What’s Your Favorite “Coming of Age” Story?

Cherry: A Memoir by Mary Karr

Most people who’ve raised children to adulthood would agree with Raymond Duncan who says,”the best substitute for experience is being sixteen.” But, did you know that some of the most popular books today are teenage “Coming of Age” memoirs? While almost every parent I know thinks their own teen is a drama queen/king, most would not consider junior’s life worth mining for art’s sake. Surely we all know by now that most adults are wrong.

As Oscar Wilde says, “The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything.”

My own book, Cracking Up, was written with hopes of helping “crack up” my own teen girrrls—six nieces. I’d rather they laugh than go crazy being raised within the nutty walls of our Conservative Roman Catholic schools (the same ones that I’d attended). Though I loved writing every one of my books, my own coming-of-age memoir is not my most cherished one.

What’s your favorite coming of age story? I have so many, I don’t know where to begin. But, I’ll pick just one for now and hope you’ll share yours with the rest of us here. Mine is Cherry written by prizewinning poet and memoirist, Mary Karr. You may remember her bestselling and earliest work called The Liars’ Club.

While I’d never call Mary Karr “scrappy,” the briefest book reviews seem to use that adjective to describe her. See some reviews/summaries here on Powells.com.

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“Telling a teenager the facts of life is like giving a fish a bath.” ~ Arnold H. Glasow

Mary Karr told the prizewinning tale of her hardscrabble Texas childhood with enough literary verve to spark a renaissance in memoir. The Liars’ Club rode the top of The New York Times bestseller list for more than a year, and publications ranging from The New Yorker to People magazine picked it as one of the best books of the year. But it left people wondering: How’d that scrappy kid make it outa there? Cherry dares to tell that story. Karr picks up the trail and dashes off into her teen years with customary sass, only to run up against the paralyzing self-doubt of a girl in bloom.

In this long-awaited sequel, we see Karr ultimately trying to run from the thrills and terrors of her sexual awakening by butting up against authority in all its forms. She lands all too often in the principal’s office and — in one instance — a jail cell. Looking for a lover or heart’s companion who’ll make her feel whole, she hooks up with an outrageous band of surfers and heads, wanna-be yogis and bona fide geniuses.

Karr’s edgy, brilliant prose careens between hilarity and tragedy, and Cherry takes readers to a place never truly explored — deep inside a girl’s stormy, ardent adolescence. Parts will leave you gasping with laughter. But its soaring close proves that from even the smokiest beginnings a solid self can form, one capable of facing down all manner of monsters.

Review:

“Readers seduced by Karr’s canny memoir of a childhood spent under the spell of a volatile, defiantly loving family in The Liars’ Club can look forward to more exquisite writing in this sequel focusing on her adolescence in a dusty Texas town…. Moving effortlessly from breathtaking, to heart stabbing, to laugh out loud raucous, the precision and sheer beauty of Karr’s writing remains astounding.” ~ Publishers Weekly

Review:

“Karr proves herself as fluent in evoking the common ground of adolescence as she did in limning her anomalous girlhood. As she did in The Liars’ Club, Ms. Karr combines a poet’s lyricism and a Texan’s down-home vernacular with her natural storytelling gift. Some of her stories are nostalgic for a vanished time and place; some are scathing in their evocation of an insular world; some are just plain funny.” ~ Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Synopsis:

In the long-awaited sequel to The Liars’ Club, Karr picks up the trail of her hardscrabble Texas childhood and dashes off into her teen years with customary sass, only to run up against the paralyzing self-doubt of a girl in bloom. The book’s soaring close proves that from even the smokiest beginnings a solid self can form, one capable of facing down all manners of monsters.

Description:

From Mary Karr comes this gorgeously written, often hilarious story of her tumultuous teens and sexual coming-of-age. Picking up where the bestselling The Liars’ Club left off, Karr dashes down the trail of her teen years with customary sass, only to run up against the paralyzing self-doubt of a girl in bloom. Fleeing the thrills and terrors of adolescence, she clashes against authority in all its forms and hooks up with an unforgettable band of heads and bona-fide geniuses. Parts of Cherry will leave you gasping with laughter. Karr assembles a self from the smokiest beginnings, delivering a long- awaited sequel that is both “bawdy and wise.” ~ San Francisco Chronicle
Karr is also an award-winning poet who claims, “Working on poems is like cheating on your husband; it’s what I really want to do but they won’t pay me for it.”
Want to write a different kind of memoir? Call today to set up a 30″ complimentary sample session to see what we might create together: 206.617-8832 or design your own package.
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How Do You Find Your Voice?

“When you are developing your voice, start where you are. Let the essence of you come through, and avoid trying to imitate famous voices. Write in a natural way—that is, don’t be a writerly writer. Just get down what YOU have to say, and when you revise, tighten and rewrite for content and clarity, but let your personality shine through.” ~ Linda Clare

Subscribe to Linda Clare’s Daily Writer’s Tips HERE!

Be sure to schedule a 15-minute complimentary book coaching session via email: AuthorizeU@gmail.com.  If we begin working together, my eBook—Writing From Life: A Wise Guide to Publishing Your Memoirs—will be yours as part of the coaching package.


A Widow’s Story by Joyce Carol Oates

“Now for the first time in what I’ve grown to think of as my ‘posthumous life’—my life after Ray (my husband)—I am feeling almost hopeful, happy. Thinking Maybe life is navigable. Maybe this will work.

“Then I recall: hope was the predominant emotion I had felt—we had both felt—during the long week of Ray’s hospitalization. Hope, in retrospect, is so often a cruel joke.

“‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers,’ Emily Dickinson so boldly said. The thing that is ungainly, vulnerable, embarrassing. But there it is.

“For some of us, what can hope mean? The worst has happened, the spouse has died, the story is ended. And yet—the story is not ended, clearly.” ~ Joyce Carol Oates

“Hope can be outlived. Hope can become tarnished.”

The above excerpt is taken from a longer interview recorded in the The Atlantic Magazine on Joyce Carol Oates, A Widow’s Story.

Hear Dr. Oates’ experience of writing her memoir: A Widow’s Story

Be sure to schedule a 15-minute complimentary book coaching session via email: AuthorizeU@gmail.com.  If we begin working together, my eBook—Writing From Life: A Wise Guide to Publishing Your Memoirs—will be yours as part of the coaching package.


Beyond Writer’s Block: Writing With Physical Challenges

Celebrated astrophysicist Stephen Hawking used a communicator to write a book that guided readers to explore the vastness of the universe. Malini Chib, founder and chairperson of ADAPT Rights Group, has now used the very same device to churn out an autobiographical novel that takes readers on an inward journey into the mind of one disabled. A Bengali from Kolkata, Chib migrated to Mumbai a few years after she was born.

The launch of her book—One Little Finger—at the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival on Saturday (1/15/11) marked Malini’s return to the city from where the remarkable journey began over four decades ago.

Astonishingly, Chib used her left index finger to type over 50,000 words on a communicator’s keypad (a Herculean effort that took two years). Having Cerebral Palsy did not stop Chib from acquiring two masters degrees one in women’s studies from the Institute of Education, London University, and the other in information management from the London Metropolitan University.

In One Little Finger, Chib writes about a heartbreak when close confidant Zubair, with whom she had become very attached during her stint in Oxford, revealed he was gay. “The society still treats me asexually. Maybe, it is because of the disability in my body. Or perhaps, it is because I speak like a child,” she recounted when writer Jayabrato Chatterjee asked her whether she was treated like a woman.

Some activists bristle at the word “disabled” but Chib finds the word an honest one for her: “I cannot run away from the fact that I have disabilities. You have to give disabled people a chance. And you have to challenge them like my mom does. Well-meaning people pat us and say ‘very good, very good’. That hinders growth,” Malini argued.

It was Chib who led a fierce agitation that made organizers of Mumbai Marathon change the entry norms in 2005. Prior to that, the organizers banned “dogs, wheelchairs and vehicles” from the event. With greater visibility comes opportunities for what Michelle Obama calls, “Teachable Moments.”

Malini Chib writes, “What is needed in India is more visibility. The more people see us, the more their behaviour and attitude towards us will change. We won’t be perceived as some strange or sorry creatures.” 

“In One Little Finger, beyond the words lie grit, determination and traces of sadness. But what comes through in the end is the spirit to live.” ~ Subhro Niyogi, Times of India

Be sure to schedule a 15-minute complimentary book coaching session via email: AuthorizeU@gmail.com.  If we begin working together, my eBook—Writing From Life: A Wise Guide to Publishing Your Memoirs—will be yours as part of the coaching package.

Some Memoirs Can Be Tales of Redemption!

The best way I can describe this work is to say that it’s absolutely delicious. More than a mere memoir, this fascinating jewel contains universal truths, with delicate and elegant phrasing, and, despite the subject matter, there’s no sense of frivolous belly-button gazing. Some of the vignettes seem as if they came from a wildly good contemporary novel, while others resonate with a reader’s remembrances of his or her own triumphs and disgraces.

Karr’s latest is not only her best work, but one of the best journeys in the genre. Recommended by Frances, Powell’s City of Books

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

The Liars’ Club brought to vivid, indelible life Mary Karr’s hardscrabble Texas childhood. Cherry, her account of her adolescence, “continued to set the literary standard for making the personal universal” (Entertainment Weekly). Now Lit follows the self-professed blackbelt sinner’s descent into the inferno of alcoholism and madness — and to her astonishing resurrection.
Karr’s longing for a solid family seems secure when her marriage to a handsome, Shakespeare-quoting blueblood poet produces a son they adore. But she can’t outrun her apocalyptic past. She drinks herself into the same numbness that nearly devoured her charismatic but troubled mother, reaching the brink of suicide. A hair-raising stint in “The Mental Marriott,” with an oddball tribe of gurus and saviors, awakens her to the possibility of joy and leads her to an unlikely faith.
Not since Saint Augustine cried, “Give me chastity, Lord — but not yet!” has a conversion story rung with such dark hilarity. Lit is about getting drunk and getting sober; becoming a mother by letting go of a mother; learning to write by learning to live.
Written with Karr’s relentless honesty, unflinching self-scrutiny, and irreverent, lacerating humor, it is a truly electrifying story of how to grow up — as only Mary Karr can tell it.

Review:

“Karr returns with her third account (after The Liar’s Club and Cherry) of her dark and drunken years as a newlywed and new mother, written to help her son get the whole tale of their early years together. Before she wrote memoirs, Karr was driven with a vagabond spirit toward poetry, whose origins she traces to the rural colloquialisms of her Texas roots. That poetic sensibility infuses every sentence of her story with an alliterative and symbolic energy, conjuring echoes of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, and occasionally, Sylvia Plath.
Karr even marries a fellow poet, a moneyed and controlling man named Warren. Unlike Plath, however, Karr’s impulse toward self-destruction originates more from the example set by her larger-than-life, emotionally stunted parents, who were often her drinking partners. Her slow trudge toward writing success and her marriage to yet another man who comes from wealth set off her drinking in earnest. Soon she’s drinking daily at all hours, hiding it in shame. Years later she obtains sobriety but not mental health, and checks into a hospital after a halfhearted suicide attempt.
What heals her most deeply, however, is when she opens herself to prayer. Fortunately, Karr’s wry wit and deft prose do not render her slow conversion to Catholicism in a sentimental or proselytizing manner.” Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.)

Review:

“Will ring as true in American-lit classrooms as in church support groups — an absolute gem that secures Karr’s place as one of the best memoirists of her generation.” Kirkus Reviews

Review:

“That Karr survived…to become the evenhanded, self-disciplined writer she is today is arguably nothing short of a miracle, and readers of her previous two books won’t be disappointed.” Library Journal

Review:

“Chronicles with searching intelligence, humor and grace the author’s slow, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes painful discovery of her vocation and her voice as a poet and writer.” New York Times

Review:

“Mary Karr has never lacked for material. But she’s always delivered on the craft side, too, with her poet’s gift for show-and-tell.” Minneapolis Star Tribune

Review:

Lit matches its predecessors in candor and outstrips them in insight.” Commonweal

Synopsis:

In Lit, the long-awaited sequel to her New York Times bestselling memoirs The Liars’ Club and Cherry, Mary Karr chronicles her descent into the inferno of alcoholism and madness, and her astonishing resurrection.
A recollection of her struggle to come to terms with her faith after years as an agnostic that explores the relationship between spirituality and substance abuse and depression, Lit is also about getting drunk and getting sober; becoming a mother by letting go of a mother; and learning to write by learning to live.

More about Mary Karr’s LIT

Be sure to schedule a 15-minute complimentary book coaching session via email: AuthorizeU@gmail.com.  If we begin working together, my eBook—Writing From Life: A Wise Guide to Publishing Your Memoirs—will be yours as part of the coaching package.

Must I Wait Until I’m 80 To Write My Memoirs?

Breaking Night is the stunning memoir of a young woman who at age fifteen was living on the streets, and who eventually made it into Harvard.

Liz Murray was born to loving but drug-addicted parents in the Bronx. In school she was taunted for her dirty clothing and lice-infested hair, eventually skipping so many classes that she was put into a girls’ home. At age fifteen, Liz found herself on the streets when her family finally unraveled. She learned to scrape by, foraging for food and riding subways all night to have a warm place to sleep.

When Liz’s mother died of AIDS, she decided to take control of her own destiny and go back to high school, often completing her assignments in the hallways and subway stations where she slept. Liz squeezed four years of high school into two, while homeless; won a New York Times scholarship; and made it into the Ivy League. Breaking Night is an unforgettable and beautifully written story of one young woman’s indomitable spirit to survive and prevail, against all odds.

Read More

Be sure to schedule a 15-minute complimentary book coaching session via email: AuthorizeU@gmail.com.  If we begin working together, my eBook—Writing From Life: A Wise Guide to Publishing Your Memoirs—will be yours as part of the coaching package.

Good Writers Read Great Writers: Margaret Atwood on Memoir

Margaret Atwood’s memoir, Remembering Marian Engel, details her relationship with another Canadian writer, Engel. In this intimate account, she revisits the friendship in the years before Engel’s death. In straightforward narrative, Atwood suggests the pride Engel sustained up until her untimely death.

“Once, during a bad spell, I was visiting her in a hospital, and a medical crisis really did strike. Buzzers were sounded, nurses hurried in, and I had to leave. As I did as she was being lifted, stuck with needles in the midst of all that, she winked at me.

This wink demolished me. It was so typical of her, but also so gallant and doomed, bagpipers going in to battle, the Polish cavalry charging the tanks on horseback. It was meant, I knew, to cheer me up, but it said other things too: that no matter how gruesome things were, they had a funny side; that there was a conspiracy going on, between us, behind the doctors’ backs. The doctors and her body were engaged in some solemn business or other that was of concern to her, but it wasn’t the whole story.

Despite the alterations made in her by the illness and drugs, here was the same expression I’d first caught her at, on that book cover: mischief, fun. Relish was a word she liked; “I’ve been naughty,” she would say, with some pleasure. So there was something to be had, savoured, seen, understood, even at such a moment. She would not have found this wink of hers courageous. Unless somebody else had done it, of course.”

Be sure to schedule a 15-minute complimentary book coaching session via email: AuthorizeU@gmail.com.  If we begin working together, my eBook—Writing From Life: A Wise Guide to Publishing Your Memoirs—will be yours as part of the coaching package.