Anna March’s Reading Mixtape #14: Memoirs about Hard Times and Beauty

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I love memoirs about difficult times that don’t sugarcoat it, that don’t pretty it up. I love a memoir that finds the beauty—there is such an unbelievable amount of beauty in this world—without handing out a Hollywood ending, without dipping the pain in glitter, without pretending we all get held all night, every night by someone wonderful with a fat heart and artistic soul.

That’s why I love these books. They changed me, live in me, make me see the strange beauty in all this even when it’s hard—and let’s be honest; it can often be hard. Especially in January. But let’s try. I will if you will.

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  1. Travels in Vermeer by Michael White

When I finished reading this truly sublime memoir, longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award, I thought, “Well, I’m going to have to go down there to North Carolina and just sit on Michael White’s porch and wait for him to get home and then ask him if I can bake him a pie or plant him some flowers or read him his favorite book or if there is anything at all I can do for him, because man, I owe him for writing this book.” Seriously. Literally. I fangirl hard for lots of writers, but I’ve not yet been inclined toward a desire to plant flowers for anyone but Michael. Let that speak to you of how much this book is and how much he is.

  1. Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp

This memoir of alcoholism is true and powerful and real and I’ve been reading it over and over again for how it tells a story for fifteen years now. I cry every time and at the same time, on every reading, the world’s colors all seem brighter. This story is what it means to tell the truth.

  1. The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

Dear sweet Jehoshaphat… why do we expect grief to be tidy and follow a certain course, expect it to follow a timeline of all things. Please, let us all work just a little harder this year to extinguish that nonsensical bullshit that keeps us too many of us feeling like our grief is wrong, too big, too unruly. Let us encourage one another to just be—sad, mournful, screeching, bleeding, aching. Let us let one another be and love one another through. Alexander’s story made me know I had to hold my heart open to both love and sadness mightier than I thought I could bear. Any book that essentially asks the question, “How vulnerable can I bear to be in this world?” is a thing of beauty. A book as gorgeously written as this one that does the same: yes, yes, yes.

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Original logo art by Esme Blegvad.


Anna March’s writing appears regularly in Salon and here at the Rumpus and her work has been widely published including in The New York Times' Modern Love Column, New York Magazine, VQR, Hip Mama and Tin House. Her essay collection, Feminist Killjoy, and novel, The Diary of Suzanne Frank, are both forthcoming and she is at work on two new books. She teaches writing workshops, mentors writers, is active in promoting literary community and is the co-founder of LITFOLKS in LA and DC. She lives in Rehoboth Beach and Los Angeles. Sometimes she has pink hair. Follow her on Twitter @ANNAMARCH or learn more about her at ANNAMARCH.COM. More from this author →