This month we are reading Little Failure, by Gary Shteyngart, as our Between the Lines Book Club Pick. This book club meets right here every Friday. If you are in the Sacramento, CA area, you can also join us in person at 10:30AM on the fourth Saturday of every month at Arden Dimick Library.
Little Failure is a memoir by Gary Shteyngart about his difficult relationship with his parents. Memoirs have been around for a long time. One of the first was Julius Caesar’s Commentary on the Gallic War, written in 58-49BC.
While Julius Caesar focused on political world events, popular recent memoirs have focused on the family. If you like Little Failure, you might like these books, which describe awful childhoods with humor and a great tenacity:
Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt
McCourt describes growing up in Ireland. It opens with the immortal lines:
“When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”
Running With Scissors, by August Burroughs
Burroughs writes about his life with his mother and his mother’s psychiatrist in 1970’s Massachusetts. While he describes horrific scenes and events, he does so with humor and a determination to survive.
Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
In this graphic novel memoir, Bechdel describes her youth in rural Pennsylvania. Her novel focuses on her relationship with her father and their mutual struggles with sexuality (he was a closeted gay man; she is a lesbian). The sequel, Are You My Mother? is about Bechdel’s relationship with her mom.
For something completely different, try:
Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs by Writer’s Famous and Obscure, ed. by Rachel Fershleiser
Can you tell your life story in six words? This started as an online project and became a series of wonderful, funny, moving, silly books. Examples, “Followed rules, not dreams. Never again”, “I grew and grew and grew”, and, from Stephen Colbert, “Well, I thought it was funny.”