Memoir

Read It Forward features celebrity biographies and fascinating memoirs. For readers who enjoy reading real-life stories that amaze and inspire.

Anonymous death came early and often.

“The parlors and bedrooms in which honest folk lived were (as now) rather dull places,” wrote Ben Hecht, late in his life, trying to explain this persistent trait of old Chicago. “It was pleasant, in a way, to know that outside their windows, the devil was still capering in a flare of brimstone.”

Each of the thousand trains that entered and left the city did so at grade level. You could step from a curb and be killed by the Chicago Limited. Every day on average two people were destroyed at the city’s rail crossings. Their injuries were grotesque. Pedestrians retrieved severed heads.

If you could lay all HeLa cells ever grown end-to-end, they’d wrap around the Earth at least three times, spanning more than 350 million feet.

There’s a photo on my wall of a woman I’ve never met, its left corner torn and patched together with tape. She looks straight into the camera and smiles, hands on hips, dress suit neatly pressed, lips painted deep red. It’s the late 1940s and she hasn’t yet reached the age of thirty.

Her light brown skin is smooth, her eyes still young and playful, oblivious to the tumor growing inside her—a tumor that would leave her five children motherless and change the future of medicine. Beneath the photo, a caption says her name is “Henrietta Lacks, Helen Lane or Helen Larson.”

Part diary. Part therapy. Completely hilarious.

It all started when busy father Greg Pembroke posted a few pictures online of his three-year-old son, mid-tantrum, alongside the reason his son was crying: He had broken his bit of cheese in half.

In Reasons My Kid is Crying, Greg collects together photos sent from parents around the world, documenting the many, completely logical reasons why small children cry.

Why can’t you write your memoir as a novel?

“My mother has asked me this regarding my memoir about my sexy single girl travel adventures two or three dozen times,” admits Kristin Newman, author of What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, “hoping to protect the innocent (herself, my fiancé, Russian and Brazilian and Israeli and Australian bartenders).”

“And it’s a seductive idea, this notion of hiding in fiction. I’m terrified of publishing what is a more entertaining version of my diary. But despite the warm blanket that pretending to fictionalize one’s life presents, I just can’t do it.”

Powerful in the first writers I discovered was the naked South—primal black swamps, heat mirages, peach blows, moss-hung oaks, laurel slicks—the land itself, a sense of which every southern writer was spoon-fed, along with grits, smothered quail, and chess pie.

“The body of southern literature has warmed me all my life,” writes Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun.

“Having moved back to the South after a lifetime in California, I’m immersing myself in contemporary writers. As I did as a teenager, I’m taking notes, ready to learn how this verdant, haunted land continues to shape the writers who love it.”

“If you’re thinking about what you’re going to do post-graduation now (before you walk across the stage), you’re definitely on the right track,” says author Katherine Schwarzenegger.

“That motivation will be very useful when it comes to finding and developing your future career, so great job! But rather than worry about the future or stress over how you’re going to succeed and what you’re going to do, try to apply that energy towards positive thoughts and determination. It’s so useful during a time like this!”