I’ve read a series of memoirs in recent times more off the 65 Books List:

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Kitchen Confidential

This is an excellent read. Admittedly, I’m a fan of his show. There are definitely hints of obnoxiousness in some of Bourdain’s escapades and views and there are some non-politically correct views but maybe because I am familiar with his style and viewpoint from the show, I don’t hold it against him. The writing is vivid and evocative.

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The Liar’s Club

Most of the reviews of this book said you would laugh through your tears. I didn’t find this much of a laugh riot. There are some terrible happenings as experienced by a child, albeit a scrappy child who takes them almost wholly in her stride (though she did become an alcoholic later, a period covered in Lit which I was actually supposed to read). Much as I avoid the slightest hint of unhappiness in my reading diet, Mary Karr is a poet and her words grabbed me by the hair and held me captive. That’s all there is to it. Mary Karr’s mother is of the kind described by Jerry Pinto in Em and the Big Hoom – wonderfully eccentric but also certifiably crazy and yet beloved. The mother is expected to touch our hearts, but I was moved by the father as well. I don’t know why estrangements from fathers affect me the way they do, hitting me in some primal, howling place that I don’t want to explore. But there you have it. And yeah, I think I might just read the other two memoirs as well.

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Me Talk Pretty One Day

I’d been urged to read David Sedaris’s work for a while. Now that I have, it strikes me as Chicken Soup for the yuppie soul. It’s just left off centre enough to make lukewarm liberals happy. It makes you laugh, but it doesn’t touch any of the deep places. It doesn’t leave you slightly sore after. And that to me is a failing, much as I’m supposed to be avoiding the sore-making kind of book. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. I most certainly did, and I’ll pick up his books later if I want a quick smile. But that’s about it.

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Wild

This was a fairly recent bestseller, and yet I wasn’t completely enthused at the prospect of reading it. A woman hiking alone for ages, an admirable undertaking but how exciting could reading about it be? Turns out it was similar to Life of Pi which is about a boy stuck in a boat with a tiger in the open sea. You don’t expect to be riveted but you are. In the case of Wild, I consumed it like a page turner. It helps that Cheryl Strayed interweaves vignettes of the life that brought her to this journey while recounting the actual trudge through the wilderness.

Many of these books have a mother hovering over them, and this one is no exception. It is a tribute to Strayed’s mother, a way of coping with the grief of her loss but also the loss of family that ensues after the lynchpin that held it together has gone. I had always wondered about Strayed’s unusual name and it turns out she took it after her divorce. A fact which delighted me. That one could just pick a name that seems right and it works.

If there was one thing that I didn’t love about the book it was how  Strayed seems to hanker for a man at the first sight of one. She herself admits to this but it seems there’s no breaking the habit. And being the ‘only girl in the woods’ places her in a good position to crush at will. On the other hand, hiking as a solo female did throw up dangers posed by creepy men, but given the length of the journey, there were only a couple of nasties. Strayed herself points to the overwhelming number of kindnesses of strangers she encountered which mitigate the creeps. Her manner of dealing with the creeps – paying attention to her gut instincts about people, being firm, trying not to antagonise them might be good rules of the thumb, if there can be any these situations.

Also, surprising was her hankering for the trappings of civilisation. While her journey is proof that she can live without it, the longing for creature comforts and junk food doesn’t go away that easily.

Bonus book (not on the 65 books list)

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The Diary of Anais Nin – Fire

Having become an admirer of sorts of Anais Nin via quotes of hers posted on Brain Pickings and the like, I felt it was time I sampled the real thing. So I was somewhat perturbed to find myself irritated at Nin at the beginning. She just seemed so obsessed with matters of the heart ad infinitum. But later I identified with her more and it became clear how accomplished and unusual she was but also how she was trapped in and a product of her time, as much as she tried to transcend its limitations. Unfortunately, I got sidetracked and didn’t finish this one.

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