[Note: while looking over my posts about books I’ve read, I found this one that I apparently forgot to finish and publish. I started writing this in March 2012.]
Over the past few months I’ve read several memoirs. I’ve been fascinated by the stories and have enjoyed most of these books immensely. Most of these books have been short, easy reads, but I’ve walked away with at least one main, helpful idea. (For a short article explaining the difference between memoirs and autobiographies, click here.)
I’ve also pondered the profusion of memoirs in recent days. It used to be that another person would write your biography toward the end of your life or after you died, but now many people are writing memoirs. Again, I’ve found these books to be interesting, but I have also wondered if the recent flood of memoirs are a product of the self-absorbed culture we live in.
So, in no particular order, here are some of the memoirs I’ve read recently:
Lucky Man by Michael J. Fox
This book incorporated autobiographical sketches of Michael’s childhood and rise to fame interspersed with accounts of his diagnosis and struggle with Parkinson’s Disease. For about 10 years he tried to ignore the PD, but he finally realized that he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life in denial and alcoholism. After meeting with a therapist and facing the disease head on, he started to make progress in how he handled the disease and eventually started the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
To be honest, for the first half of the book or so, I was pretty disgusted with how Fox lived, both before and after the initial diagnosis. But I think he was also disgusted with how he was living, so when he hit bottom, he was motivated to get help and change.
Most of my memories of him are post-diagnosis and post-acceptance, so I’ve always admired his strength and courage and advocacy for others with Parkinson’s Disease. I was glad I read the book, because it’s an honest portrayal of the struggles one goes through with such a serious diagnosis, and it was a helpful reminder that we all have positive things we can be thankful for even when going through a difficult time.
A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio by Bob Edwards
I remember listening to Bob Edwards on NPR’s Morning Edition when riding to school as a child and teenager, and I still often listen to NPR as I commute to work. As I read the book, I remembered some of the stories he covered (In particular, I remembered his conversations with Red Barber and the sad announcement of Barber’s death on the show, and his coverage of the Gulf War), so it was interesting to read the background and to get an insider’s perspective of the formation of NPR and the daily workings of the radio station.
Of course, as you read about his departure from NPR and some of the disagreements with managers there and his divorce from his wife, you have to remember you’re only getting his perspective on the issues.
As expected from a radio host, this memoir was well-written and engaging, and since I had heard him so much on the radio, I could hear Edwards’s voice narrating it in my head.
Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account by Miklos Nyiszli
This was a troubling, grotesque, accurate account of the depraved torture and mass murder and “scientific research” that took place at the Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz. I cannot overemphasize how awful it was to read portions of this book. I could only handle small portions at a time and only during the day, because I didn’t want to be haunted by the book at night. I felt like it was important to read this book, though, to remember the victims and to be warned/conscious of the depths of the depravity of human nature.
[Note: I had planned on writing more about these books, but since I completely forgot about this post, my reviews of the next three books are shorter than I originally intended.]
Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs
by Elissa Wall
I’d been hearing more about cults and I think Warren Jeffs had been in the news around the time that I picked up this book. I was glad I read Elissa’s story as it helped me understand how someone can get involved in a cult, and it showed how difficult it is to escape a cult, but over all, I thought this book was poorly written.
Let’s Roll by Lisa Beamer
This was a tremendously moving book. It was difficult to read, because I knew what happened to Todd and dreaded getting to that part of the book, but I was encouraged by both Todd’s and Lisa’s testimonies of Christian growth, and I was challenged by Lisa’s faith in the Lord during the tragedy she experienced.
A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
My pastor’s wife recommended this book to me and we had several good conversations about it. This was one of the most interesting books I read in 2011. I still think about it often, actually; in many ways, it has shaped my thoughts about love, marriage, death, Christianity, and literature. This book deserves a re-read and then several blog posts about it.
For now, let me summarize the basic story. Sheldon and Davy met in college and fell deeply in love. Both were bright, literary-minded, well-read, articulate people, and they thought deeply about life and wrote beautifully about love and life. The first part of the book glimmered with their exuberant love for each other. Both were agnostics at the time, and it was obvious that their love for each other their god.
While studying at Oxford, they became friends with C.S. Lewis, and partly owing to his influence, they became believers–first, Davy, then a few weeks later, Sheldon. That’s an important point, because Davy seemed truly focused on God, often praying that their love for each other would not hinder their love for God, while Sheldon seemed to believe in God as a way to be nearer to Davy. This became especially apparent when Davy prayed that God would take her life, if it meant that Sheldon would love Him completely.
Shortly after returning to America after Sheldon’s graduate studies were completed, Davy developed a mysterious illness and was eventually diagnosed with a virus that had attacked her liver, and she died within six months. The rest of the book describes Sheldon’s grief and includes his correspondence with C.S. Lewis as he worked through his response to his wife’s death. The book’s title comes from a phrase in a letter to Lewis that he used to describe how God was dealing with him after Davy’s death; he saw her death as a “severe mercy.” Through Davy’s death, he became more devoted to God and the church.
This was a moving, thought-provoking book that is difficult to summarize adequately in a short post. I would love to re-read it and write more about it. If you have read the book, please comment and share your thoughts!