I'd like to tell you that I had a year planned wherein I would improve myself and/or save the planet by doing just one thing. Maybe I'd follow every diet book ever written and then find peace with my hips. Or perhaps I'd follow a different religious practice each month and suddenly find enlightenment and start my own cult. Maybe I'd give up my car/meat/personal grooming and cure death. I'd then document my experience and get a major book deal and change the lives of millions of women. But I lack commitment. So I read lady memoirs for six months. In those six months, I wish I'd found my inner child or my spirit animal or peace with the fact that women still shop at Chico's, but I did not. I did learn that even privileged upper-middle-class white women have problems. Not concrete problems. But a general sort of malaise that demands 300 pages of examination. I learned that you don't really need conflict or plot to publish a memoir. All you need is a husband (better if he's unhappy) who earns enough to support you while you ply your craft. Virginia Woolf would be so proud. MELISSA LION
Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer (Picador)
I really loved Claire Dederer's memoir through its first few yoga-themed chapters. A Seattle denizen, Dederer has decided to rebel against the breast-feeding, organic, attachment-based parenting philosophy she'd swallowed so enthusiastically. She's realized the tradeoff for this approach is the loss of her sense of self and the intimacy in her marriage. Her husband is unhappy and it looks like things are going south.
But right around child's pose she shifts the focus away from her disintegrating marriage and the ridiculous nature of today's parenting to her own parents' breakup. Her parents aren't actually divorced. They're just in a long-term separation and they have a very amicable relationship. This mild family drama offends Dederer's delicate sensibilities. She blames her parents for her faltering marriage. She and her family move to Colorado because her husband lands an amazing job and she can write all day in their beautiful house, but that's not enough. They move back to Seattle and, like magic, their relationship is better. The yoga continues, but the introspection is over.
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (Harper Paperbacks)
Gretchen Rubin decides her life of nannies, being married to a hedge fund manager, and playing at being a writer is harshing her mellow. She needs to be happier, so each month she'll do one thing to become happy. You know, like organizing her house. Or starting a blog. Or, I dunno, being nicer to her husband for one week. The blog and the house organization stick, but that single week of being nice to her husband is just too much. She writes, "I was relieved when the week was over. I couldn't keep up the intensity of being that Nice [sic]. My tongue hurt because I'd bitten it so often."
Rubin's instructional tone is dogmatic enough that I (briefly) considered singing in the morning to combat my yearly SAD, but dismissed it in favor of buying shoes and double-fisting cupcakes and french fries. As for her husband, I'm sure he found that having an organized closet was just one of myriad rewards of being married to a shrill, ungrateful woman.
Found by Jennifer Lauck (Seal Press)
I kicked off the year reading Jennifer Lauck's follow-up to her first memoir, Blackbird. If I could do it all over again, I'd have read this one last just to give myself a little perspective on actual problems. As a child, Lauck was adopted twice and the book chronicles her search for her real mother. Despite living through some really horrible crap (abuse, abject poverty, a cult commune in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, and the required unhappy husband) she never comes off as the victim or a hero. We don't ever need to pretend to relate because she knows we won't. We just need to finish up the book and breathe a sigh of relief that for Lauck, everything turned out a-okay. Except for her marriage, which ends. But even that's for the best.
This Is Not the Story You Think It Is by Laura Munson (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam)
Laura Munson begins her spiritual journey because her husband is unhappy. He works full-time supporting the family, and though Munson understands that his work is what's making him so depressed, she decides now's the time not to take a job, but to start a memoir because her previous 14 books were all rejected by the major publishers. Her every passing thought is documented through internal monologue. This is the memoir equivalent of someone slowly pressing a down pillow to your face.
We rarely hear or see the husband. In fact, he doesn't even have a name. It's all Munson all the time. And why shouldn't it be? She has the ill fortune to live in beautiful Montana (she never stops reminding us that not many people can afford to live where she does) and have a dashing husband who takes care of all the finances. She has well-adjusted kids and she comes from an affluent background with parents who care for her. Who wouldn't need 350 pages to unpack all of that grief? By the end of the book I was so happy that Laura Munson had the graciousness to gain the wisdom and patience to accept her husband's unhappiness.
Bossypants by Tina Fey (Reagan Arthur Books)
Oddly, Tina Fey's memoir is the only book I read that I actually related to as a writer and a mom and a woman who works 40-plus hours a week at an actual job where I have to do things other than sit at home in my yoga pants and contemplate my own middle-class, abuse- and addiction-free existence. Fey works far longer hours than I would and she is torn about whether she should give it all up and just focus on her kid and her husband or if she should, you know, do what she loves. Free from the confines of network television, her dark humor is piercing, insightful, and funny as hell. She is honest that being a mom sucks a lot of the time and being a working mom is even suckier. But also far more rewarding, if you're into that sort of thing. All of this honesty almost got me over her weird tic about calling herself fat when she's clearly not. Maybe the continual monologue about her weight is, like, the internal drama about working vs. child rearing, something as pointless as it is familiar to Fey and so many other women today.