As an English major and a library science graduate student, it’s pretty obvious that I have a thing for books. I don’t quite feel complete unless I have a book (usually more like three or four) on my bedside table in various states of completion. My taste in books is vast and varied, as I love the annoyingly-titled “contemporary fiction” genre, short stories and classic literature as well as graphic novels, campy thrillers and horror novels. The only thing I never really took a liking to was nonfiction. Truth seemed just so much more boring than the sweeping worlds of fiction!
But just in the past couple of weeks, I’ve undergone a drastic change and discovered a new genre obsession: the memoir, and specifically the personal essay, a la David Sedaris. I only had about five weeks this summer where I wasn’t taking classes, but I managed to read David Sedaris’s entire catalog in that short time, in addition to Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking and Augusten Burroughs’s Running With Scissors.I suddenly found myself going from being mildly nauseated by nonfiction to reading autobiographical (and only slightly fictionalized) accounts of people’s crazy lives like it was my job.
I’m not entirely sure what brought about the switch, but I have to give some (if not all) the credit to David Sedaris’s hysterical and unique writing voice. Seriously, read “Jesus Shaves” from Me Talk Pretty One Day and do your best not to laugh out loud raucously. I suspect that any successful attempt will prove harmful to one’s health.
There’s just something irresistible about an author mining their past for hilarious and/or unfortunate experiences and crafting a poignant work of art from these potentially scarring events. I suppose this is because I myself enjoy sharing awkward and surreal happenings from my life with my friends and family, like the time a squirrel leapt out of a trash can straight at me and my first reaction was not to get out of the way, but rather to catch it, or the time I woke up to three large starlings fluttering around my apartment, pooping on everything in sight. (Now that I think about it, maybe my memoir should deal with the fact that wild animals seem to have a passionate distaste for me; I’ll call it Man vs. Semi-Wild: The Urban Adventures of a Man Scorned by “Nature.”)
Whatever the reason, I am now firmly entrenched in the summer of the memoir. I’ve moved on to Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and while I should be spending most (read: all) of my time reading my considerably large textbooks, I keep being drawn back into the pasts of authors, eagerly devouring the words, ready for the next tear-jerking aphorism or hysterical happenstance. I suppose you can teach a (relatively) old dog new tricks. Or at least broaden that dog’s horizons.