My nerdy, introverted, curious self often likes to snuggle under the covers with a good book. This year was busier than usual with work and life commitments which meant that I didn’t have as much time or energy to escape with my book friends as I would’ve liked. My Kindle shamefully has dozens of titles bought this year that are at 10% or 25%. The ones I did manage to finish, however, all seem to have a theme – memoirs written by women. There is something pleasurably vicarious about reading about other women’s lives, riding the ups and downs with them, especially when there are happy endings (the story kind).
I was transported to Somalia with Canadian Amanda Lindhout’s story of her time being kidnapped and held hostage after working as a journalist in the region. There is only one word to describe A House in the Sky: harrowing. It’s incredible that Lindhout survived her horrific ordeal in which unimaginable things were done to her, and has now emerged as a poised and confident activist and aspiring psychologist. While the author’s plight is not for the faint of heart, the story is gripping and eye-opening. In sharing her experiences, Lindhoudt shines a light on Islam in Somalia and the politics of the region. Ultimately, it is a story of hope as Lindhout demonstrates an unbelievable amount of perseverance and resilience and even compassion as in the end, she chooses to forgive her captors and torturers. This is not to discount the trauma that Lindhout continues to experience, but is testament to the adage that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The takeaway message? Well, there are two: first, don’t go to Somalia; second, it is possible to rebuild one’s life after the most extreme adversity.
On a much lighter note was Australian Sarah Turnbull’s All Good Things, an ultimately uplifting account of her time living in Tahiti with her French husband, her challenges falling pregnant as an older woman and her return to Sydney with her family after living as an expatriate in Paris for many years. Turnball writes honestly and reflectively about her daily life and the emotional roller coaster she rides as she tries to adjust to the South Pacific then back to her homeland. I have been fortunate enough to visit Tahiti, so it was with great interest that I read her nuanced impressions and descriptions of day-to-day life on this ‘paradise’. With her carefully constructed prose, she brings to light the complexities of getting what you want, highlighting the peaks and valleys of her journey.
Meghan Daum’s The Unspeakable is a collection of brilliantly written essays about her life, her work, her health and her relationships. While there are plenty of wonderfully written sentences that explode like firecrackers, the biggest delight is in her penchant for brutal honesty. It’s incredibly refreshing, especially for an upper middle class white American woman living in Los Angeles to express herself so forthrightly about the things were all thinking, but not saying. The way she tactfully yet scathingly portrays her mother is almost shocking. The world needs more woman writers like this, to expose the reality of our lives, the complexity, the messiness, the taboos. She is definitely not afraid to say the unspeakable.
Another writer I read this year for the first time (well, technically last year) was Elisabeth Eaves whose memoir Wanderlust about traveling and working in five continents is also very brave, honest and self-revelatory. Eaves’ memoir is about her need to explore, to keep moving forward, to run away from herself and anything she perceives as trapping her, like an apartment in Paris that she shares with her diplomat boyfriend. She does this with candor and self-awareness, always weighing up the costs and benefits of her actions and their consequences (which usually involve quitting jobs, moving countries and and breaking hearts). Now a successful journalist based in New York, we see Eaves’ evolution from a curious high school student to the powerful woman she has become today. She is a blond, red lipstick-wearing Type A risk-taker, living a life we usually associate with the most thrill-seeking, adventurous and virile male writers who trot from country to country, and bed to bed chasing their next story.
Food writer Molly Wizenberg’s Delancy is her second memoir, this time about the pizzeria she opened with her husband. Her writing paints a cozy picture of her life in Seattle with her family (she has a toddler) but she is careful to never romanticize or idealize how hard it is to open a restaurant from scratch and run it successfully. She writes simply yet eloquently about the good times and the bad – the reader is right there with her as she exposes the blood, sweat and tears of making her and her husband’s dreams a reality. Her narrative weaves in recipes, which makes it a delight for the unpretentious foodie.