On the surface, autobiographies and memoirs are very similar. They are both true accounts about the author's life told in the first person. An autobiography is the entire story of a person's life, from birth until the time of writing. On the other hand, a memoir is much more intimate than an autobiography. It is usually about a much briefer span of time, and focuses on one theme or circumstance.
For example, in the book She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana, Haven Kimmel focuses on the transformation of her mother--a woman who lived in abject poverty, weighed 268 pounds and rarely moved away from the couch until the day she decided to go to college, get a driver's license and lose half her body weight. That transformation changes Haven's own life in profound ways, but the book covers only a few years of Haven's preadolescence.
Today I promised to do some sample book reviews, so I'm going to review all the memoirs I've read so far this year for you. As I wrote these reviews, I stumbled across many, many reviews that put mine to shame. If you want that kind, go to goodreads or amazon and be swept away by the dissertations some people write. I'm not trying to show you how amazingly profound book reviews can be. My goal is to show you how easy it is to let another reader know whether or not another book is worth picking up.
She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana is the sequel to the delightful memoir A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel. Haven says that she never planned to write a sequel, but as she went to book signings so many people wanted to know what happened next. To her surprise, one of the most frequently asked questions was, "Did your mother ever get up off that couch?" Haven's answer is a resounding, "Boy, did she ever!"
Told in the same child-like spirit as the first book, Haven talks about poverty, depression and other heart-wrenching subjects with humor and wide eyed innocence. This book is the kind that has you rolling on the floor laughing when you know you probably should be crying, and will help you to remember that anything is possible. Recommended.
French By Heart: An American Family's Adventures in La Belle France is a travel memoir written by Rebecca Ramsey. It is the story of the four years her family spent living in France while her husband worked for Michelin. I have never been to France, but I studied French in school, have French relatives and have always been fascinated with all things French. I loved this book because Rebecca captured the essence of being a stranger in the French culture with good humor. Although the culture is so different from the South Carolina neighborhood she left, and not all the French people are kind to her or her children, you can tell that she truly learned to love France and the people there. This book is fun and light-hearted. Highly recommended.
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert isn't exactly a travel memoir, although it contains elements of that. It is the story of one woman's spiritual journey--her transformation from a "soul-sucking" woman who needs to have a man, but is never happy with one, into a woman who is at peace even when she is alone. After a bitter divorce and a whirlwind love affair leave Elizabeth in complete inner turmoil, she decides to spend a year off from her real life, traveling and finding peace. She spends 3 months in Italy, learning to speak Italian and eating great food; 3 months in India at an ashram learning mental and spiritual control and finally 3 months in Bali, learning to find balance between pleasure and spiritual rigor. The language is a little too salty for me, but Elizabeth's struggle to figure out why she was not happy when she had all the outward trappings of happiness struck a chord in my soul. Eat, Pray, Love is told with good humor and an honesty that took my breath away. Recommended with some reservations.
I've already done a review of this one, so I'll keep this short. In fact, let me show you the very basics:
1. The title: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (with a link--always a nice touch, but not necessary).
2. The author: Barbara Kingsolver (who is most famous for writing The Poisonwood Bible)
3. The genre: memoir
4. A short synopsis: A year in the life of the author and her family, when they move to their old family farm and spend an entire year eating only food that they grow themselves or that was grown locally.
5. The tone of the book, how it made me feel and whether I would recommend it: Parts of this book--especially the parts with the turkeys (!!!) made me laugh until I cried. This book has it all--facts and figures that will make you want to become a "locavore" and even make your own cheese, comedy enough to keep anyone's attention, and interesting stories that will stay with you long after you shut the book. Highly recommended.