Not long after this post in 2013, I decided that I would try to write a memoir. Two years later, I have read a wide array of memoirs–from memoirs in verse to graphic memoirs to picture book memoirs–and I’ve read books about how to write memoirs, including Handling the Truth and Use Your Words. All that reading, and I have yet to write a word of anything memoir-like beyond the occasional personal anecdote on this blog.
Most recently, my dream of writing my story found me in a memoir writing class. After five weeks of writing exercises, idea exchange, and encouragement, my only progress was adding more titles to my to-read list, including recent memoirs by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Sandra Cisneros, and more. And I’m already on the library waiting list for Why We write about Ourselves: 20 Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature, which doesn’t published until January.
Who has time to write when there are all these compelling stories to read?
Until I get all the books read, there’s always this blog, I suppose, for memoirish writing here and there amidst the book recommendations.
I wanted to read Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler as soon as I saw it. I was also raised in a strict religion, and I figured I would relate to Hartzler’s memoir of his childhood in an evangelical family. I imagined bonding with him over not being allowed to watch The Smurfs or read fantasy novels. But Hartzler’s religious childhood put mine to shame.
For example, in the religious community of my childhood R rated movies were taboo (even for adults) and PG-13 movies were subject to debate (for adults and definitely for teens). For Hartzler? No secular movies or television at all. Movies, it turns out, were one of his first Big Rebellions. There were many more rebellions along the way, as you might imagine. Music. Drinking. Girls.
But here is what really stood out to me about Rapture Practice: I didn’t finish the book hating Hartzler’s parents. Yes, they made him destroy his secret collection of secular music, and they punished him for really ridiculous things. But you can tell that Hartzler doesn’t hate them. Actually, he said in this Kirkus article that the book is a love note to his parents. It says, “To date, he’s unsure if his parents have read his book or ever will.”
I started reading expecting to compare notes on what we weren’t allowed to do as teens. Instead I found a thoughtful memoir about growing up and away from your family’s way of looking at the world. I think most people will be able to relate to that.
If I have anything bad to say about the book, it’s that it ended too soon. It ends as Hartzler is just beginning to question his faith and confront his sexuality (spoiler: he’s gay). I want that story too.
The Kirkus review says, “A hilarious first-of-its-kind story that will surely inspire more.”
I agree. I feel inspired. Perhaps I’ll share bits of my own story, which is odd by many standards though not quite as odd as Hartzler’s turned out to be. I only hope I can do it with the tact and balance that Hartzler did.
Miss last month’s Book Pick? Check it out: Formerly Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham
Momoirs and mommy-blogs are very in right now, but there are a few dad blogs out there too. I heard the stay-at-home dad behind the Captain Dad blog on NPR today, and it reminded me of Crawling: A Father’s First Year by Elisha Cooper.
I was curious about this memoir because I like Elisha Cooper’s children’s books. His understated, realistic illustration style is unique among picture books, and I tend to like his work. I wondered what it might be like to be a kidlit dad.
It turns out, it isn’t much different from being a kidlit mom. He writes about not really even being a “kid person” despite ending up in the children’s book business, about how strange life with a baby can be and how amazing too. We all worry and wonder what our baby will be like when they grow up. Cooper gets it right as he considers how he influences his daughter:
“It would really suck to censor myself around my daughter. That said, I can probably cut out “fuck.” I can watch less television with her. I can cut down on, or at least use more judiciously, my scorn. Because if I don’t edit myself a little bit, I fear my daughter will turn into a bad-food-eating, Coke-drinking, rap-playing, sports-watching, profanity-spewing misanthrope. The terrible thing, though, which I can barely admit to myself, is that my greater fear is that she won’t.”