Is there a classic memoir similar to Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love?
November 20, 2007 11:27 AM   Subscribe

A family member (40-year-old woman, married, has a 6-year old) really enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love. I’d like to give her another book she’s likely to enjoy, but since she is already aware of current bestsellers, I’d like to get her something older or more obscure. Are there any classic memoirs, which are likely to appeal to this reader?

I’m imagining a similar “woman’s personal growth through some major life experience” type of memoir, but ideally one which is now considered classic literature. I'm essentially looking for something that could be considered the literary predecessor of Eat, Pray Love. Does such a book exist?
posted by Meg_Murry to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Anne Lamott's various nonfiction books might be of interest. Her stories of spiritual growth are bullshit-free and often very funny.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:41 AM on November 20, 2007

On Pilgrimage might be a possibility.
posted by DarkForest at 11:43 AM on November 20, 2007

Another one that comes to mind is Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek -- lyrical and penetrating essays on the natural world by a brilliant naturalist and mystic. That one's not as autobiographical as Anne Lamott, though.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:45 AM on November 20, 2007

Going back a bit, there's Anne Lindberg Morrow's meditation on spirituality in a woman's life, A Gift from the Sea.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:51 AM on November 20, 2007

Two Towns in Provence by M. F. K. Fisher or (she's the best but a 40 year old might have already ready this) Jill Ker Conway's Road from Coorain or Robyn Davidson's Tracks -- These might not have the same clear-cut spiritually revelatory quality of Eat Drink Love, but I can guarantee they're all interesting, and especially in the case of first two (it's been so long since I read Tracks, I can't speak for it)very well written.
posted by nnk at 12:23 PM on November 20, 2007

Seconding Lamott, Dillard and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

For Lamott, Traveling Mercies is probably the best place to start.

And although Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is my favorite book ever, I think Dillard's Holy the Firm is a bit more personal and memoir-esque (also, completely amazing in its own right).
posted by junkbox at 12:31 PM on November 20, 2007

If such a book exists, I'd like to read it too. I have been trying to find as satisfying a read. I've read all of the above but On Pilgramage, and none come close. Eat Pray Love could very well be sui generis. I don't usually like memoirs, and I don't usually like women's memoirs in particular, but EPL was unusual. I can recommend a novel she might like -- Mating by Norman Rush.

And thanks for this question -- I'll be checking back!
posted by thinkpiece at 12:32 PM on November 20, 2007

Maybe Mary Karr? The Liar's Club and Cherry are very different from Eat, Pray, Love, but they're my favorite women's memoirs.
posted by MsMolly at 12:37 PM on November 20, 2007

Virgin Time by Patricia Hampl is one that I enjoyed very much. It's a bit . . . gentler? Slightly less crass? than Eat Pray Love - no sex that I can remember, but it still has its moments of humor. It definitely fits your description "'woman’s personal growth through some major life experience' type of memoir." From Amazon:

"To sort out her feelings about the Catholicism she rejected as a young woman, Hampl heads for Europe--the past of dusky cathedrals and centuries-old monasteries where her religion was forged. But along the road to Assisi, at the Poor Clare monastery on the Borgo San Pietro, and at Lourdes, she encounters not religious exaltation but vapid tourists and an American nun who is singularly unwilling to share her feelings. Only at a retreat in Mendicino, California, where religion is being remade, does she find true spirituality, learning to accept rather than to impose.
posted by vytae at 12:42 PM on November 20, 2007

Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me With Apples, and Garlic and Sapphires are all memoirs centred around food and her life as a chef and restaurant critic. She writes a lot about her relationships with family, lovers, and husbands, as well as her quest to live a meaningful life. I find her memoirs funny, warm, and well-written.

In a similar vein, I have also enjoyed Laurie Colwin's memoirs Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, and Laura Cunningham's Sleeping Arrangements and A Place in the Country.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:59 PM on November 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I liked Alice Steinbach's "Without Reservations".
posted by Kangaroo at 1:50 PM on November 20, 2007

I find that people who liked 'Eat, Pray, Love' also tend to like Karen Armstrong.
posted by yellowcandy at 2:02 PM on November 20, 2007

The Poisonwood Bible.
The Color of Water
posted by elle.jeezy at 2:03 PM on November 20, 2007

I don't know that it's a classic, but Tales of a Female Nomad has a lot of the qualities you're looking for - “woman’s personal growth through some major life experience” and it's older than Eat, Pray, Love. It bugged me, but then again so did Eat, Pray, Love (and in very similar ways).

There's also Kite Strings of the Southern Cross by Laurie Gough, which she might enjoy. Or Gough's harder to obtain, Kiss the Sunset Pig, which I adored.
posted by Amizu at 2:32 PM on November 20, 2007

Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking
posted by heartquake at 2:45 PM on November 20, 2007

This is a great book and considered a classic memoir for women (but I am a guy, read it and loved it!).
by Alice Koller
posted by Gerard Sorme at 3:01 PM on November 20, 2007

I find that people who liked 'Eat, Pray, Love' also tend to like Karen Armstrong.

She had a recent memoir, The Spiral Staircase that might fit.
posted by DarkForest at 5:03 PM on November 20, 2007

Thirding Lamott ... I'm reading Eat Pray Love now and just commented to my husband this evening that it remind me a lot of Annie Lamott (but less rough around the edges, I think).
posted by roundrock at 6:03 PM on November 20, 2007

How about Rebecca Goldstein's Mazel?
posted by bassjump at 7:01 PM on November 20, 2007

Traveling Mercies is the best of Anne Lamott's non-fic, but Operating Instructions is also very good for moms.

I loved MFK Fisher's Gastronomical Me.

Beryl Markham wrote a memoir, West with the Night, that was all about her life and adventures in Kenya during the turn of the century.

Oh, and Me: Stories of My Life by Katharine Hepburn is lovely. She writes exactly as she speaks, and it is a fascinating, funny, touching delight. Yeah, definitely highly recommended.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:51 PM on November 20, 2007

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