memories... of a spectacular year
May 17, 2011 11:38 AM   Subscribe

I would like suggestions for memoirs that focus on a specific period of time in the writer's life... say the summer they spent overseas, or their four years in college.

It seems like a lot of memoirs are closer to autobiographies, spanning the writer's entire existence, or about a relationship that lasted decades. I want to read some memoirs that are about short, complicated times in the writer's life, with very little straying outside the lines into their history or future.

Other than that, no real restrictions--anything, as long as it's interesting and focused.
posted by smoakes to Writing & Language (22 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Running the Books, by Avi Steinberg. It's specifically about the two years that Steinberg spent as a prison librarian
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:43 AM on May 17, 2011

Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell, comes to mind. About his time in the Spanish Civil War.
posted by entropone at 11:46 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

(whoops, sorry--post got away from me)

Running the Books is specifically about the two years that Steinberg spent as a prison librarian in Boston, after graduating from Harvard. He strays occasionally into some personal background--largely about his upbringing as an Orthodox Jew, which he no longer is--but generally stays focused on the prison experience. (It helps that Steinberg is still a pretty young guy and doesn't have a whole lot of room to stray into longer autobiography.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:46 AM on May 17, 2011

Michael Patrick MacDonald's Easter Rising is pretty much his teen years getting out of Southie - it's more or less a follow-on from his All Souls, but it's a pretty good look at being poor, white, and disaffected in Boston in the 80's.
posted by pupdog at 11:47 AM on May 17, 2011

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
posted by mattbucher at 11:52 AM on May 17, 2011

If you're not opposed to graphic novels, you might be interested in Guy DeLisle's work.

Oh! And The Burn Journals, about a young man's long recovery after a failed suicide attempt.
posted by johnofjack at 11:56 AM on May 17, 2011

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius jumps around in time a bit, but basically covers the time from the death of Eggers' parents to a few years later. Whatever cultural baggage may be attached to Dave Eggers the person, it's a brilliant book.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:57 AM on May 17, 2011

Julia Child's My Life in France is a great read.
posted by Miko at 11:58 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell - charming book about his childhood in Corfu
posted by saffronwoman at 12:02 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Attacks by Erwin Rommel is an interesting look into the strategies and 'opposing side' perspective that you don't get in most history books from the 4 years of the First World War.
posted by Yzerfan at 12:04 PM on May 17, 2011

Loung Ung. First They Killed My Father - ages 5 to 9. Lucky Child - 9 to adulthood.
posted by bq at 12:07 PM on May 17, 2011

Mary McCarthy's books each span specific periods in her life. Wonderful reads.
posted by judith at 12:09 PM on May 17, 2011

Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss by Frederick and Steven Barthelme, about "a several-year escapade during which the two brothers lost close to a quarter of a million dollars in the garish gambling boats off the Mississippi coast."
"As college professors we were automatically in an out-of-harm's-way subculture, but we watched TV and read newspapers, so we had some idea of what the rest of the world was like. We just weren't in it exactly. In fact, maybe nobody of the middle class was much in it—that was the point of being middle class, yes? Buy your way out of the threatening and the immediate. The downside being that you lose some edge. In the worlds of kids or poor people or maniacs, there's always a lot of stuff happening, people doing crazy things, acting up, risking life, being desperately in love or terribly angry-a lot of stimulation.

So we nodded, and folded our hands, and thought. There inside our comfortable, well-maintained apartments. We lived in pleasant circumstances with work that was agreeable, but after all was said and done there was still this old furniture piled up in the garage—curiosity, recklessness, guilt. By training we were dissatisfied, by temperament restless."

And this might not be as limited as you want, and might be a little obvious, but Mary Karr's The Liars' Club is about her early childhood.

Yes, it's the memoir that spawned a thousand crappy memoirs about messed up childhoods, but like the Barthelmes and unlike way too many memoirists, the lady can write.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:35 PM on May 17, 2011

Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen - also one of the best books I've ever read.
posted by you're a kitty! at 12:41 PM on May 17, 2011

The Orchard - a Depression-era memoir about a woman's year-long effort to keep the family apple orchard afloat. Beautifully written and very interesting reading.
posted by Kangaroo at 12:46 PM on May 17, 2011

Summer at Tiffany.
posted by Violet Hour at 1:01 PM on May 17, 2011

River Town by Peter Hessler about two years he spent teaching English in China. Perhaps not really a memoir because he devotes a lot of time to describing China as he saw it? But a great read.
posted by Sukey Says at 2:44 PM on May 17, 2011

A Moveable Feast by Hemingway
posted by mmmbacon at 8:30 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just finished French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France, by Richard Goodman, which is about a year spent in France, and the author's garden while there. It was a good, if fast, read.
posted by OmieWise at 5:15 AM on May 18, 2011

A Movable Feast by Hemingway--"but this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy"

The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook--it's a cookbook, but really it's a great memoir in a similar vein. She talks of wartime rationing and helping people passing by, all sorts of sweet little vignettes that really evoke her life with Stein in France.
posted by ifjuly at 11:34 AM on May 18, 2011

Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott
posted by pimli at 10:21 AM on May 23, 2011

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