Bill Clegg Book Bag

The author of a bestselling 'Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man' shares his favorite memoirs.

By Ian Frazier

Ian Frazier could write about a paper bag, and he’d be both charming and profound (I think he has, actually), and this memoir—simultaneously about his growing up in Ohio and the more than century-old history of his family—is both. The last pages and the very last lines of the book are magnificent.

Hole in the Sky
By William Kittredge

Kittredge grew up in southern Oregon, where his family owned—for many generations—thousands of acres of unspoiled ranchland. He would get married, drink too much, sleep around—and by his mid-thirties he not only needed to find a way out of his despair (which he does through writing), but he, along with his siblings, would be forced to sell the last tracts of the family land. His writing is breathtaking, and the story of individual salvation set against the longer chronicle of generational and natural ruin is powerful and surprisingly hopeful.

By Brad Land

Brad Land’s mesmerizing story of pledging his brother’s fraternity at Clemson is as moving as it is harrowing. Land somehow makes his very personal, very local tale of hazing and bullying into a grand illumination of brotherhood, belonging, and family. Spellbinding.

House of Happy Endings
By Leslie Garis

Leslie Garis’ childhood was a fairy tale: Her grandfather was the author of the Uncle Wiggily series of children’s books; her grandmother wrote the Bobbsey Twins novels; her father was a dashing magazine editor; and they all lived in an enormous, magical house in Amherst, Massachusetts. The fairy tale ends abruptly when Garis’ father descends into a bewildering mental illness. What follows are decades of psychiatric hospitals, addiction, financial ruin, violence, and death. The book is a devastating chronicle of her family’s unraveling and the desperate efforts that were made to treat her father. What’s astonishing about the book is not only Garis’ vivid memories from childhood, but her depiction of how crude the treatment was for depression in the 1950s and 1960s (at several institutions described in the book, evening cocktails were served and amphetamines prescribed). Garis is an extraordinary writer, and the grace with which she describes her own survival is what allows this to be much more than a grim family tragedy.

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City
By Nick Flynn

Nick is a client and a friend, but he is also a hero of mine. His memoir is a masterly choreography of glimpses from his childhood, adolescence, and after, along with monologues, poems, and even one-act plays. Through this audacious deploying of so many modes of storytelling and expression, he tells the tale of growing up with a troubled mother who killed herself when he was in college. But the center of the story, around which everything circles, is his relationship with his father. How they came to meet when Nick was in his twenties, how they forged a relationship, and the ways in which his father’s absence shaped him are what Nick explores in a book that manages to be funny, upsetting, stimulating, and compassionate all at once.