Monday, August 1, 2011

Personal Growth through Isolation

Joan Anderson's memoir A Year by the Sea, thoughts of an unfinished woman (1999) chronicles the year she took off from her marriage to "find herself". The author  starts each chapter with inspirational quotes from the similar A Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh and other sources. Many reviews on GoodReads compare it to Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love (2006). This genre of memoir can perhaps be traced back to Viginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own (1929) What all three books share is the idea that women should have a space all to themselves, or take time and space, in order to maintain their individuality.  When writing about this idea, a modern author has to be careful not to tip to the side of selfishness, self-involvement, whining and entitlement. Reviewers differ on whether Anderson tips more to the selfish than the self-reflective. For me, classics, but not memoirs, like A Room of One's Own and Henrik Ibsen's The Doll's House, Hedda Gabler and The Master Builder treat women's dilemma of individuality so beautifully that it's difficult to tolerate the clunky prose styles of contemporary memoirists who attempt to shed light on the issue.
"A Year by the Sea' is not a classic piece of literature though, it's a quick, painless read. Anderson does what so many women, and men for that matter, would like to do: chuck it all and escape to a cozy cottage on Cape Cod (or wherever - fill in place here) and then write a bestseller about it that sells to the Oprah crowd. But wait, that's not all! Anderson follows this memoir with several others and she has a business that provides expensive "workshops" for women seeking to find themselves. I'm just picturing what a workshop by Virginia Woolf would have been like... 
Read-a-likes: popular memoirs by women authors
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion: musings on illness and death in the family.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls - puts the "dys" in dysfunctional family.
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott, or any of her books; Lamott is funny and flawed.
The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway, if you like to read about Australia.
My review of Take Big Bites by Linda Ellerbee which I loved because she is funny and self-deprecating.
My review of Mutant Message Down Under, a memoir which may be a hoax and which I found even more annoyingly narrow-minded than Eat, Pray, Love and A Year by the Sea.

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