storyteller who includes every detail to put us in her shoes as a child of four struggling to open her parents’ eyes to reality without letting go of her imagination.
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Patti Smith is one of my all-time favorite artists. I say artist because she is more than a memoirist: she is a photographer, poet, drawer and painter, and musician. Her language is visionary and captivating. If there is one person I could stand by and experience life with, it would be Patti Smith. Just Kids covers Smith’s relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and their mutual and separate roads to success. She also reflects back to her younger years, which is crucial to understand how and why she came so far.
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
If you want a memoir that will make you cry, make you furious, and make you proud all at the same time, this is the one for you. Chanel Miller was undoubtedly known by the media as Jane Doe in 2015, but it wasn’t until 2019 that she revealed her identity. Sexually assaulted by Brock Turner, Miller’s experience of trauma; injustice and the ultimate fight for not only her safety, but also those around her; healing; and her beautiful release of these events makes for a deeply emotional book. I am a pretty fast reader, but it took me a while to read this just because I would end up getting mad, cry over and over, and could not comprehend why Miller went through what she did. I can’t give this book enough justice, so I just simply recommend that you read it now. Miller is an extraordinarily resilient writer who will leave you breathless and changed.
Wasted by Marya Hornbacher
Another powerful and often triggering memoir, Wasted covers Hornbacher’s ten-year plus struggle with anorexia and bulimia, sex, drugs, and mental illness. Published in 1998, Hornbacher wrote her memoir when she was just 21. It is awfully graphic at times, but it is honest and raw. We live in a time in which looks are so concerning, and everyone longs to be “perfect,” and, in my opinion, this book still serves as very eye-opening to this. I had the pleasure of meeting Hornbacher about 11 years ago and had my book signed. She was one of the first authors I met outside those who reside in the Fargo-Moorhead area, and it was an honor to hear her speak so openly about such a vulnerable experience.