I am something of a memoir junkie. I don’t exclusively read parenting memoirs (if you haven’t read The Shepherd’s Life or The Night of the Gun yet, I’m sad for you), but 2018 seems to have been The Year of the Parenting/Family Memoir for me.
I filled my bookshelf this year with titles I hadn’t yet read from some of my favourite (slightly) older—and definitely wiser—favourite authors, like Anne Lamott, Abigail Thomas and Dani Shapiro. And I threw in a few books from newer authors in the earlier stages of parenthood.
Lots of people have read Lamott’s “Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year,” which is fantastic. But “Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son” is written with her son, Sam Lamott, and gives us an insight into the inner workings of a grandparent’s mind. She’s so honest about the total obsession she feels over her first grandchild, even as she tries outwardly to hide it.
At 35 years old, married and with a new baby, Kate Bowler is diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. It is as gut-wrenching as you would imagine, but she’s also a beautifully witty writer who seems like someone you’d be friends with. (I just reread the beginning and am crying again. Seriously; gut-wrenching, beautiful writing.)
This book is less about parenthood and more about marriage, although of course the two are intertwined. Dani Shapiro writes about time and money and memory and illness. Sometimes even the ordinary can be captivating when it’s written in a starkly truthful way.
A book about a mum who wasn’t sure she was ready for motherhood? Couldn’t we ALL write that? Nope, not the way Meaghan O’Connell does. From an unplanned pregnancy, a disagreement over whether to have an abortion and what she calls “the deranged game show of this childbirth,” to being a “prisoner” to the baby and finally, coming out of the fog, it’s all so real in a truly entertaining way.
Abigail Thomas is probably better known for her memoir “A Three Dog Life,” which I haven’t read, but this one hooked me from page 1 where she is painting to avoid writing the very book I’m reading. It’s the story of a decades-long friendship with a man who falls in love with her daughter and how they all have to recover from it, even as that daughter gets sick. The relationships in this book are both unusual and rich.
It sounds like a lot of brushes with death, but reading through all of her near misses makes you realise how many you’ve had in a way that you probably never quantified before. It starts to feel like something of a miracle that she—or any of us—make it to adulthood and parenthood, when we then have to witness the horror of our children’s brushes with death.
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