A Porch Light to Sanity

Susan DeFRecommended ReadingLeave a Comment

It’s been a tumultuous couple of weeks, hasn’t it? Kids have been killed. Kids have spoken up against the killing, gotten companies to divest from the NRA, and received death threats as a consequence.

A gerrymandered state congressional map has been overturned, and that overturn has been challenged, and upheld (so far).

And the number one movie in the world right now is Black Panther, which seems a kind of miracle. Let’s hope all the voter registration efforts at the theaters–and of those gun-control advocates turning eighteen this year–make a difference in the midterm elections, turning all those strong feelings on the part of so many into a sea change in D.C.

Amid all this (and of course the ever-present threat of total annihilation! Thanks, 45), I’ve discovered something new: the power of memoir.

This is not to say I have not read or loved memoirs prior to this–only that I have been a bona fide fiction addict since a tender age, and had only read a handful of memoirs in my life, until two months ago. Since then, I’ve read six of them, and friends, I have to say, in a world gone increasingly dark, the right memoir really can be a porch light to sanity.

I read the story of a woman looking for a long-lost, larger than life father–exploring, in the process, the nature of memory and the mythology we create around our parents, along with Michigan, New York, and Paris (Playing with Dynamite by Sharon Harrigan).

I read the story of a woman whose mother committed suicide, after showing signs of mental instability, which lays bare the ways that we fail to have hard conversations until it’s too late, as well as the courage it takes to seek the truth when illusions are more convenient (The Art of Misdiagnosis by Gayle Brandeis).

I read this crazy awesome memoir/novel hybrid thing about teen pregnancy, witches, feminism, queerness, community, and crushing student loan debt (We Were Witches by Ariel Gore).

I read an account by a former U.S. Border Patrol agent that blew the top of my head off, and opened my eyes to both why people from Mexico are so desperate to reach the US and what can happen to them after they do (The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantu).

I read the story of a woman who started stripping in the Bay Area as a young speed freak in search of cash, became an accidental sex worker, and wound up helping to form one of the nation’s first stripper’s unions (Spent by Antonia Crane).

I read the story of a woman who, when she was eighteen, did something even crazier than I did when I was eighteen–she ran away to Central America to join the Sandinistas (which makes the fact that I went on the road with a hippie circus, you’ll have to admit, seem pretty tame) (Revolution by Deb Olin Unferth).

I recently reviewed all of these awesome books for Litreactor and talked about how and why each one of them helped me to feel just a little more sane, grounded, and capable of dealing with the world at large, so if you’re looking for some reading right now that will help you get your shit together, consider this my gift to you.


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