Check It Out: Celebrating holiday season with the memoir

Merriam-Webster defines memoir as a "narrative composed from personal experience." It may encompass the entirety of a person's life, or only a portion of it. This sets it apart from a traditional autobiography, which is usually a chronological account of the full span of that life.

Perhaps the fastest-growing segment of nonfiction publishing, the memoir has become the literary vehicle of choice for all manner of people wishing to share their reflections about life with a wide audience. Ben Yagoda, who has written a history of such works, calls it "the central form of culture."

"Lit" by Mary Karr: In two previous memoirs, Karr has written about the hardships of her life growing up in Southeast Texas. Her latest work is an account of her efforts to achieve middle-class stability through marriage and parenthood. She is unable to escape her troubled past; however, and her life spirals into alcoholism and mental illness. Readers will appreciate Karr's unflinching honesty and irreverent humor as well as the outcome of her story. By journey's end, she has found a path towards recovery and personal salvation through faith.

"Losing Mum and Pup" by Christopher Buckley: Writer and satirist Buckley chronicles the year in which he became a "55-year-old orphan" after the passing of both his parents — William F. Buckley, founding father of modern conservatism, and Patricia Taylor Buckley, a renowned New York socialite. Written with warmth and Buckley's trademark mordant wit, this book offers a poignant look at what it means to lose one's parents.

"A Ticket to the Circus" by Norris Church Mailer: An accomplished novelist, the author, who died last month, was best known for her 30 years of marriage as the sixth wife of the late Norman Mailer. Theirs was a turbulent relationship full of passion, betrayal and, finally, understanding. Norris, originally from small-town Arkansas, recounts how she learned to navigate her way through the equally formidable worlds of her extended stepfamily and the New York literary scene.

"Just Kids" by Patti Smith: Smith writes with surprising tenderness of her relationship with controversial artist Robert Mapplethorpe. First as lovers and then as friends, they were fiercely devoted to one another when both were struggling artists in New York during the late 1960s and 1970s. Smith credits Mapplethorpe, who died of AIDS in 1989, with encouraging her to perform her own work at poetry recitals, a development which would lead to her becoming a highly influential singer-songwriter and the so-called godmother of punk.

"Memory Chalet" by Tony Judt: The author, who died in August, was diagnosed with a rare form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, in 2008, which soon left him in a state of complete paralysis. An acclaimed historian, Judt would spend many restless nights alone with his thoughts. He began sorting through memories, organizing them in the "rooms" of a Swiss chalet that he once visited as a child. His dictations of these memories would later be published individually as essays and compiled here in this volume.

CHECK IT OUT is written by the staff of the Newport Beach Public Library. All titles may be reserved from home or office computers by accessing the catalog at For more information on the Central Library or any of the branches, contact the Newport Beach Public Library at (949) 717-3800, option 2.

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