Autobiographical writing moonlighting as instruction manual
October 19, 2013 6:32 PM   Subscribe

Have you ever read any autobiographical writing that has since helped guide how you make decisions or choose to live your life? Any length is good - particular passages, articles, or even full books.

(I'm going through some soul searching on how to live a purposeful life and would love to hear advice from history's greatest aunts and uncles. Thank you!)
posted by estlin to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I'm partial to Lynda Barry's What It Is.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 6:52 PM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Autobiography of a Yogi is my personal favorite. Steve Jobs, John Lennon, and other notable leaders in the creative world also cited it as among their all-time favorite reads.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:55 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has to be a hoary old cliche at this point but it's one of those that's a cliche for a reason I think.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:56 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was deeply inspired by "Dearie", a biography of Julia Child. She was so driven and she worked do damn hard her whole life.
Edit: oops, that's not autobiographical. Still very inspiring though.
posted by skycrashesdown at 7:53 PM on October 19, 2013

The Confessions of St. Augustine.
posted by xenophile at 8:06 PM on October 19, 2013

The Pleasures of Cooking for One is by Judith Jones, and it is both a cookbook and a reflection on self love. It's an off shoot of an earlier book, but I haven't read that one.

I have also found A Human Being Died That Night very influential.
posted by spunweb at 8:26 PM on October 19, 2013

Not a book, but over at this thread I found a link to What Now, a blog written by a woman who took in a 15 year old who'd been in the foster care system for pretty much his entire life. I read the entire archive from beginning to end on Monday and while she initially struck me as slightly new age-y and almost dangerously naive, by the end, I was deeply impressed not only by her strength and commitment but by the moral framework she uses to understand the world. As far as I can tell, she's Buddhist-influenced but not actively practicing, and it's not much of an overstatement to say that if she had a church I'd join it. Honestly, I'm still processing a lot of it, but I would venture to say that you couldn't read the full blog (and start at the beginning, so you go along on the journey with her) and not come away at least a little bit changed.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:46 PM on October 19, 2013

Strangely enough, Borrowed Time, by Paul Monette. It's a really harrowing book of a man who is losing his partner to AIDS in the early to mid 1980s. It really, really impressed up on me at a young age how important it is to be with someone you love, and not to ever waste a moment in a relationship that isn't 100% worth being in.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:56 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
posted by scody at 10:43 PM on October 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

"All the Strange Hours", anthropologist Loren Eiseley's autobiographical memoir (with help.)

Of particular note.... Eiseley was an isolated, underfed, sickly kid, in relatively deprived circumstances, in an era (The Depression) where whether you ate, lived or died was a matter of luck, and regardless of which, it was a matter of indifference to generally the whole planet. He would not have been missed. It's just as likely that his life's work could have been dispensing gasoline, picking fruit, or cutting hair. Of course, who knows if anyone reads him these days, but he was an early voice for the Earth, and the Wild. I personally love his writing, and the relevance to a young person of today?.... a life can go in many directions, and even though it looks like shit right now, perhaps, it can wind up radically different with a little focus and patience. You'll really only know when it nears the end, and it's an assessment you almost MUST make in hindsight, not in prediction.

Imagine, child of today, having as a choice either rotting in place in rural Nebraska or jumping on a moving train to get away? Desperation and a lunge into the unknown are the better choice. And college? A PhD? Fame? Wisdom? Right. Not gonna happen. Or maybe, just maybe, accomplishment and fulfilment is a matter of persistence and a series of good judgements, overall? A few good choices in a row versus a few bad choices in a row make a big difference, but even with several bad ones behind, enough good ones in series can right a negative path.

Eiseley came perilously close to being a murderer, defending himself on a train he was hopping as a hobo, but in a moment of urgent sanity, decided against pushing his assailant off the box car. It was a key decision point between a life of good and a life of less noble character. Such points present to we mortals from time to time, seldom with this level of impact, but nonetheless, life can go either way every now and then. Pays to know that being decent has its rewards, or at least its avoided punishments.

I'm rambling. (So what else is new?) Good read, IMO.
posted by FauxScot at 2:21 AM on October 20, 2013

Anne Lamott Plan B
I learned that "it" is OK, whatever my it is. Reading her is like talking with that aunt who really loves you but the rest of the family thinks is nuts.
posted by SyraCarol at 8:00 AM on October 20, 2013

It's been a while since I read it, but reading Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir felt like reading the diary of my best friend. I should say that I'm a francophile and endlessly fascinated by the relationship between Sartre and de Beauvoir (but mostly de Beauvoir herself), so that influenced my choice to pick up the book in the first place while browsing the most famous bookstore in Paris (where I did some soul searching myself... after eating a lot of crepes).

It's not very fluffy or inspiring with life wisdom packaged neatly into quotey quotable quotes; it's pretty dense, detailed, much of the wisdom needs to float around in your gray matter for a while before it sinks down into your soul, but it is about a young woman leading an extremely purposeful, disciplined life. She had doubts like we all do, but she always believed in her "lucky star," always believed that it would carry her through, and worked tirelessly to reach her goal.
posted by madonna of the unloved at 11:24 PM on October 21, 2013

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