Looking for family-focused memoirs
July 14, 2011 5:10 AM   Subscribe

I'm reading (and really enjoying) The Glass Castle, and my wife and are about to have our first kid. What other memoirs or non-fiction books should I read that focus on parenting, raising kids in unorthodox ways, or just plain unique families?
posted by nitsuj to Writing & Language (20 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Running With Scissors is entertaining. I'm thinking that this one and your example (which is an amazing book) are more like shining examples of how not to be a parent. To be fair, though, the authors of both turned out to be pretty interesting people. Not to mean that they're in any way manuals for success-- just an observation.

A Girl Named Zippy is another good one. The dad's parenting style is alternately quite harsh and very sweet.

I tend to be a re-reader of books, and these two I've read fairly regularly over the years.
posted by mireille at 5:29 AM on July 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

I like Parenting Beyond Belief
posted by k8t at 6:11 AM on July 14, 2011

This isn't in the genre of memoir, but Freakonomics had a fascinating section on parenting and naming. They acknowledge how difficult it is to choose a "parenting method," seeing as how there are many schools of thought and the experts tend to disagree with each other.

Instead, Freakonomics focus on data and looks for correlations between school performance and factors ranging from race, gender, family structure, socio-economic status, the level of the parents' own education, to factors like whether or not the children were spanked (and how often), whether the children go to libraries or museums, how much television is watched, etc. For example: Having many books in the house is strongly correlated with high test scores ... but reading to the child every day isn't.

Not a guidebook to parenting by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a thought-provoking read.

(Chapter 5, "What Makes a Perfect Parent?" addresses parenting. Chapter 6 talks about names, which is also interesting.)
posted by hypotheticole at 6:21 AM on July 14, 2011

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott. She is fantastic and this should be standard reading for all new parents.
posted by joyride at 6:25 AM on July 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

The Teenage Liberation Handbook (even if a kid goes to school this book is about how to teach teenagers to use all their community resources to get an education)
posted by cda at 6:27 AM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have recommended my aunt's memoir Breaking Clean before -- people have gone out of their way to recommend The Glass Castle to me because they imagine I will relate because of my family (I loved it, BTW).
posted by hermitosis at 6:34 AM on July 14, 2011

The same author has another book out, Half Broke Horses. I enjoyed it as much, if not more, than the other one.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:50 AM on July 14, 2011

Auntie Mame - the book and the movie - may not be entirely true memoirs, but is /are definitely an all-time favorite for me in how to raise a kid right.
posted by Mchelly at 6:57 AM on July 14, 2011

I loved The Glass Castle. It's one of my favorite books. I have heard Half Broke Horses is better. I need to read it.

Seconding A Girl Named Zippy and the follow up book, She Got Up Off the Couch. Both are by Haven Kimmel and are excellent.

If you're looking for memoirs that feature dysfunctional families:

The Liar's Club by Mary Karr

Change Me Into Zeus's Daughter by Barbara Robinette Moss

This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff

The End of the World as We Know It by Robert Goolrick

Unique family situations:

Don't Let's Not Go to the Dogs Tonight

Angela's Ashes

As far as parenting books go, some standouts are tha authors Adele Faber and Pam Leo. Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen, and most books about Attachment Parenting -- Sears, Barbara Nicholson, etc.
posted by Fairchild at 7:01 AM on July 14, 2011

Best book ever about first child is Anne Lamott's "Operating Instructions".
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:09 AM on July 14, 2011

I really enjoyed Catherine Newman's Waiting for Birdy: A Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of Growing a Family. Not as extreme as The Glass Castle, more like Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions.
posted by valeries at 7:09 AM on July 14, 2011

Betty MacDonald's books about her family are great. Ignore the bad covers, please. Anybody Can Do Anything, Onions in the Stew... oh, just try any of them.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:19 AM on July 14, 2011

An unusual childhood: Jill Ker Conway's The Road from Coorain.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:22 AM on July 14, 2011

Fairchild listed the two I came in here to recommend -- Angela's Ashes and The Liars Club.

If Angela's Ashes doesn't break your heart, you just haven't got one; Frank McCourt's childhood makes Wall's childhood look like a trip to Disneyland. I can't but think of his fathers alcoholism, and how it broke up that family, yet his father was the man who gave McCourt stories ... Life is a big mess, that's all. Don't miss this book.

And The Liars Club is dead-on, she's got East Texas and its people nailed, I've lived in Houston and have worked with blue-collar people from East Texas and Louisiana, I know a little bit about them, enough to clearly recognize them in her writing. Her voice is perfect, it's clear she writes from her heart, she loves her family so, so much yet is puzzled by them. Again, life is a big mess. I give this book to people to try to help them understand East Texas people, how big-hearted they are and how close-minded, too, and also just so they can read a great book.

Great books, just great reads, both of them.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:28 AM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cheaper by the Dozen, the book NOT the crappy movie.
posted by Ellemeno at 9:37 AM on July 14, 2011

I'm not sure if you'd count my suggestion as a memoir, but it is about family, one man's real family and it is very funny.

Daddy Needs a Drink

posted by onhazier at 9:57 AM on July 14, 2011

Check out my previous question on unconventional families for some suggestions that might fit the bill. Like you, I asked after reading The Glass Castle, and also When Skateboards will be Free.
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:14 AM on July 14, 2011

Cheaper By The Dozen and Belles On Their Toes by Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. Now that was an interesting family. Might be a little old school for what you're looking for, but filled with crazy goodness!
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:44 PM on July 14, 2011

I really, really loved The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less. I wouldn't say it's precisely about parenting per se, but it's an amazing story about how the author's mother, married to an abusive alcoholic husband who forced the family into extreme poverty, kept the family afloat for many years by entering and winning contests for jingles and slogans.

Also, not a book, but you may be interested in the story of Dorian Paskowitz, who imposed upon his nine children an extremely non-traditional and nomadic upbringing. Their (somewhat sad and conflicted) story is documented in the film Surfwise.
posted by anderjen at 12:31 PM on July 15, 2011

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