Whether you come from the most typical of nuclear families or have stories to tell for days about your quirky relatives, a satisfying family memoir always makes for perfect summer reading. A riches-to-rags coming of age story that has been hailed by Kirkus as “a stunning, deeply satisfying story about how we outlive our upbringings,” Kirkland Hamill’s new memoir Filthy Beasts fits the category to a tee. While you might not want to share a summer vacation home or your Thanksgiving table with the Hamill family’s larger-than-life matriarch, Wendy, and his rowdy brothers, Monty and Robin (together with Kirkland, the boys make up the “filthy beasts” of the book’s title), you’ll love reading about how they band together and forge a new life for themselves in Bermuda after they lose their fortunes in a divorce, and how Kirkland only discovers who he really is after leaving the orbit of his family for college. Kirkland shares with Off the Shelf the family memoirs that he returns to time and again, many of which inspired him to write Filthy Beasts.
Toward the end of this memoir, the author keeps asking his mother if they could finally “tell each other the truth.” And boy does he. It’s going to be an uncomfortable truth for some. On the surface, this is a story about the author’s struggle with weight, but it’s really an indictment of the treatment of African Americans in our country, and how he and the people he loves are carrying the burden of generations of pain. It’s an excruciating truth to hear, but timely and important.
It takes a lot for me to laugh so hard that I can’t keep reading. It is the moment where he talks about licking the light switches before leaving the house that kills me. It took me completely by surprise, in the most delightful way. And then he keeps doing the same thing over and over with each subsequent story. I couldn’t believe it. This was the book that compelled me to sit down at a computer and write my own stories.
It’s been a long time since I read this one. I often place Augusten and David Sedaris in the same camp, but David is whimsical and silly, while Augusten is biting and cut-throat in his humor. I loved it. His stories make me feel like somebody could live through craziness and come out the other side somewhat intact.
Running with Scissors is the true story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of Anne Sexton) gave him away to be raised by her unorthodox psychiatrist who bore a striking resemblance to Santa Claus. So at the age of twelve, Burroughs found himself amidst Victorian squalor living with the doctor’s bizarre family, and befriending a pedophile who resided in the backyard shed. The story of an outlaw childhood where rules were unheard of, and the Christmas tree stayed up all year round, where Valium was consumed like candy, and if things got dull an electroshock- therapy machine could provide entertainment. The funny, harrowing and bestselling account of an ordinary boy’s survival under the most extraordinary circumstances.
It took the 1982 discovery of a letter by Ernest Hemingway to catapult Beryl Markham’s book from obscurity. In the letter he says “[Beryl Markham] has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer . . . [she] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers.” I feel the same way. I appreciate Isak Dinesen’s work because it immerses me in time and place better than most books, but Beryl Markham employs such gorgeous prose to paint a vivid picture of early 1900s Africa that OUT OF AFRICA feels flat by comparison. One of my favorite books of all time.
If the first responsibility of a memoirist is to lead a life worth writing about, then Beryl Markham succeeded beyond all measure. Her life of adventure and beauty included living in East Africa as an adventurer, a racehorse trainer, and an aviatrix―she became the first woman to fly solo east to west across the Atlantic. If you’re a fan of Paula McLain’s novel, CIRCLING THE SUN, we think you’ll like Markham's memoir, too.
I was expecting a political memoir, deftly written with enough juice to keep you interested, but ultimately revealing very little. She could have easily done that and probably sold as many books. But, man, did she deliver. It is beautifully written and crafted with such precision that when done you feel like she has not only served you a delicious meal but has paired each course with the perfect wine. And then topped it off with the most succulent dessert. She is candid, thoughtful, inspiring, and flawed—crafting a wholly satisfying story that would have left you quickly turning the pages even if she had never been First Lady of the United States.