I don’t know who first characterized books as “windows and mirrors,” but that is exactly what they are, especially memoirs. Memoirs teach about real worlds and experiences that can be far from our daily realities and thereby expand our lives. Memoirs can also show how someone else has managed a challenge or crisis and allow us to learn what to do — or what not to do. They can show us resilience and perseverance that inspire and empower or give us snapshots of historical perspectives we might’ve otherwise missed. Perhaps most importantly, memoirs can teach empathy, humility, compassion and grace — for others, but also for ourselves.
This year seems to be the year of memoirs, and many are from people in marginalized communities. One of the first ones to catch my attention is “The Country of the Blind: A Memoir at the End of Sight” by Andrew Leland. As someone who relies heavily on eyesight, the thought of a long slow decline in vision is quite honestly terrifying, but that’s exactly what Leland faced when diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in his teens and as the condition accelerated in his thirties. Leland includes historical information about blindness as well as organizations that assist those with low vision and blind people to live independently. But, just as importantly, he displays wit, humility, and grace as he offers what amounts to a guide for the soon-to-be blind.
In “Tell Me Everything,” Minka Kelly tells her life story of growing up nomadic and underprivileged in Albuquerque, New Mexico with a stripper mom and an absent musician dad. She writes about what a lot of people in the United States face these days — food insecurity and not knowing if you’ll be able to find a safe place to sleep. Being pliable, uncomplaining and emotionally guarded helped her survive her childhood, but would later make adult interactions and relationships difficult. Kelly’s memoir is not a glossy celebrity script, but a deeply personal account of neglect, abuse and complicated dysfunctional family relationships both as a child and an adult. Ultimately she goes to great effort to find peace and compassion and unlearn toxic behaviors.
“Brown Boy” by Omer Aziz puts into words what it feels like to be the child of immigrant parents with all the attendant feelings, hopes, fears and struggles. As a first-generation Pakistani Muslim boy, he tried to make a place for himself in the rough outskirts of Toronto, Canada. Leaning on education to open a better world, he headed to Queen’s University in Ontario and then on to Yale Law School while fighting imposter syndrome. The deeper he moved through elite worlds, the more his feelings of shame and powerlessness grew. The contradiction of wanting to belong to a world that didn’t want or welcome him led Aziz to forge his own path rather than living up to (or down to, as the case may be) other’s expectations of him.
Because of her statuesque physique, tumbling hair, long neck and dark skin, Geena Rocero was taunted with a nickname that she leaned into as she became the Philippines’ highest-earning trans pageant queen. In “Horse Barbie,” Rocero tells how she had to go back into the closet when she moved to New York City to pursue a modeling career. Even though she could legally change her name and identity in the States, that only led to a loss of her sense of self as she had to deny who she really was and hide her birth records in order to further her career. Her desire to be accepted for her entire identity led her to become a transgender rights activist.
In “Burnt: A Memoir of Fighting Fire,” Clare Frank recounts her long career, first as a seasonal firefighter in the early days (1978) at the age of 17, and years later, as a California state bureaucrat at the executive level, putting out other types of “fires.” She even managed to acquire a law degree along the way, and she did all of this in a man’s world, where not only did the equipment not fit her female frame, but neither did the expectations.
After the shock of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2014, Victoria Belim embarked on a journey of self-discovery and understanding of her roots with her memoir titled “The Rooster House: My Ukrainian Family Story.” It is an emotional story of her family’s experience in Ukraine dating back to the 1930s when an uncle disappeared, along with hundreds of thousands of others, during Stalin’s reign of terror and her attempt to understand what caused her own father to take his life many years later.
Be sure to check out this list for more new memoirs at available at Daniel Boone Regional Library.