Memoirs of Recovery from Mental Illness

(1) Mad Like Me by Merryl Hammond

(2) A Schizophrenic Will. A Story of Madness, A Story of Hope.  by William Jiang

(3) My Schizophrenia by John Gunter

(4) Surviving Schizophrenia by Richard Carlson

(5) My Mental Madness Memoir by Stephanie Anne Allen

(6) Same Time Next Week, True Stories of Working Through Mental Illness edited by Lee Gutkind

(7) Show Me All Your Scars. True Stories of Living With Mental Illness edited by Lee Gutkind

(8) Trauma Through a Child’s Eyes by Peter Levine

(9) Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? By Jeanette Winterson

(10) Crazy: My Seven Years at Bruno Bettelheim’s Orthogenic School by Roberta Carly Redford

(11) In Shock: My Journey from Death to Recovery and the Redemptive Power of Hope by Rana Awdish 

(12) Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron

(13) An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison 

(14) Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan 

(15) Dying to Be Me by Anita Moorjani 

(16) Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addictionby David Sheff 

(17) Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff

(18) Between Breaths: A Memoir of Panic and Addiction by by Elizabeth Vargas 

(19) Fighting Parkinson’s…and Winning: A memoir of my recovery from Parkinson’s Disease by Howard Shifke 

(20) Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother’s Love by Zack McDermott 

(21) Get Me Out of Here: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder by Rachel Reiland 

(22) My Schizophrenic Life: The Road to Recovery From Mental Illnessby Yuen MacKay, Sandra 

(23) The Buddha and the Borderline: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder through Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Buddhism, and Online Dating by Kiera Van Gelder 

(24) The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Recovery by Barbara K. Lipska and Elaine McArdle 

(25) Sickened: The True Story of a Lost Childhood by Julie Gregory 

(26) Beauty in the Broken Places: A Memoir of Love, Faith, and Resilience by Allison Pataki and Lee Woodruff 

(27) Fall to Pieces: A Memoir of Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Mental Illness by Mary Forsberg Weiland and Larkin Warren  

(28) Detour from Normal by Ken Dickson

(29) The Ghost in My Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped Me Get it Back by Clark Elliott 

(30) Scythe Tleppo: My Survival of a Cult, Abandonment, Addiction and Homelessness by Nathan Rich 

(31) River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged with Hope by Naomi Judd and Marcia Wilkie 

(32)The Encore: A Memoir in Three Acts by. Charity Tillemann-Dick 

(33) Trauma, Shame, and the Power of Love: The Fall and Rise of a Physician Who Heals Himself by Pelloski MD, Christopher E and Leslie Tilley

 (34) 3,000 Pulses Later: A Memoir of Surviving Depression Without Medicationsby Martha Rhodes 

 (35) Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me from Myself by Julie Barton 

(36)  Scared Selfless: My Journey from Abuse and Madness to Surviving and Thriving by Michelle Stevens 

(37) The Los Angeles Diaries: A Memoir of recovery from Addictions by James Brown

(38) This River: A Memoir of recovery from Addictions by James Brown



Holocaust Memoirs

1. The Choice by Edith Eger 

  2.   The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

  3.  Man’s Search  for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

  4. Five Chimneys. A Woman Survivor’s True Story of Auschwitz by Olga Lengyel

  5.  In The Hell of Auschwitz. The Wartime Memoirs of Judith Sternberg Newman

  6. Auschwitz. A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account by Miklos  Nyiszli and Richard Seaver.

  7. A Year in Treblinka. An Inmate Who Escaped Tells the Day to Day Facts of One Year of His Torturous Experiences by Yankel Wiernik

  8. When I Was a German, 1934-1945 (The Past is Myself ) and The Road Ahead—2 memoirs by Christabel Bielenberg

  9. Inside the Gas Chambers. Eight Months in the Sonderkommando of Auschwitz by Shlomo Venezia

10. First One In and Last One Out by Marilyn Shimon

11. Hiding in Plain Sight. My Holocaust Story of Survival. A Memoir by Beatrice Sonders 

11.a Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years by Monique de Wael

12Our Crime Was Being Jewish: Hundreds of Holocaust Survivors Tell Their Stories by Anthony Pitch and Michael Berenbaum 

11. Courage and Grace: A Jewish Family’s Holocaust True Survival Story During WW2 (World War II Memoir) by Yoseph Komem 

12. The Strange Ways of Providence In My Life: An Amazing WW2 Survival True Story (A Jewish Girl’s Holocaust Book Surviving Memoir) by Krystyna Carmi , Regina Smoter, et al.

13. Stealing The Bordersby Elliot Rais

14. Counting on America: A Holocaust Memoir of Terror, Chutzpah, Romance and Escape by Gary Reiner , Kurt Reiner, et al.

15. In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Gut Opdyke and Jennifer Armstrong

16. One Step Ahead – A Mother of Seven Escaping Hitler’s Claws: A True History – Jewish Women,…by Avraham Azrieli

17. Holocaust: Memoirs: Georgina: Holocaust Survivor Stories from the Darkest Days of the Holocaustby Gabriella Kovac and Oliver R. Shead

19.Outcry: Holocaust Memoirsby Manny Steinberg

18.Fragments of Isabella: A Memoir of Auschwitzby Isabella Leitner

20. My Family’s Survival: The true story of how the Shwartz family escaped the Nazis and survived the Holocaust by Aviva Gat

21. When I Fall, I Shall Rise: A Holocaust Survivor Memoirby Dan Shtauber 

22.The Dead Years: Holocaust Memoirs by Joseph Schupack

23.  Last Words: Surviving the Holocaustby Shari J. Ryan

24. Gerda’s Story: Memoirs of a Holocaust Survivor by Nothmann Luner, Gerda

25. Long Journey Home: A Young Girl’s Memoir of Surviving the Holocaust by Lucy Lipiner

26. Letters to Rose: A Holocaust Memoir With Letters of Impact and Inspiration from the Next Gen by Rose Williams, Rebecca Hoag, et al

27.A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama’s Survival from Lithuania to America by Ettie Zilber

28. The Last Jew of Treblinka: A Memoir by Chil Rajchman

29. I Love You My Child, I’m Abandoning You: WW2 Holocaust Survivor memoirby Ariela Palacz

30. A Train Near Magdeburg―The Holocaust, the survivors, and the American soldiers who saved them by Matthew Rozell

31. Run! Run! Hitler’s Coming!: How a Young German Girl Escaped the Holocaust: A True Story by Irene Rosenthal and Sherry Rosenthal

32. Anything But His Soul: A Jewish Holocaust Survivor Memoir (World war 2 True Survival Story) by Moshe (Mjetek) Bomberg and Aviva Hershko

33. Rescued from the Ashes: The Diary of Leokadia Schmidt, Survivor of the Warsaw Ghettoby Leokadia Schmidt and Oscar E. Swan

34. Four Girls From Berlin: A True Story of a Friendship That Defied the Holocaust by Marianne Meyerhoff 

35. A Girl Called Renee: The Incredible Story of a Holocaust Survivor by Ruth Uzrad

36. Dina – Surviving Undercover: From the Darkness of The Holocaust to The Light of The Futureby Dina Drori and Erez Grinboim 

37.  Abe-vs-Adolf: The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Abe Peckby Maya Ross 

38.  Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germanyby Marthe Cohn and Wendy Holden 

39.  White House in a Gray City: A Jewish Holocaust Survivor Memoir (World War 2 True Story) by Itzchak Belfer 

40. Not Even My Name: A True Storyby Thea Halo 

41. Hank Brodt Holocaust Memoirs: A Candle and a Promise by Deborah Donnelly 

42. A Survivor Remembers the Holocaust: The Amazing True Story of Leon Sperling by Marc Garrett and Leon Sperling

43. The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible . . . on Schindler’s List by Leon Leyson 

44.  Four Perfect Pebbles: A True Story of the Holocaust by Lila Perl and Marion Blumenthal Lazan 

45. No Pretty Pictures: A Child of War.a Holocaust Memoir by Anita Lobel

46. I Have Lived A Thousand Years: Growing Up In The Holocaust by Livia Bitton-Jackson

47. Survivors: True Stories of Children in the Holocaust by Allan Zullo 

48. The Strange Ways of Providence In My Life: An Amazing WW2 Survival True Story (A Jewish Girl’s Holocaust Book Surviving Memoir)by Krystyna Carmi and Regina Smoter

 49. Buttons in my soup: Holocaust survivor story (True WW2 Surviving Memoir)by Moshe Ziv

50. I Want You to Know We’re Still Here: A Post-Holocaust Memoirby Esther Safran Foer 

51. The Listener: In the Shadow of the Holocaust (Regina Collection) by Irene Oore 

52. Claiming My Place: Coming of Age in the Shadow of the Holocaust  by Planaria Price and Helen Reichmann West

53. Finding the Light Within: My Journey of Healing after the Holocaustby Mary Friedmann Berges

54. Holocaust Memoirs of a Bergen-Belsen Survivor & Classmate of Anne Frankby Blitz Konig, Nanette and Rafa Lombardino

55. Finding Schifrah: The Journey of a Dutch Holocaust Child Survivor by Sonja DuBois

56. Somewhere There Is Still a Sun: A Memoir of the Holocaustby Michael Gruenbaum and Todd Hasak-Lowy 

57. Maybe You Will Survive: A Holocaust Memoir by Aron Goldfarb and Graham Diamond

58. The 23rd Psalm: A Holocaust Memoir by George Lucius Salton and Anna Salton Eisen

59. The Girl in the Green Sweater: A Life in Holocaust’s Shadow by Krystyna Chige


Do you have a story to tell?

San Diego Memoir Writers Association is a community of local writers committed to the craft and business of memoir writing.  Our purpose is to create a community of inspired, nurtured, and educated memoirists. One of the ways in which we do this is by hosting monthly member meetings with speakers who educate our writers on both the craft and business of memoir writing.   Writers of all levels are welcome and encouraged to join us to help build their own writing tribe.

The June 2019 San Diego Memoir Association monthly meeting was the second of two free meetings this year. Expert facilitator Marni Freedman led the thirty-five attendees through a process for healing through writing. She previewed material from her forthcoming book  Write to Magic: How to Get Unstuck, Access Authentic Courage and Live in the Creative Flow of Life.

With empathy and compassion, Marni introduced creative approaches for identifying wounding moments and turning them into fuel for a creative and bold life. Participants examined their life experiences through free-writing prompts that can lead to radical self-acceptance.

Even in the hot July temperatures, the workshop was packed and everyone walked away feeling rejuvenated and inspired to continue writing projects or begin new ones.

Founded in December of 2016, San Diego Memoir Writers Association is located at Liberty Station in Point Loma.  Please send us an email if you’d like to learn more about the organization, get involved, or come speak at one of our monthly member events.

We look forward to meeting you! 


I just read Mitch Albom’s recent nonfiction memoir, HAVE A LITTLE FAITH about an African American and a Jew.

What if our beliefs were not what divided us, but what pulled us together? In “Have a Little Faith,” Mitch Albom offers a beautifully written story of a remarkable eight-year journey between two worlds–two men, two faiths, two communities–that will inspire readers everywhere. 

Albom’s first nonfiction book since “Tuesdays with Morrie”, “Have a Little Faith” begins with an unusual request: an eighty-two-year-old rabbi from Albom’s old hometown asks him to deliver his eulogy. Feeling unworthy, Albom insists on understanding the man better, which throws him back into a world of faith he’d left years ago. 

Meanwhile, closer to his current home, Albom becomes involved with a Detroit pastor–a reformed drug dealer and convict–who preaches to the poor and homeless in a decaying church with a hole in its roof. 

Moving between their worlds, Christian and Jewish, African-American and white, impoverished and well-to-do, Albom observes how these very different men employ faith similarly in fighting for survival: the older, suburban rabbi embracing it as death approaches; the younger, inner-city pastor relying on it to keep himself and his church afloat. As America struggles with hard times and people turn more to their beliefs, Albom and the two men of God explore issues that perplex modern man: how to endure when difficult things happen; what heaven is; intermarriage; forgiveness; doubting God; and the importance of faith in trying times. Although the texts, prayers, and histories are different, Albom begins to recognize a striking unity between the two worlds–and indeed, between beliefs everywhere. 

In the end, as the rabbi nears death and a harsh winter threatens the pastor’s wobbly church, Albom sadly fulfills the rabbi’s last request and writes the eulogy. And he finally understands what both men had been teaching all along: the profound comfort of believing in something bigger than yourself. “Have a Little Faith” is a book about a life’s purpose; about losing belief and finding it again; about the divine spark inside us all. It is one man’s journey, but it is everyone’s story. 

Ten percent of the profits from this book go to charity, including The Hole In The Roof Foundation, which helps refurbish places of worship that aid the homeless.

Another Version of My Early Life

The original vision of childhood is a sense of wonder at everything. I have seen that sense of wonder in my children. I must have had that, too. I recall being fascinated with many things as a child, enjoying playing with fire and water and digging in the earth and building things especially model airplanes. 

When I was five my parents took me to see the film “Cabin in the Sky.” Ethel Waters a big black woman, had the lead role. In fact all the actors were blacks. I was frightened by a figure that appeared in little Joe’s nightmare who had horns on the top of his head and called himself  Lucifer Junior.

My mother used to leave we with a Mexican lady, Maruca Martinez, wife of the painter, Alfredo Ramos Martinez, in the afternoons to be taken care of. Mina, her maid, frightened me by telling me that if I was not good she would throw me down the stairs into the hands of the boogey man in the basement. Coquitta, (really Maria) their daughter who was crippled from polio frightened me too. I wanted to be part of a family, but I did not belong anywhere.

Sometimes my mother also left me with the sculptor, Jane Rosen, and with her mother’s friends like Tante Nana and Fraulein. I hated the old ladies in black veils. She also left me at the convent on West Adams with Mother Valerean. She left me with Gwen in the desert and left me at Big Bear Boys Camp where I was very homesick and frightened. She sent me away to boarding schools. The message I got was  “You’re no good. We can’t do anything with you. We don’t want you. You don’t deserve anything of your own. We don’t love you. Nobody likes you.”

The only positive people I can recall in my early life were my grandparents Elmer and Katie Staude, in Texas, and Betty Frank. I did not like my mother’s motherland her entourage in Los Angeles. I remember being sent away from them because I made too much noise.

I loved to read. The first book I remember reading on my own, with help from my mother who read to me a lot was Robin Hood. There was also a book of fairy stories and legends I enjoyed. I particularly liked the stories of St. George, of Perseus, and of the Dragon.

While I was away at mass, with my mother, my father would stay home and listen to Wagner. I decided that Grand Opera was his religion, and it seemed to be much more exciting than the boring masses I had to attend with my mother.

Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation meant little to me. They were rituals I went through to please my parents. I found going to Church was very boring. 

At age 8 I was sent to a Catholic military school, St. John’s where I was indoctrinated with traditional Catholic catechism and internalized guilt feelings regarding sexuality. The nuns frightened me with their images of Hell and the Devil who I feared would punish me if I was not a good boy.

FDR died in 1944. My grandfather died at about the same time as did a young boy who lived next door to me, John Clyde, Andy Clyde’s son. That was my first encounter with death.

In early adolescence I awakened to a sense of the spiritual through poetry and the first stirrings of love in my heart. For me God has always been most approachable through the body of a woman. It is She that evoked wonder in me and led me to turn to him, our creator, in gratitude.

I attended Catholic school for a few months when I entered adolescence in order to prepare for confirmation. I recall that I was fascinated by the emerging sexual beauty of some of the young women in the class, but I was taught that it was sinful to have “lustful” thoughts about women. One should not notice their bodies, I was told, but think of spiritual things instead. I felt guilty about masturbating and was told by the priest to hold a rosary in my hand. The pain would prevent me from continuing. It didn’t. I struggled against these sexual temptations for many years.

At Webb School I was also required to take classes in the Bible as literature. This bored me, but I enjoyed a class in comparative religions in my senior year taught by Mr. Wilson. He had pictures of figures from Greek myth on the walls of his classroom. It was with him that I first developed a real interest in the meaning of myths and symbols. I also was fascinated with the stories told in Bullfinch’s Mythology and particularly the stories of adventures, heroic journeys and the like. When I got to Webb I had an ambition to read every book in the school library, and I just about did. (It was a small library).

As a boy I was impressed with the poetry of the English romantic poets. I think this set the tone for my worldview and religious ideas and feelings. I feel there is a strong continuity between my early romanticism and my later idealism. I have never felt willing to accept mundane reality as it is, as the only world we can know and experience. Already as a youth I accepted the notion of multiple realities and the Buddhist view of the world as an illusion, though I often get caught up in identifying with my own personal suffering and am unable to practice this view in my daily life.

When I was about 15 years old at the end of my sophomore year at Webb School, I traveled to Europe with my parents for the first time. My mother was already in Europe when my father and I left. We sailed from New York on the Liberté, a luxury liner of the French line. I never had so much food in all my life. Tony had an affair on the ship as he had done on the train going from LA to New York. 

When we arrived at Le Havre my mother was waiting for us with a little English car a Humber Hawk. We drove through Rouen to Paris. The sky was grey and it rained and rained. The sky reminded me of the skies in some of the French impressionist paintings I had seen in our living room at home. France was more or less as I had imagined it would be. I recall the strange smells in our first Paris hotel room, and the strangeness of the old lady who watched us through a veiled glass door as we entered the building where mother had rented a small apt for us. I learned that such women are an institution in France called the conscierge.

I recall the smell of French coffee and pain au chocolat. In the mornings I had hot chocolate rich with fresh milk and hot croissants. Like a  puppy I explored the unfamiliar sights and smells in the neighborhood.

Mother had acquired an escort, Gerard, and his attractive wife or mistress Paulete. I developed a crush on her and enjoyed dancing with her despite the fact that she smelled of garlic. Her full breasts bulged out of her low cut black chiffon dress. I fantasied that I would like to make love to her, but I did not yet know how. 

I recall going with my parents to the bar at the Ritz Hotel. I ordered a Coke and Bisquit. I anticipated getting a coke and cookies but instead they served me coke with brandy in it. I felt betrayed and spit out the coke in disgust and made a scene.

We set out in the car and drove south to Tours, Poitiers and the Chateau country which we explored for several days before heading south into Provence. I was particularly enchanted with Carcasonne, which conformed to my image of medieval France. I had just completed an elementary course in medieval history at Webb and now felt thrilled to see a real medieval town complete with towers and encircled by a high stone wall. 

I learned of Simon de Montforte and the Cathars and the Courts of Love of the Troubadours. These tales fascinated me and I determined to learn more about medieval France someday. I still love medieval towns and medieval art and history.

The objective of our trip, from my mother’s point of view, at least, was to see as many beautiful churches in France as possible. I can’t remember them all. I had the feeling of being dragged around France from church to church like Eloise in New York. I was impressed with Chartres, Ronchamps and St. Paul en Vence.

We drove on over the Alps to Italy via the Dolomites and Cortina d’Ampezzo. I developed a crush on a pretty American girl there. We played tennis and I longed to play with her tits which I watched bobbing like tennis balls before my eyes.

We left there too soon for mty liking heading South into Italy. We stopped in Verona and in Venice where we stayed at the Royal Danieli and visited the Lido. Later we went to Florence Pisa and finally to Rome. By this time I had eaten too much Italian ice creamn and got sick. I spent most of the time we were in Rome sitting on the toilet or lying in bed in the hotel.

On our return journey we stopped again in Paris and visited Montmartre where I made the acquaintance of a delightful character named Mimiche. He ran a little joint restaurant near the Lapin Agile. He played the cello and told dirty stories. I recall the climax of one story when he unzipped his pants and pulled out his pecker and waved it at the audience. I later discovered that this long thing was not his pecker at all but a rubber. It was some time later before I learned what condoms are used for. At that time I thought it was  like a rubber glove.

We then took the Golden Arrow train to London, across the English channel, the luxury boat train of those days. We rode in first class, of course, and I loved how we were served tea and sandwiches. I loved high tea and later had it at the Grovsnor House in Mayfair, where we stayed. I have always enjoyed London. We returned to the USA at the end of summer and I returned to school at Webb in the fall.

I traveled all over the world through my imagination, reading adventure books, horse stories, classics, whatever I could get my hands on. What I wanted to understand really was myself and other people but it was a long time until I discovered psychology. My first study of human nature was through literature. One of my favorite books from my high school days was Jean Christophe, though I never read through all the volumes of the entire long novel.

In my late adolescence I became more committed to writing and to spirituality. 

I had been lonely at boarding school up until my junior year when I began dating Nancy Palmer, a girl who lived up the street from us in Hollywood. 

I would like to describe the atmosphere I experienced during my last year in high school when I was 17 years old. I was editor of the school paper, The Blue and Gold,  and had finally carved out a small place for myself at the school. At the end of the year upon graduation I was awarded a prize for having read more extra books than any other student. I was proud that I had my name in most of the books in the Webb School library. My grades were never extraordinary and I did not get into Princeton the college of my first choice but I did get into Duke so I went there.

After I graduated from high school I spent the summer in England  as an exchange student with the Experiment in International Living program. That was a turning point in my life. 

I sailed on a student ship, the Arosa Kulm and returned on the Arosa Star. It was lots of fun, but very different from the luxury liners I had sailed on before with my parents.  We sailed from the port of New York. This was the first time I was traveling so far away from home alone. I was excited and anxious. What adventures lay ahead for me? I was to be plaed in an English family in Plymouth in Devon. I enjoyed the English lifestyle very much. Thus began my lifelong love affair with England.

I first began to take a serious interest in the divine and to feel some relationship to Jesus Christ when I was 17 or 18 years old, during my first year at Duke University. At that time I became seriously interested in mysticism and began to read everything I could about it.

I thought I wanted to be a writer, so I thought I would major in English. I found the English professors too pedantic, however, so I switched to history. There was one English professor I liked very much–Russell Fraser, who had a student literary discussion group that I participated in with relish. It was called Areopagus, after the original Supreme Court of Athens.

One person was particularly influential on me among my college teachers. That was Dr. Harold Parker, a brilliant modern European historian. From him I first discovered that history was not so much a collection of facts but the interpretation of the relationships among these facts. Equally important for me as mentor at this time was Prof. Ernest Nelson, who was a specialist in Renaissance and Reformation history. 

My freshman essay was on Goethe’s  Sorrows of Young Werther. I tried to demonstrate that Werther was a symbol of his age and that Goethe managed to resolve his own personal inner conflicts through his creativity. I had my own share of personal emotional problems at this time myself.

I went to college in the South because I knew that so many of the great modern American writers came from the South and I wanted  so much to be a writer. At Duke I sought to write for the Archiveliterary magazine but my work was not published there. Instead I wrote  copy for the Playbillprograms. I have always been better at re-working  material than creating it from scratch.

I recall my first year Duke where I made friends with young men like Bill Spann, Rusty Stahlnacker and Tyson Underwood, Fred Chappel and Reynolds Price. 

Tyson came to visit me in California during our summer vacation in 1955. He had stopped at the bus station en route and dyed his hair black.

My first sexual experience was with Betsy, a beautiful blonde southern belle, in the college dorms. She was so sweet. Yet I rejected her after a while and went for Joanie, a dark haired beauty who I met on a blind date arranged by my roommate, Dick Phillips. I felt so close to her and we had good sex, but  afterwards I felt guilty. I went to confession as soon as possible after I had sex.

I was also troubled by what I was learning in my philosophy classes. I wanted to find out my own identity. my values and beliefs.    I loved history. I had good teachers like Prof. Harold Parker, Bill Holley and Ernest Nelson, the Renaissance and Reformation scholar. I admired him very much. In my sophomore year I took a class from him on the foundations of Western Civilization.  

I will never forget that class. We read Heroditus and Thucydides and Sophocles and St. Augustine. I have always loved the Greek classics. 

When I was supposed to go to work for Brunswig Drug Company, the summer after my freshman year, I could not face it and read Greek tragedies as a way of protesting my fate. Eventually I got a summer job as a law-clerk instead.

I enjoyed the chamber music concerts. I remember one concert in particular in which I was  making love to Betsy in the adjoining ladies lounge while the quartet was playing. 

I felt guilt about sex and confusion with the secular modern philosophies I was being exposed to at college. In fear and defence I fled to a Catholic Jesuit university where I was guaranteed of being taught the TRUTH. However, I was disappointed with the philosophy and theology I was taught there.

In my sophomore year in college my mother gave me a book by a Benedictine monk, Father Bede Griffiths, The Golden String.  It meant a lot to me. This was the first time that I saw that a religious quest could  be taken seriously by an intellectual, which was what I aspired to be someday. At this time I also first read St. Augustine’s Confessions. He became one of my lifetime heroes. Soon afterwards I read The Outsiderby Colin Wilson, which introduced me to Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Pascal and other existential thinkers who became my heroes as well. I was also fascinated by the life and thought of Nietzsche.

When I entered my first year of college I was supposed to join the ROTC but I did not want to. I did not have the courage to say no directly, but I resisted letting the orderly take a blood sample from me. He told m I had better get used to it because there would be a lot of such experiences of such unpleasantness ahead for me in the military. On this basis I decided not to enroll in ROTC. My advisor taught Russian Lit. so I enrolled in his survey of Russian Lit instead. Here I encountered Lermontov, Pushkin, Turgenev, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Thus began my lifelong interest in Russia and in Russian history and literature. (Later in graduate school I specialized in comparing modern Russian and German intellectual and cultural history).

At the end of my sophomore year I transfered to Georgetown. The summer between Duke and Georgetown I drove a traveling bookshop around Cape Cod. Got to know soem interesting people on the Cape including Paul Chavchavadze, a Russian emigré writer. I’ve always had a weakness for Russians. 

I was scheduled to go to Europe at the end of my Junior year but instead so as to be near Joanie Knowles I  spent the summer working as a counselor at the Big Toe River camp with the crippled children. I see a familiar Pattern here of sacrificing an activity which requires my being alone and taking a risk with loneliness  for the security of staying in a familiar place in order to stay with a girl or woman I love.

Beginning in the fall of 1956 I transferred to Georgetown University in Washington DC.I recall  reading Jung and Freud and philosophy and searching for the truth and listening to Fr. William Lynch lecture on literature and philosophy. Also Father Martin D’Arcy, Dr Rommen,  reading Samuelson and Schumpeter and studying the History of Economic and Political Thought.

I found the Thomism and Scholasticism  at Georgetown dry and boring. Instead I turned to the French existentialists and to exploring philosophy through literature. I found great inspiration in a literature class taught by  Fr. William Lynch. 

To this day literature is my favorite way to access  philosophical and religious or spiritual ideas. I enjoy encountering ideas in the contest of personal drama.  The evocative images speak to my heart. On the other hand for religious feeling I prefer sacred music. I had some courses in philosophy of religion with Father Martin D’Arcy who I found inspirational, but he was often over my head. 

The one philosophical work I remember reading in college that really opened up new vistas on religion for me was William James’ Varieties of Religions Experience.Even today I can hardly think of a work of greater significance for me for James introduced me to the psychology of religious experience. I also became interested in the psychology of Freud and  C.G. Jung at this time, as I was looking for a therapeutic alternative to Thomistic psychology.

I recall discovering a different kind of spirituality with Fr Damasus Winzen OSB at Mt Savior.  I want to mention one person and a place  that had an influence on my spiritual development–Father Damasus Winzen, at Mt. Saviour, a Benedictine community in Elmira New York where I made several retreats before I went to Europe. “Incline the inner ear of the heart and listen to the world of God” Benedict said in the prologue ot his rule. Through Father Damasus and Brother Gregory I discovered the Fathers of the Church, such as St. Augustine, St. Jerome and Origin, and came to appreciate the beauty of the Bible and the Liturgy. At Mt. Savior I sometimes had the sense of being in the presence of God, of experiencing wonder and gratitude at his majesty and glory. With the Jesuits this had been only an intellectual concept for me. Among the Benedictines I experienced it in my heart. 

In my senior year in college I became interested in French literature and philosophy, particularly after reading Wallace Fowlie’s book, A Guide to Contemporary French Literature.This led me to embark for a year of study of French literature in Paris. However I did not really know French well enough to read the literature or criticism in the original  for enjoyment. I did read some Camus and Claudel and some other modern French writers and even wrote a play modeled on Claudel’s work while I was in Paris. I was still troubled by guilt feelings about sex. It took some years of psychoanalytic therapy to finally move beyond that place in my spiritual and emotional life.

When I arrived in Paris in the summer of 1958, after graduating from Georgetown, a young Frenchman I had met on board the student ship I had sailed on from New York suggested that we find a small hotel and share a room. He did not have much money, he said, so he offered to show me around Paris if I would pay for his meals. He knew just the place. It was on the Left Bank, right near the Place St. Michel. The hotel was small and clean but our room was tiny and the bedsprings sagged to the floor when I lay on the bed–as French hotel beds so often do. We stayed there two or three nights and explored Paris during the days. One morning when  I got up I found to my surprise that my “friend” Gerard had disappeared. This was right after I had told him I was getting worried about how much money I was spending. He left we with the entire hotel bill to pay. I felt angry and disillusioned. This was a preview of other similar experiences I was to have in the future.

I felt delighted to be in Paris and was determined to learn French properly. I began by attending a course at the Sorbonne, but found it was too much work so on hearing about a pilgrimage going to Brittany I decided to join that. It was run by Pax Christi, a group that grew up after World War Two to help young persons heal the wounds and overcome the stereotypes left from war propaganda  and experience.

After the Pax Christi pilgrimage I went to Grenoble to study French.I first visited Germany in the summer of 1958. I was studying French in Grenoble. My parents were traveling through Europe and invited me to meet them in Düsseldorf. We traveled down the Rhine by train and got off in Stuttgart where my father picked up a Mercedes he had ordered in America. It was quite a ritual picking up the Mercedes. I resolved then that someday I would get a Mercedes of my own. We drove to Munich where we visited my “brother” Pierre and then drove on to Salzburg and on to Vienna. There my mother made a diatery cure in a hospital and she and her doctor decided that it would be good for me to make the same cure so I did. What was peculiar about her cure was that instead of following the hospital regime she had a hot plate under her bed with which she cooked her own supplementary meals.

I had been eating too many pastries and pommes frites in France and Germany and had become constipated. The doctor created a culture from my stool and injected this culture into my rectum thereby creating new bacilli to move along the stool through my intestines. I have never suffered from constipation since. My bowels work like clockwork. 

I returned to Paris in the fall ready to study. At first I tried to stay in a  Benedictine monastery but they through me out after I came home late a few times. I then stayed in a Catholic boys college on the Rue de Vaugerard. After a short time I was thrown out of there also because I did not mix well with the other boys and also refused to adhere to the early curfew imposed on residents of the college. I t reminded me of my life at Georgetown University,  until I had escaped and gotten an apartment off campus.

I then moved to a hotel on the Boulevard St Michel around the corner from the Sorbonne. I  enrolled in a course on French literature for French teachers from abroad. The lectures were over my head and I could not really do the assigned reading much less write the required essays. I dropped out after a couple of months. While I was in the course I met a nice young American called Greg who had a flair for languages and seemed to know not only French but German Spanish and Italian. He played the guitar and seemed more able than I to live on his own. I admired him and enjoyed our few meetings together. I also got to know a few other students who were friendly enough, but most of the time I felt isolated and alone. This was to be my primary experience in Paris and most places thereafter, feeling isolated and alone.

I spent most of my time in Paris either reading in my room or walking the streets exploring the biways of Paris. Eventually I met an attractive young French girl, Denise, and tried to develop an intimate relationship with her. We never got beyond holding hands. As a good Catholic boy I had ambivalence about sex as she did as well. But I wanted her to be my girlfriend anyway and she refused.

I was lonely in Paris and felt forlorn as the winter set in. One time an old friend of my mother’s Midu, invited me to visit her in her room at the Crillon hotel. She greeted me in a neglige and lay invitingly before me on a chaise longe. I was very uncomfortable, I felt like the boy in the Graduate with Mrs. Robinson. I couldn’t respond to her. Though she was very beautiful she was old enough to be my mother and had a son older than me who I had once played with. I later learned that my “brother” Pierre had had an affair with her. My mother later told me that she was a nymphomaniac. 

In time I got to know a group of German students in Paris, outsiders like me. I found them much more open and friendly than the French. One of them invited me to spend Christmas with her in Heidleberg. Another German girl I had met during the Pax Christi pilgrimage wrote inviting me to visit her in Westphalia; so  I decided to spend my Christmas holidays in Germany. This was to be a white Christmas. 

I had acquired a Porsche as a Christmas present from my parents. I decided to try it out on the winter roads of France and Germany.  I went to Westphalia first, driving Northwest from Paris into Germany via Saarbrucken.  I went to visit Ingrid, a slim blonde, but when I found she had another boyfriend I cultivated her plump motherly girlfriend Maria. I later wrote a one act play about my relationship with Maria. From Westphalia I proceeded South to Heidleberg. It snowed in Heidelberg while I was there. It was beautiful.  I stayed only a few days and then went on to visit my brother Pierre who was then staying in Mulhouse near Basel. 

I drove down the highway along the Rhine and suddenly became terrified when my car skidded out of control and I almost landed in the Rhine. I was terrified and telephoned Pierre swearing that I would not drive anymore even if it was Christmas eve and I wanted to meet him. He encouraged me to drive slowly and carefully and to come along. I did and arrived in Mulhouse with no further mishap. Pierre and I talked a long time about our plans and prospects for the coming year.   He had just finished studying design in Basel and was going to move to Munich to open an office there with his friend and partner  Klaus Oberer (Obei). I was going to write the great American novel in Paris. I returned to Paris shortly after New Year’s.

So I spent my first winter in Europe. It was too cold for me and I longed for the warm sun of Southern California. After over twenty years in Europe I still have trouble with the winter cold. 

In Paris I got to know another German girl. We had a Platonic relationship, which was all I felt capable of because of my guilt feelings about sex but when I learned she was screwing other guys I decided to try my luck as well. She was agreeable after a long petting session, but when it came to it I ejaculated before I could even enter her.  I felt so guilty about all this that I rushed to confession the next morning. My brother had a more casual attitude to it. Wash it and its as good as new he would always say. But like Lady Macbeth though I washed and scrubbed it I could not wash away the stain of sin in my consciousnesses. For this it took the magic of priestly authority.

The most extreme example in my life of this compulsive behavior was one time when I actually felt so guilty that I told a girl while I was inside her that what we were doing was sinful. She thought I was joking but eventually I convinced her I meant it. she pushed me out and pushed me away. I could not understand why and begged her to let me continue making love to her. She said I was crazy. I ran to a priest and got absolution and then came back to her to try to talk her into making love with me again. It took me many years to overcome these guilt feelings about sex. 

At St. Severin in Paris I had my first experience of  “worker priests” Through them I learned to think of my workplace as my altar. I learned from Pere Villart at St. Severin that there was a way of taking the mystery and grace we experienced gathered around the altar at mass out into the world of everyday life.

I returned to California in the spring after my winter in Paris. I did one term at Stanford University studying drama and playwriting and then transferred to Claremont Graduate  School in Southern Calif where I studied ancient and modern history. I got on the defensive about my religion and wrote papers for my grad seminar in Renaissance Studies  in which I tried to show the truth of the Catholic faith embodied in Dante’s Divine Comedy.This was not well received by my professors at CGS. I wrote a master’s thesis in History on “Jacob Burckhardt’s Philosophy of History”.

The  next year 1960, at UC Berkeley, I tried to confront modern historicism, Marxism, and psychoanalysis head on but had a hard time holding on to my Catholic faith in the process. I was fascinated with Nietzsche’s critique of Christianity and by Marxist sociology of knowledge. As I was also interested in philosophical anthropology I finally decided to write a dissertation on Max Scheler, a German Catholic philosopher and sociologist. Work on Scheler, particularly his philosophy of religion helped me find a better intellectual footing for my faith. Gradually, however, my faith and commitment to Chirstianity got lost in other concerns.  I remained a Catholic but psychotherapy, particularly Freudian, Jungian, and Gestalt psychology, replaced Christianity as my principal frame of reference for a long time.

Quotes about Reading, Writing, and Storytelling

Reading offers us opportunities to travel, moving our eyes without moving our feet.—John Raphael Staude

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” — Mortimer J. Adler

Reading offers the unique power to transport us to other worlds. Books are passports that offer us a free trip to other lands both real and imagined. For some, books also become an escape, taking us out of a miserable and mundane life and into a new place where anything is possible, including a happy ending. I divide all readers into two classes; those who read to remember and those who read to forget. The following quotes were selected from Sarah S Davis,  A Reader’s Library of Book Quotes: For Librarians, Writers, and Bookworms Everywhere . Broke by Books Press. Kindle Edition.

In books I have traveled, not only to other worlds, but into my own.”  — Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life

“A book is a gift you can open again and again.” — Garrison Keillor

“Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.” — Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind

Books were my pass to personal freedom.” — Oprah Winfrey

“Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.” — Mason Cooley 

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” —Stephen King, On Writing 

“I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a book.” — J.K. Rowling

 “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” — George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

“I go to books and to nature as the bee goes to a flower, for a nectar that I can make into my own honey.” — John Burroughs, The Summit of the Years

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” — James Baldwin

“To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.” — W. Somersat Maugham, Books and You

Davis, Sarah S.. A Reader’s Library of Book Quotes: For Librarians, Writers, and Bookworms Everywhere . Broke by Books Press. Kindle Edition. 

“Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book.” — Jane Smiley, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel 

“Reading brings us unknown friends” — Honoré de Balzac  

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.” — Ernest Hemingway

“I love books. I like that the moment you open one and sink into it you can escape from the world, into a story that’s way more interesting than yours will ever be.” — Elizabeth Scott, Bloom 

 “I mean, most people want to escape. Get out    of their heads. Out of their lives. Stories are the easiest way to do that.” — Victoria Schwab, This Savage Song

“You forget everything. The hours slip by. You travel in your chair through centuries you seem to see before you, your thoughts are caught up in the story, dallying with the details or following the course of the plot, you enter into characters, so that it seems as if it were your own heart beating beneath their costumes.”                                             — Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary 

  • ✦Books are everywhere; and always the same sense of adventure fills us. Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.”            — Virginia Woolf in Street Haunting 

 “I wanted to crawl in between those black lines of print, the way you crawl through a fence, and go to sleep under that beautiful big green fig-tree.” Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

“Books and doors are the same thing. You open them, and you go through into another world.” — Jeanette Winterson

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” — Dr. Seuss  

“A book is a dream that you hold in your hand.” — Neil Gaiman  

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.” — William Styron

“Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book.”                        — Author Unknown

“One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.” — Carl Sagan

Writers all have access to the same alphabet, but what makes a writer a storyteller is the way they wield these letters to craft a compelling story. These quotes embrace the power of storytelling and the writing process that each author embarks on to tell stories.

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” — Madeline L’Engle 

  • “There comes a time in your life when you have to choose to turn the page, write another book or simply close it.” — Sharon L. Alder  
  • “The good, the admirable reader identifies himself not with the boy or the girl in the book, but with the mind that conceived and composed that book.” — Vladimir Nabokov 
  • “A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth.” — Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale 
  • “Writers are the exorcists of their own demons.” — Mario Vargas-Llosa 
  • “It’s a rare book that wins the battle against drooping eyelids.” — Tracy Chevalier 
  • “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.” — Mark Twain 
  • “There’s a hunger for stories in all of us, adults too. We need stories so much that we’re even willing to read bad books to get them, if the good books won’t supply them.” — Philip Pullman 
  • “You look like a protagonist.” — Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor & Park 
  • “You don’t really understand an antagonist until you understand why he’s a protagonist in his own version of the world.” — John Rogers 
  • “It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.” — William Faulkner 
  • “If you’re silent for a long time, people just arrive in your mind.” — Alice Walker 
  • “Every reader, as he reads, is actually the reader of himself. The writer’s work is only a kind of optical instrument he provides the reader so he can discern what he might never have seen in himself without this book. The reader’s recognition in himself of what the book says is the proof of the book’s truth.” — Marcel Proust, Time Regained 
  • “Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.”  — Plato 
  • “Those who write are writers. Those who wait are waiters.” — A. Lee Martinez  
  • “I have no taste for either poverty or honest labor, so writing is the only recourse left for me.” — Hunter S. Thompson, The Proud Highway 
  • “The first thing that distinguishes a writer is that he is most alive when alone.” — Martin Amis 
  • “Capture your reader, let him not depart, from dull beginnings that refuse to start” — Horace 
  • “I believe that a writer is a person who writes. An author is a person who has written.”  — Dean Wesley Smith 
  • “Every great love starts with a great story…” — Nicholas Sparks 
  • “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing                     we need most in the world.” — Philip Pullman
  • “The more you leave out, the more you highlight what you leave in.” — Henry Green 
  • “Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.” — Willa Cather 
  • “You can fix anything but a blank page.” — Nora Roberts 
  • “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” — Leo Tolstoy 
  • “When someone is mean to me, I just make them a victim in my next book.”  — Mary Higgins Clark 
  • “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” — Joan Didion 
  • “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” — Rudyard Kipling, The Collected Works 
  • “A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.” — Graham Greene, The End of the Affair
  • “To hell with facts! We need stories!” — Ken Kesey 
  • “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.” — Ernest Hemingway 
  • “[I]t is the wine that leads me on, / the wild wine / that sets the wisest man to sing / at the top of his lungs, / laugh like a fool – it drives the / man to dancing… it even / tempts him to blurt out stories / better never told.” — Homer, The Odyssey 
  • “Humans are pattern-seeking story-telling animals, and we are quite adept at telling stories about patterns, whether they exist or not.” — Michael Shermer 
  • “Do you see the story? Do you see anything? It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream—making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is the very essence of dreams…” — Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness 
  • “A slavish concern for the composition of words is the sign of a bankrupt intellect. Be gone, odious wasp! You smell of decayed syllables.” — Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth 
  • “Your tale, sir, would cure deafness.” — William Shakespeare, The Tempest 
  • “I have always held the old-fashioned opinion that the primary object of work of fiction should be to tell a story.” — Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White
  • “You want to tell a story? Grow a heart. Grow two. Now, with the second heart, smash the first one into bits.” — Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe 
  • “I got this story from someone who had no business in the telling of it.” — Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes 
  • “What tales do you like best to hear?’ ‘Oh, I have not much choice! They generally run on the same theme – courtship; and promise to end in the same catastrophe – marriage.” — Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre 
  • “They weren’t true stories; they were better than that.” — Alice Hoffman, The Story Sisters 
  • “Sometime reality is too complex. Stories give it form.” — Jean Luc Godard 
  • “Every story, even your own, is either happy or sad depending on where you stop telling it.” — Wiley Cash 
  • “There’s always, there’ll always be, more story. That’s what story is…It’s the never-ending leaf-fall.” — Ali Smith, Autumn 
  • “Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.” — C.S. Lewis 
  • “What art offers is space – a certain breathing room for the spirit.” — John Updike 
  • “What an author doesn’t know could fill a book.” — Holly Black, Lucinda’s Secret 
  • “There are words and words and none mean anything. And then one sentence means everything.” — Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North 
  • “Literature can remind us that not all life is already written down: there are still so many stories to be told.” — Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin 
  • “When I want to read a novel, I write one.” — Benjamin Disraeli 
  • “I learned to write by reading the kind of books I wished I’d written.” — Barbara Kingsolver 
  • “Literature is the art of discovering something extraordinary about ordinary people, and saying with ordinary words something extraordinary.” — Boris Pasternak 
  • “Every story I create, creates me. I write to create myself.” — Octavia E. Butler 
  • “You have to be a bit of a liar to tell a story the right way.” — Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind 
  • “In the end, we’ll all become stories.” — Margaret Atwood, Moral Disorder and Other Stories 
  • “I would never read a book if it were possible for me to talk half an hour with the man who wrote it.” — Woodrow Wilson 
  • “A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.” — G.K. Chesterton 
  • “A book is a version of the world. If you do not like it, ignore it or offer your own version in return.” — Salman Rushdie 
  • “Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself.” — Angela Carter 
  • “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” — Toni Morrison 
  • “A good book has no ending.” — R.D. Cumming 
  • “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” — J.D. Salinger in The Catcher in the Rye

“Easy reading is damn hard writing.”  — Nathaniel Hawthorne 

✦ “Read. Read. Read. Just don’t read one type of book. Read different books by various authors so that you develop different style.” — R.L. Stine

Sarah S Davis, ed. A Reader’s Library of Book Quotes: For Librarians, Writers, and Bookworms Everywhere . Broke by Books Press.

This is the Age of the Memoir

In the Introduction to his book on Memoir writing entitled Inventing the Truth Willam Zinser observed that: “This is the age of the memoir. Never have personal narratives gushed so profusely from the American soil as in the closing decade of the twentieth century. Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone is telling it. The boom has its ultimate symbol in Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt’s account of his squalid childhood in an Irish slum. In its literary shape it’s a classic memoir, recalling a particular period and place in the writer’s life. 

“It also hit the double jackpot of critical and popular success, winning the Pulitzer Prize and perching at the top of the bestseller lists for well over a year. Beyond all that, it’s the perfect product of our confessional times. Until this decade memoir writers tended to stop short of harsh reality, cloaking with modesty their most private and shameful memories. Today no remembered episode is too sordid, no family too dysfunctional, to be trotted out for the wonderment of the masses in books and magazines and on talk shows….

“If the books by McCourt, Hamill, Karr, and Wolff represent the new memoir at its best, it’s because they were written with love. They elevate the pain of the past with forgiveness, arriving at a larger truth about families in various stages of brokenness. There’s no self-pity, no whining, no hunger for revenge; the writers are as honest about their own young selves as they are about the sins of their elders. We are not victims, they want us to know. We come from a tribe of fallible people, prisoners of our own destructiveness, and we have endured to tell the story without judgment and to get on with our lives. 

“Such tolerance, however, is no longer an American virtue. The national appetite for true confession has loosed a torrent of memoirs that are little more than therapy, the authors bashing their parents and wallowing in the lurid details of their tussle with drink, drug addiction, rape, sexual abuse, incest, anorexia, obesity, codependency, depression, attempted suicide, and other fashionable talk-show syndromes. These chronicles of shame and victimhood are the dark side of the personal narrative boom, giving the form a bad name. If memoir has become mere self-indulgence and reprisal—so goes the argument—it must be a degraded genre.

“The truth is that memoir writing, like every other kind of writing, comes in both good and bad varieties. That’s the only standard that matters. Whether the authors of certain notorious recent memoirs ought to have revealed as much as they did, breaking powerful taboos and social covenants, isn’t finally the issue. The issue is: Is it a good book or a bad book? 

“A good memoir requires two elements—one of art, the other of craft. The first element is integrity of intention. Memoir is the best search mechanism that writers are given. Memoir is how we try to make sense of who we are, who we once were, and what values and heritage shaped us. If a writer seriously embarks on that quest, readers will be nourished by the journey, bringing along many associations with quests of their own. 

“The other element is carpentry. Good memoirs are a careful act of construction. We like to think that an interesting life will simply fall into place on the page. It won’t. We like to think that Thoreau went home to Concord and just wrote up his notes. He didn’t. He wrote seven drafts of Walden in eight years, piecing together by what Margaret Fuller called the mosaic method a book that seems casual and even chatty. Thoreau wasn’t a woodsman when he went to the woods; he was a writer, and he wrote one of our sacred texts. 

“Memoir writers must manufacture a text, imposing narrative order on a jumble of half-remembered events. With that feat of manipulation they arrive at a truth that is theirs alone, not quite like that of anybody else who was present at the same events.”

William Zinser. Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir (pp. 5-6). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition. 

The Joys of Traveling

Since this blog is going to be about travel experiences and related subjects, I want to quote these three paragraphs from the first chapter in Frances Mayes book A Year in the World:

“The urge to travel feels magnetic. Two of my favorite words are linked: departure time. And travel whets the emotions, turns upside down the memory bank, and the golden coins scatter. How my mother would have loved the mansard apartment we borrowed from a friend in Paris. Will I be lucky enough to show pieces of the great world to my grandchild? I’m longing to hold his hand when he first steps into a gondola. I’ve seen his freedom burst upon him on hikes in California. Arms out, he runs forward. I recognize the surge.”…

“Travel pushes my boundaries. Seemingly self-indulgent, travel paradoxically obliterates me-me-me, because very quickly—prestissimo—the own-little-self is unlocked from the present and released to move through layers of time. It is not 2006 all over the world. So who are you in a place where 1950 or 1920 is about to arrive? Or where the guide says, “We’re not talking about A.D. today. Everything from now on is B.C.” I remember the child who came out of a thatched shack deep in the back roads of Nicaragua. She ran to touch the car, her arms thrown up in wonder. She would have looked at the headlights turn on and off all night.  You are released also because you are insignificant to the life of the new place. When you travel, you become invisible, if you want. I do want. I like to be the observer. What makes these people who they are? Could I feel at home here? No one expects you to have the stack of papers back by Tuesday, or to check messages, or to fertilize the geraniums, or to sit full of dread in the waiting room at the proctologist’s office. When travelling, you have the delectable possibility of not understanding a word of what is said to you. Language becomes simply a musical background for watching bicycles zoom along a canal, calling for nothing from you. Even better, if you speak the language, you catch nuances and make more contact with people”…

“The need to travel is a mysterious force. A desire to go runs through me equally with an intense desire to stay at home. An equal and opposite thermodynamic principle. When I travel, I think of home and what it means. At home I’m dreaming of catching trains at night in the gray light of Old Europe, or pushing open shutters to see Florence awaken. The balance just slightly tips in the direction of the airport.  I’m looking out my study window at the San Francisco Bay, the blue framed by stands of eucalyptus trees. The wind, I imagine, blew across Asia, then across Hawaii, bringing—if I could smell deeply enough—a trace of plumeria perfume. The western sun makes a grandiose exit in the smeared lavender-pink sky—a Mrs. Gotrocks gold orb sinking behind sacred Mount Tamalpais. The bay water, running into the ocean! Washing all the miraculous places. With the force of an earthquake, a wild certainty forms in the center of my forehead. Time. To go. Time. Just go.  I asked an impulsive question, What if we did not go home, what if we kept travelling? Should you not listen well to the questions you ask out of nowhere? Only in looking back do you find those crumbs you dropped that marked your way forward.”

Mayes, Frances. A Year in the World . Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition. 

Adventures of a Traveling Ex-Pat Teacher in Europe

INTRODUCTION. I’m a former college teacher, artist, and a confirmed Europhile. Having been invited to teach in Europe in the early seventies, I left the University in Berkeley, California, which is my alma mater, to teach history and sociology on US military bases in Germany, having no idea that my teaching career would keep me living as an Ex-Pat in Europe for the next thirty-five years, with regular annual vacation visits home.

When people learn that I lived in Europe for so long, they usually inquire enviously how I managed do that, and which European country I loved most. So I’d like to answer those questions now. I looked upon myself as an independent scholar with my well-stocked mind and teaching and research experience for rent each year in whatever country I decided I wanted to get to know better.

GERMANY. As a published and experienced teacher and scholar, I got to teach in several different European countries. In Germany I lived and taught in Berlin, Heidelberg, Frankfurt, Bitburg Airbase in the Moselle River area and Freiburg am Breisgau in the Black Forest.

CZECHOSLOVAKIA. I also had the pleasure of living and working in Eastern Central Europe both before and after the Iron Curtain collapsed in 1989. In Prague, I had an apartment in a medieval stone tower overlooking the river, the bridge, and the castle. The main disadvantage was that thee was no way to get a telephone installed in that gorgeous old stone tower. I taught courses on Sociological Theory and on the Social Psychology of Creativity at Charles University there. It was founded in the early thirteenth century, making it the oldest university in Central Europe.

SWITZERLAND. In Switzerland, while I was studying Analytical Psychology at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, I learned that a small American college in Lugano, only a couple of hours away by train, was looking for a part-time Psychology Instructor, so I applied and got the job. My greatest take-away from that experience was my seduction of one of my beautiful students, Kathy C. who later became my wife and lived with me in England, where I taught for almost ten years.

ITALY. But before I discuss my career in England, I want to mention some of my experiences in my favorite European country, Italy. I began my sojourn in Italy without a job, living in Florence, and studying art history while learning Italian, such a beautiful language! Florence is perennially amazing, full of surprises no matter how long you live there. I was very fortunate to find an apartment on a hill overlooking the city and next door to Lord Acton’s stupendous villa and museum-worthy art collection. The food in Florence’s restaurants is fresh and often imaginatively presented. As you can imagine, I gained a kilo while living there.

To support myself I found a job teaching Italian History to American students from Dickinson College in Florence enrolled in their Junior Year Abroad Program. The following year while still living in Florence, I commuted twice a week to Bologna, where I did the same thing for third year students at Johns Hopkins University. I had some great adventures in Florence and Bologna which I intend to reveal in a later blog post.

Before I finish my account of my experiences in Italy I want to narrate that the next year I moved to Rome to take up an exciting opportunity to teach a political science course on Contemporary Italian Politics for the American University in Rome. That fall, before my teaching duties began, I moved from Florence to Rome not only because of my job, but mainly to be near my new Roman girlfriend, Giuliana M., who I had met at an international conference on “Love in Renaissance Italy” held in Naples the preceding spring.

The story of our remarkable love affair and train travels all over Europe will be told in due course. I want to mention now that after falling in love, practically at first sight, to solidify the bonds of our relationship, we spent a long honeymoon-like summer living and lovemaking on the fabled Isle of Capri. I feel so grateful now to have had such memorable experiences.

GREAT BRITAIN. Finally, the last country, where I spent many happy years, is Great Britain whose literature I had devoured passionately ever since high school. I began my European travels in England already in 1954. I got bitten by the travel bug then, after I graduated from high school, when I became an Exchange Student in the Experiment in International Living Program that assigned me to live with a modest English family, the McMillans, in Plymouth in Devon, near Cornwall. I still remember our postal address there which was 3 Tor Close, Hartley, Plymouth, Devon, England, Earth, Our Universe.

I didn’t get my first teaching job in England until 1974. Back in Germany then, I had decided that I really didn’t really like teaching on the US military bases. So I sought to arrange something better for myself for the next year. I sent out a batch of cover letters accompanying my resumé to various universities in the London area and this I soon received an invitation to be a Visiting Scholar in Residence at the famed London School of Economics and Politics, a preponderantly Labour Party oriented division of the University of London, that traced its lineage back to George Bernhard Shaw and the early Fabian Socialists. This gave me some status in the academic world and a nice office to write in, but no income. Fortunately Brunel University in London also responded to my letter. They invited me to teach courses on The History of Social Thought and Comparative Sociology, which I did for several years until I ran into some difficulties with my work permit as a foreigner, after which Brunel let me go. Determined to return to Europe soon, I moved back home to Berkeley to get my ducks in a row.

Before I close this post I’d like to ask any readers who also have lived anywhere abroad for a few years to share your thoughts and your travel experiences with me. I plan to write a memoir detailing my experiences in Europe and in America in the decades of the seventies, eighties, and nineties. Whatever you’d like to share by way of thoughts, feelings, and/or memories would be most welcome.

Great autobiographical novels

James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist” has had a powerful impact on me every time I’ve read it. It’s similar to D. H. Lawrence’s autobiographical novel, “Sons and Lovers,” which I also read in my twenties and felt inspired by.   Both of these autobiographical novels opened my mind and heart up to the idea of becoming a writer and being, like them, a creator of larger worlds of experience out of stories deriving from one’s family history and one’s personal experiences. We all tell stories to get at the truth about ourselves and our experiences. That’s what has always motivated me to write, and to read biographies, memoirs, novels, etc. and to watch movies sit.coms and plays—to learn more about ourselves and others.

“A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” appears at first to be the usual coming-of-age novel, like “Wilhelm Meister,” ”To Kill a Mockingbird,”  or “A Separate Peace”. But Joyce’s novel is only similar to others on the surface. The plot of “Portrait” follows the youth of Stephen Dedalus, as he grows from a child to an adult But underneath that narrative a deeper story is unfurled.Through his imaginative use of the English language Joyce invites his readers to see the infinite in and through through the finite, as William Blake, whom he so admired, did.  “A Portrait  of the Artist”  is truly a great autobiographical novel, a model to learn from and to emulate.                         

The book also touches on many of the major issues of Ireland in the early 20th century, including Irish nationalism, home rule, a Jesuit education, and the conflict between Catholics and Protestants. These issues however are of secondary importance; what Joyce focuses on is Dedalus’s cognitive, emotional, and spiritual development— learning to deal with the influences that are pushing and pulling him in various directions.

There’s a wonderful scene in the book called “the bird girl scene”  where Stephen, the narrator, is watching this young woman standing on the beach. It is an incredible moment, erotic, artistic and worshipful all rolled up into one. He had the intuition and the know-how to be able to put a string of words together so as to point to a much bigger meaningful picture, like any great poet would.  

In a later section, the adolescent Stephen, who has been indulging himself with excessive, rich food and in sex with prostitutes, attends a Roman Catholic retreat. Being a Roman Catholic myself, I can assure you of the accuracy of the voice of the uncompromising priest, whose HELLFIRE speech is far worse than anything in Dante’s INFERNO and will leave your head spinning. Is this the religion of the gentle loving and all-forgiving Jesus? I’m afraid not!

However, in my favorite section Joyce describes Stephen’s solitary trek into the countryside during which he brings himself  into accord with the universe and is blessed with an epiphany (Joyce’s term) of a young woman standing ankle deep in a river, whose beauty touches his soul, but whom he has no desire to possess physically.        

Joyce later uses the term from Thomistic philosophy, AESTHETIC ARREST, to identify this moment of maturity. 

A PORTRAIT ends with a most satisfying feeling of finding one’s own true vocation, having already achieved the freedom to follow it. It’s breathtaking!

In Joyce’s next novel,  ULYSESS, the protagonist is still Stephen Daedalus, but now through further experiences in the wider world he has returned to Ireland, a wiser but a sadder man. But that is another story. 

A PORTRAIT is one of the most beautiful novels ever written, or at least, that I have ever had the opportunity to read and re-read. One dimension of that beauty are the frequent passages of luminous poetic prose; however, other passages lack any trace of poetry. This is because the prose style of each sections reflects the CONSCIOUSNESS of Stephen Daedalus. This is not yet the STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS technique of Joyce’s two last novels, “ Ulysses” and “Finnigan’s Wake,” but it was a big step toward it.