Wide Awake: Getting Personal
The best books tell the best stories
By Marianne Aleardi

This usually shocks people, but I’ve never been much of a reader. I kind of feel like if a book isn’t really good, I just wasted a whole lot of time. And who has time to waste.

As a young adult, one of the first books I read was “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant. That remains my favorite book. It’s what I always bring up if someone starts talking to me about good books. (I will usually, though, change the subject soon after.) But once I read Red Tent, any book after that just didn’t measure up. So slowly, over time, I pretty much stopped picking up a book.

But then this summer, I made a huge discovery: I love memoirs. The right person’s story can be inspiring and fascinating and terrifying and informative. Take Rob Lowe for example.

He starts his new memoir with a story about being asked by JFK Jr. to appear on the cover of “George,” the political magazine he had recently started. This was right before the TV show “West Wing” was to premier, and Lowe thought the cover would re-start his fledgling career. But then the night before the photo shoot, Lowe had a call with JFK Jr., who was getting on a plane to fly with his wife to Martha’s Vineyard.

So, you know, the cover never happened. Lowe’s book is filled with these interesting stories of names you’ve heard before and events you’re familiar with. (Like the time a dad stopped him and his teenage friends on Halloween because they weren’t wearing costumes – and the dad was Martin Sheen.)

And then there’s Molly Shannon from SNL. I heard her interviewed about her new memoir, and she talked about being in a car accident with her family when she was 4, and her mother and baby sister were killed. I wondered how you get from there to a successful career in comedy, so I read, and loved, her story.

I listened to war correspondent Clarissa Ward’s book, and I’m still stunned that a blonde woman could maneuver her way through Syria and Afghanistan during a war, interviewing rebels and ISIS leaders. I don’t know how she’s still alive.

I read Katie Couric’s book and discovered I’m not a fan.

I read Huma Abedin’s memoir. I don’t know what was more fascinating: her 24/7 career in politics or her bizarre marriage to troubled Congressman Anthony Weiner – a marriage she felt compelled to stay in for way too long.

I am so hooked on memoirs that I now keep 4 books on the table next to my bed. I mean, who am I?

To find more memoirs to read, I asked for suggestions on Facebook and Instagram. Here’s what readers said:

Three people suggested I listen to Selma Blair read her memoir “Mean Baby.” (Honestly, I recognized her name but had to google who she was.) So far, her story is pretty mind-blowing. She started drinking when she was 7. And that isn’t the craziest part of the book.

Only one other book had multiple recommendations, “More Myself: A Journey” by Alicia Keys.

Here are some others:

“Educated” by Tara Westover.

“Untamed” by Glennon Doyle.

“Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me” by Mindy Kaling. We had Mindy on the cover of SJ Mag last August. How did I not think to read her book?

“Rough Draft” by Katy Tur. She is a journalist who has a long career as a foreign correspondent. Her parents were helicopter journalists – which I didn’t know was a thing – but they are known for filming the O.J. police chase. I ordered her book.

“On Being Human” by Jen Pastiloff, who grew up in Pennsauken. (How did I not know that?)

“Garlic and Sapphires” by Ruth Reichl, a former food critic for The New York Times.

“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematorium” by Caitlin Doughty. Not sure about this one, especially since the review I read started with “morbid and illuminating.”

So what do you think? If you have a favorite memoir, let me know on Instagram or Facebook. When I take a break from my next book, I’ll be sure to add it to the list.

August 2022
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