Summer Reading: Memoirs and Whiskey

My manuscript for Without Condition is with Evelyn for editing. I’m writing a short story, doing a final revision on Wither, and outlining ideas for future projects as I wait to get the manuscript back. I’ve also been doing a lot of reading.

This summer, I’ve been most pleasantly surprised by memoirs. I like memoirs, so I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised about liking them; but I was surprised at how much I liked two in particular that I read recently.

The first is Educated by Tara Westover. Westover talks about growing up with her religious family in rural Idaho. She was home-schooled until the age of 17, when she enrolled at Brigham Young; then later went to graduate school to earn her PhD. While her school trajectory is remarkable, what’s most remarkable is that trajectory in the full context of her home life: her family were Mormon extremists, with a patriarch who was convinced that the end of the world was coming and that the government was coming for them.

Westover’s experiences were harrowing. However, she narrates almost every traumatic event with the same calm demeanor as she describes school, being in plays, and spending (less tumultuous) time with her family. I found this remarkable not only in how it still worked to convey horror, but added the extra layer of such horrors being a part of her every day, and thus, narrated as such. It also drives home the idea that it’s harder to talk of such horrors as horrific when they’re normalized by being a part of your family, the first connections you develop and, often, the ones that are hardest to break.

I found a similar narrative voice in another memoir: Sick by Porochista Khakpour. Khakpour reflects on her life leading up to her career as a writer, all in the context of Lyme disease and her struggles with chronic illness. Khakpour leaves nothing out when it comes to doctor’s visits, relapses, hospital stays, emergency room visits, prescriptions, homeopathy, and more. If you were exhausted reading that sentence, imagine what she herself has gone through and continues to go through every day. (Khakpour has a GoFundMe for her treatment, if you’d like to give)

Khakpour creates that connection to her illness with beautiful prose throughout. Sick is an elegant piece, one that weaves her experiences in and out of places she’s lived with ease. Just like Educated, it was hard to put down even with such difficult subject matter.

While memoirs have led the way in my favorite summer reads, I’m also reading a lot of good fiction. I recently finished Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith. It tells the story of a recently-widowed woman, her brother-in-law, and during the time he’s alive, her husband. The story weaves in and out of points in time, and the order in which it reveals key things about each character is exceptional. It’s not easy to do that well, and Cross-Smith does it almost perfectly.

The story itself is also melancholy and sweet, good for an August day in particular. I was immediately drawn into the narrative, and was sad to see it end. I plan to read it again to see how it feels knowing what lies ahead.

What have you been reading this summer?

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