Stunt memoir recommendations
August 15, 2017 2:04 PM   Subscribe

I have a huge weakness for books which the author is documenting some sort of personal year-long challenge. I guess you'd call them stunt memoirs? I've already read a bunch, but I want even more recommendations.

I've already read (and mostly enjoyed) the following:

- The Winter of Our Disconnect: How Three Totally Wired Teenagers (and a Mother Who Slept with Her iPhone) Pulled the Plug on Their Technology and Lived to Tell the Tale
- What Falls from the Sky: How I Disconnected from the Internet and Reconnected with the God Who Made the Clouds
- The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun
- Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon Self-Control, and My Other Experiments in Everyday Life
- Year of No Sugar: A Memoir
- Year of No Clutter: A Memoir
- The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life
- Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen: How One Girl Risked Her Marriage, Her Job, and Her Sanity to Master the Art of Living
- Nickel & Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
- The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World
- The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible
- Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection
- Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping
- MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search For A New Best Friend
- 365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy

I'm open to just about any topic, but I am a lot more interested in ones in which the author genuinely wants to improve some aspect of their life than the ones that are just straight-up stunt-oriented (e.g. just about everything A.J. Jacobs has ever written). Bonus points for anything about curbing internet/phone use.

Thank you!
posted by anderjen to Media & Arts (26 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Popular by Maya Van Wagenen: "Maya Van Wagenen decided to ... spend the school year following a 1950s popularity guide"
posted by soelo at 2:17 PM on August 15, 2017

Eat, Pray, Love falls squarely in this category, and is pretty enjoyable.
Road Fever is a humorous account of driving from the southernmost tip of South America to the northernmost tip of North America.
posted by radioamy at 2:21 PM on August 15, 2017

A good companion to "The Know-it-All" is Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages by Ammon Shea. I didn't care for it but perhaps you will.
posted by Mo Nickels at 2:26 PM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer, which has him covering memorization techniques and then becoming so good he competes in the United States Memory Championship.
posted by Mo Nickels at 2:29 PM on August 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

I recently read A Year of Doing Good and enjoyed it.

Did you see this question from 2011? A Year of ______.
posted by paduasoy at 2:30 PM on August 15, 2017

Response by poster: paduasoy, thank you! I knew I'd seen a similar question on the green before but it didn't come up in my searches.

However, 2011 was awhile ago, so I'll still take all the newer recs anyone has to offer!
posted by anderjen at 2:38 PM on August 15, 2017

I liked Judith Moffett's Homestead Year: Back to the Land in Suburbia.
posted by asperity at 2:39 PM on August 15, 2017

Bill Bryson's Walk in the Woods (about hiking the Appalachian Trail) is great fun.
posted by adamrice at 2:46 PM on August 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

'Ubuntu: one woman's motorcycle odyssey across Africa' was much better than I expected.
posted by jojobobo at 3:04 PM on August 15, 2017

Nine Lives by Lynn Snowdon. She spent a year trying out nine different careers: pyro-technician to a heavy-metal band, advertising copywriter, Hollywood publicist, substitute teacher, Vegas cocktail waitress, suburban housewife, stripper, rape counselor, and chocolate factory worker.

I read it a long time ago but remember several unexpected insights and observations from it still:

- Men were quite respectful of her when she stripped, whereas she was routinely assaulted by men when she was a cocktail waitress,

- The white women in her chocolate factory arrived at work beautifully dressed and with their hair self-consciously styled, despite having to immediately cover it all up with uniforms and caps, and that Snowdon saw them as trying to grab desperately to a higher socio-economic status, which tied into them being viciously racist against the Latinx women who also worked there.

- Hershey's chocolate smells bad

- She got "caught" while moonlighting in advertising, and it didn't go well, although I forget the details of that part.

It was a good read.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:36 PM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Unlikely Disciple was written by Kevin Roose, A. J. Jacobs's intern/slave from My Year of Living Biblically, about an secular college student who spends a semester (not a whole year... I hope it still counts!) at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. It's surprisingly touching.
posted by BrashTech at 4:45 PM on August 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver chronicles her year eating only foods grown locally (within a certain radius, maybe 200 miles?)
posted by fancyoats at 5:47 PM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I found the Kingsolver book pretty dreary, but then I'm not a fan.

Very similar, and a lot of fun is Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKennon. For one year they ate only food produced within 100 miles of their home in Vancouver, B.C.
posted by kestralwing at 7:10 PM on August 15, 2017

"The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey" chronicles a guys recreation of the trip up the Oregon trail in a conestoga wagon.
posted by cosmicbandito at 7:44 PM on August 15, 2017

Memoirs of a period spent reading books include Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch and The Whole Five Feet by Christopher Beha. Sankovitch's book started as a blog and I liked it much better in that form, as a diary of the books she read. (When she shapes it into a book, organized more by topic, the result is kind of weird.) In both cases, the authors were having personal difficulties which they tried to address with reading. I would bet that Sankovitch says something about curtailing screen use when she talks about how she managed to read a book every day.
posted by BibiRose at 8:03 PM on August 15, 2017

I found Self Made Man very insightful (having intentionally passed as male on the distant past myself).
posted by girl Mark at 11:44 PM on August 15, 2017

I haven't read it, but I once met the guy who wrote The One-Week Job Project, where he worked a different job every week for a year.
posted by kyla at 6:29 AM on August 16, 2017

You could literally fill a home library with books by people who sailed around the world. They did it for various reasons, including just the personal challenge. Some did it sailing alone, some with a crew. There is a sub-category of people who sailed around Cape Horn, but not the whole globe for the challenge. Searching on "circumnavigation" and "Cape Horn" will return a selection.

On a different theme, "The Spirit Of St. Louis" by Charles Lindberg."
posted by SemiSalt at 6:48 AM on August 16, 2017

Barbara Ehrenreich went undercover as a blue-collar worker in Nickel and Dimed. It was more of an investigation than a stunt.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:21 AM on August 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'd recommend Mr. Smith Goes to Prison by Jeff Smith. Smith is a former US Congressional candidate, former state senator, and holds a PhD in Political Science. He got caught up in a campaign finance scandal and was sentenced to a year in prison. The book is the story of his experience throughout that year and his take on the current state of the criminal justice system.
posted by holmesian at 10:48 AM on August 16, 2017

Pledged is written by a journalist who went undercover in a sorority at a large college and is a good snapshot into greek life culture (albeit a bit dated).
posted by carlypennylane at 11:12 AM on August 16, 2017

Just come across The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life, which looks like it might be good.

Seconding Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, though looks like I liked it more than BibiRose did, possibly because I hadn't read the blog. Also, one of the books she reads is a novel by my father, which made me happy.
posted by paduasoy at 11:56 PM on August 16, 2017

It's not specific to a time, and it isn't a stunt exactly, but it's about a singular task and it's fabulous:

Meditations from the Breakdown Lane by James Shapiro is about running across the US.
posted by OmieWise at 5:54 AM on August 17, 2017

A decades-old classic: A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins. I read this probably not long after it first came out in 1979 and it was an eye-opener for young me. I did not know those places or those people when I started but that knowledge had a simmering influence on my identity, politics, and world view that I still have today.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:42 AM on August 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod - Gary Paulsen
This is an astounding book.
posted by plinth at 10:57 AM on August 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

I really like these kind of books. The Unlikely Disciple is my favourite so far, but I've enjoyed different ones by A. J. Jacobs to varying degrees.

A couple that aren't year-long experiments specifically, but are otherwise interesting looks at specific life experiments:

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, which is about a young woman who gets a job in a crematory (she tells a lot about how things work in the crematory that you might not know) and get interested in how we treat dead bodies. She ends up going on to write a popular blog, I believe, though I haven't read that.

Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World's Most Coveted Handbag, which is about a guy from America who decides to move to Barcelona for a change. He's got a job lined up, but it quickly falls through and he has to worry about money. He's got a big collection of high-end fashion items that he starts selling off on eBay to pay the rent, only to accidentally wind up running a business from tracking down very elusive high-end handbags and selling them online. The conclusion was quite thought-provoking and interesting, but most of the book was just raucous fun.
posted by bellebethcooper at 4:33 PM on August 20, 2017

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