I know I foreshadowed some light summer fare in my June Read With Me post and I promise to get to that, but first I am in the mood for moving memoirs this summer so here are a few of my favorites: I read Emergency Sex: And Other Desperate Measures by Cain, Postlewait and Thompson a few years ago and was absolutely transfixed by this tale of three UN Peacemakers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
In this deeply honest triple memoir (in itself a form and achievement worth the price of admission) three civilians, all young, western and ambitious, work in this complex, difficult, sometimes whiskey and dancing filled field for very different reasons, having very different experiences. Their stories interlace and contradict as all life stories do. I learned from them all, their vulnerability and willingness to speak their truth changed my view of the world.
When I read a review of Marianne Elliot’s 2013 Zen Under Fire I knew I wanted to hear her story. Elliot is also a United Nations worker. She writes of her time in Afghanistan from 2006-2007. She is a New Zealander, an attorney and sent to promote human rights justice for women and girls. Her telling is specific and personal, sometimes devastatingly discouraging and she writes about that too. Still I found the powerful universality of human struggle and dreams to be uplifting in a profound way. My understanding of that distant place deepened with a renewed reverence for the human connection that might save us all, as we care for our children, make breakfast, drink tea, pray for safety even when we have no sense what will make that available, do yoga, make friends and pursue lovers.
I have just opened Zen Confidential: Confessions of a Wayward Monk by Shozan Jack Haubner. With a forward by Leonard Cohen, I ought not be surprised by the initial grittiness of the saga. I am looking forward to more as Haubner recounts his decades in a United States Zen Monastery trying to find and then lose himself. I am also looking forward to Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer, highly recommended by several of my yogi friends.
Now for those summer, beach, it’s easy but also worth your time books.
Swamplandia! By Karen Russell
Aleph by Paulo Coelho (okay anything by Coelho)
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Prodigal Summer: Deluxe Modern Classic (P.S.) by Barbara Kingsolver
Sappho’s Leap: A Novel by Erica Jong (yes, that Erica Jong)
Happy summer! We are in the midst of it, the humidity, the busyness, the lakes, the picnics, the reunions. Pack a book. Make some time for reading and yourself.