Really Good Books About Real People: Part One

Also known as memoirs and biographies. Or things that mostly fit into that rubric.

The Last American Man, Liz Gilbert — Okay, so, I randomly have a mutual friend with Liz Gilbert (check ME out, such a hotshot) who was at Liz Gilbert’s house, and was all “oh, I have a friend who loves your book,” and Liz Gilbert was all (THIS IS A DRAMATIC PARAPHRASE) “yeah, no kidding, there’s a movie about it with Julia Goddamn Roberts, and I receive ninety weird letters written in menstrual blood every day” and my friend said, triumphantly: “NO. She loves The Last American Man.” And then Liz Gilbert went totally nuts with happiness and yanked a random copy off her bookcase and autographed it, and that’s the story of how I have two, equally amazing copies of The Last American Man. Which is … great. It’s just great.

The Black Donnellys, Thomas P. Kelley — This has nothing to do with the hastily cancelled, completely unrelated television show of the same name. This is a wildly-overblown, delicious account of Canada’s only exciting family, who terrorized the small town of Lucan in the 19th century until they were brutally slain by a gang of their neighbors. Who, despite being Canadian, just couldn’t take it anymore. And the homestead (now a museum) is totally haunted, and I have a concession stand t-shirt to that effect! If you only read one weird thing I recommend, make it The Black Donnellys. Pay no attention to the Amazon reviews, those people are lame. Actually, it looks they’re just telling you to read the Orlo Miller or the Ray Fazakas books instead. Can’t you do both?

Bunny Bunny: Gilda Radner — A Sort of Love Story, Alan Zweibel — Obviously, Gilda Radner was the greatest person who’s ever lived. If I could only reanimate one person, and I knew they wouldn’t come back wrong, like the cat from Pet Sematary, it would be Gilda. This beautiful, strange little play/memoir thing is written by her old SNL writing partner, and it’s so sweet and funny and lovely.

Cat People, Michael and Margaret Korda — WHAT IS THIS, even, I don’t know. Korda was the editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster for about a billion years, and periodically writes odd books about various things. This is, hand-to-God, a book about all the cats he and his wife had/have, and all their various habits and personalities and how they cope with commuting by car, etc. It’s…great.

A Way of Life, Like Any Other, Darcy O’Brien — YES YES YES YES. Sort of a male Joan Didion memoir about growing up off-kilter in California, I guess. Something special, I assure you.

Experience, Martin Amis — I have never enjoyed a single one of Amis’ novels, and he sounds like a bit of a juicebox (I mean, his dad was a bigger juicebox, but also wrote the greatest comic novel of the 20th century, which we will feature in a future reading list), but this is just a dynamite memoir. A hot mess, admittedly, but in the best possible way.

Let Me Finish, Roger Angell — Angell, a New Yorker stalwart for many, many decades, has written numerous books, mostly about baseball, but this one is about himself, and it’s simply gorgeous. I really must insist that you read it.

84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff — I am so excited for you. This is a collection of letters between Hanff, a spunky chainsmoking New York television writer, and Frank Doel, the tweedy bookstore employee in London, who keeps her in antiquarian reading material. The letters span the period of time between 1949 and 1968, and are perfect and wonderful. THE END IS SAD, THOUGH.

Drinking: A Love Story, Caroline Knapp — This book is kind of a kick in the pants, since it’s beautifully written, and she’s in recovery, and you want her to be happy, and she’s a little difficult and odd and endearing, and then BOOM, you look her up, and she died rapidly of cancer after it came out. Why even quit drinking, since the universe is lying in wait for you? And then you’re PMS-ing, and you read the memoir her friend wrote about how they walked their dogs together every day, and you get all weepy and despair of human happiness.

Writing Home, Shot in the Heart, Ball Four, Girls Like Us, and all those memoirs about queer ladies have been featured on previous reading lists.

Part Two to follow next week!