3 memoirs

November 11, 2011

“I dislike modern memoirs,” said Oscar Wilde. “They are generally written by people who have either entirely lost their memories, or have never done anything worth remembering.” But his words don’t ring true for many readers, whose appetite for the memoir in all its incarnations has made it an enduring genre.

1Surprised by Oxford , by Carolyn Weber (Thomas Nelson; Paperback, $16.99). Borrowing her title from C.S. Lewis’s “Surprised by Joy,” Weber chronicles her conversion from avowed agnostic to passionate Christian over the course of her first year at Oxford’s Oriel College. The structure of this charming book follows Oxford’s liturgical academic calendar (Michaelmas Term, Hilary Term, Trinity Term) and will take you willingly on a highly personal and revelatory odyssey.

2Fiction Ruined My Family , by Jeanne Darst (Riverhead, $25.95). Darst grew up with a rather remarkable pedigree — rooted in old St. Louis, her father’s family comprised writers, journalists and politicians while her mother’s wealthier side was more devil-may-care. Her father got lost in his own writing, convinced that the Next Great American Novel was within reach, and her mother was consumed by alcoholism. One day Darst herself, a bit disillusioned and scraping by in New York, was shocked to realize she had become both her parents: a writer like her father (complete with the “writing as salvation” mantra) and an alcoholic like her mother. She has since sobered up and made peace with her past; this memoir has been featured on NPR’s “This American Life” and excerpted in Vogue.

3Dan Eldon: Safari as a Way of Life , by Jennifer New (Chronicle, $24.99). This lively, interactive book might be considered a memoir by a man who didn’t live to write one. Jennifer New happened upon Dan Eldon in a book of his photographs and made it her mission to share his work with a new generation. Born in London , the gifted and charming Eldon moved to Kenya as a child and later became a photojournalist; it was in that capacity that he was killed in Somalia in 1991, at age 22, while covering the war and famine that shattered the nation. This volume incorporates excerpts from Eldon’s journals, previously unpublished photographs (some with gatefolds) and facsimiles of documents from his life.

Chris Schoppa

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