My favorite stories are the ones people tell about themselves– their struggles, their joy, that one brief time they were in a sorority or met the president or found out their show was cancelled (Hi, Mindy Kaling), what makes them unique, their past, present, future: Memoirs. The past few years I’ve gotten really into listening to memoirs on Audible. Hearing someone tell me their story as I walk or drive around town feels like having them there with me. It’s a great way to remember people who have died, learn more about the people behind things you enjoy, or to explore lives unlike your own.
I definitely have opinions about what makes a good memoir. The key ingredient is vulnerability. Memoirs lacking reflection or emotional risk are, frankly, a little boring. But authors that don’t apologize for their choices, admit failures, poke fun at themselves, explore feelings– their stories can leave you changed.
Check out some of the memoirs I have really enjoyed:
- Jenifer Lewis, The Mother of Black Hollywood
- Robert Webb, How Not To Be a Boy
- Alan Cumming, Not My Father’s Son
- Shonda Rhimes, Year of Yes
- Mindy Kaling, (both of her books are great.)
- Gabourey Sidibe, This is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare
Most recently, I finished Gene Wilder’s memoir, Kiss Me Like a Stranger. I was drawn to it because I always found his performances interesting, but didn’t know much about him. (And honestly, I really like his voice.) Listening to it, I was reminded of Bryan Cranston’s A Life in Parts & Jeffrey Tambor’s Are You Anybody? The way all of these men talk about women is very similar. (Spoiler alert: It’s not great.)
They all comment on women’s bodies throughout, often introducing women in terms of their physical looks. Women are described as either extraordinary people to be revered (like their wives), or deeply flawed, broken individuals they tried to save or help in some way. And they all mention the pain of women in their lives (emotional or physical) in such a casual way, it really stood out to me.
The women in these men-moirs (if you will) are objectified in the literal sense. They are just parts of a man’s story and have no agency of their own. Their truth is secondary to how they fit into the lives of men. It’s striking, and sadly indicative of the deep roots of misogyny in our culture.
But! As Oprah said this year, a new day is on the horizon 🙂 ☀. There are so many other wonderful stories to explore, and many more to look forward to.