The Shapes We Mae

When a Woman Tells Her Story

The Feminist's BookshelfLily MyersComment
When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her.
— Adrienne Rich
What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.
— Muriel Rukeyser

For the past few years, I've been obsessed with reading women's memoirs. There's something so brazen and brave about a woman revealing her life story, letting us in on her journey. Not only does it provide us with social and cultural history from a female perspective (and the vast majority of the history we're taught does not come from a female perspective), but these memoirs provide us with an understanding of the women who have come before. They give us templates, examples, permission to stumble and struggle just as much as our sisters and role models have. These books are at once art, entertainment, literature, history, triumph, permission, story, and revolution.

Here are some of my favorite female memoirs (with a loose definition of the term memoir) that I've read recently. 

1. The Liars' Club, Cherryand Lit by Mary Karr. These books are dazzling, gritty, funny and poignant portraits of Karr's childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, respectively. The Liars' Club recalls her tumultuous and highly vivid childhood in a tiny East Texas town; Cherry tells the story of her teenage years including a runaway trip to SoCal and a terrifying trip on acid; and Lit tells of her years as the mother of a young son, struggling with alcoholism, and finding a kind of faith. I can't recommend these books highly enough. Karr's voice is funny, sharp, bright, compelling, and completely her own.

2. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. This book isn't strictly a memoir, but it's highly personal and does recount much of Nelson's journey with her partner, her pregnancy, and the birth of her young son. Nelson explores ideas of intimacy, partnership, sex, love, gender, and queerness in completely new ways, combining personal accounts with intellectual analysis and philosophical pondering. It's one of those books where literally every paragraph adds a new and captivating idea. I was so disappointed when this book ended; I wanted to keep reading it forever, learning from Nelson's probing intellect fearless storytelling.

3. An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison. This book made a huge splash when it first came out in 1995. Jamison, a highly accomplished psychiatrist, struggled with bipolar disorder for much of her life. As a working professor and doctor, she spent much of her career hiding her psychological condition from most of her colleagues and acquaintances; this book was her public announcement of her experiences. She received a huge amount of negative backlash when she made it public. But her honesty is vital, brave and liberating. Jamison's story helps dissolve some of the negative stigma that still exists around mood disorders. She is honest and bold in her description of the disease's effects on her life. Reading this book, I was astonished by her bravery, her determination, her intelligence, her grit and power. 

4. Inferno by Eileen Myles. This book is a funny, disjointed, poetic, and completely unique depiction of Eileen Myles' early journey as a poet, moving to New York, living in a tiny apartment, looking for work, starting to write, and pursuing what felt real and good to her. Myles has an astoundingly unique writing voice that's honest and celebrates the mundane and run-down. She talks about queerness, the New York poetry scene, her writing process, her feelings of being different-- it all comes together in a gritty, strange, almost dreamlike inferno.

There are so, so many more on my to-read list. So many books, so little time!! If there are any other memoir fanatics out there, tell me your recommendations in the comments! Happy reading! :)