Confession time. My reading tastes tend towards non-fiction. Not exclusively, but you’re far more likely to see me curled up with a good gardening book or a lush costume history than a weighty fantasy tome. This can make things slightly awkward when it comes to reader advisory (“You work in library - you must have read [insert novel/bestseller/literary worthy here]!”) All I can say is thank goodness for Novelist Plus and Fantastic Fiction for easing the stress of fiction read-alike queries!
I like to liberally sprinkle my reading fare with a good serving of memoirs, and this year has thrown up a few really good (and quite varied) reads. Often I pick up a memoir knowing absolutely nothing about the person concerned, just because that can be bizarrely fun. For instance, the first I’d ever heard of Russell Brand (some years ago now) was reading My Booky Wook - yes, I live in a hole. I just liked the title.
Amongst this year’s finds, The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo wasn’t quite such a stone-cold intro. I’d seen some stand-up by Amy Schumer and had enjoyed it the point of snarfing my drink (always a sign of good comedy). I find her “oversharing” comedic style both endearing and fascinatingly horrifying, and her writing is much the same. I did find it a bit patchy, but her story has definitely gone on my list of female voices I’ve enjoyed hearing. I laughed a lot, I felt for her, and I admired her honesty.
Honesty (or the appearance of it) is I guess what we look for in a memoir. Reading memoirs can feel voyeuristic as a reader, sometimes to the point of discomfort but (unlike the nastiness of tabloid journalism) it is at least consensual voyeurism. I don’t mind that someone might only be telling what they want to tell (a somewhat odd criticism often levelled at autobiographists and memoir-writers, as though they are under an obligation to bare all). I’ve always figured that that is their right and I listen to their story knowing that the bias is part of the story.
I’ve just started Little Me: My life from A-Z by Matt Lucas, and I’m enjoying it very much. Again I knew little of the man other than some of his television appearances (I’ve particularly enjoyed his character on Doctor Who and his appearances on QI), but I saw the book go past in a transit crate, read a page or two, and was engaged enough by his friendly and straightforward writing style to place a hold.
Matt’s take on the whole “telling the truth but not the whole truth” thing is this: “I’m only forty-three. If I spill ALL the beans, then no one will trust me, no one will hire me and I’ll have no option but to go into the Celebrity Big Brother house.” More seriously, he talks about not breaking his promises to those he’s loved - which makes me like the guy.
In an about-turn sharp enough to cause whiplash, my other favourite memoir of the year is about a dog and his gardener. Nigel: My family and other dogs by Britain’s Gardeners’ World host (and one of my personal gardening heroes) Monty Don, is a delight.
Nigel, a gorgeous retriever, shot to fame as a result of his scene-stealing, haphazard appearances in Monty’s garden tutorials. He has his own social media sites and fan mail, and caused great concern amongst viewers recently when he disappeared off camera for some weeks due to a back injury. I have always loved Monty Don’s visible love of, and delight in, his garden.
In Nigel we learn of his love for the generations of dogs that have been a part of his life, in all its highs and lows. Ostensibly a piece about the special place dogs can hold in our lives, the book is also an open and honest look at Monty’s personal and business highs and lows, his struggles with depression and how his garden and his dogs help him through.
I’m not sure what 2018 will throw in front of me in the way of memoirs, but I hope they continue to be refreshingly random and varied. Peering into other lives life might seem a bit voyeuristic, but on the whole I think being invited to take a look makes for an enriching and more empathetic view of the world.
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