Have I maxed out on memoirs?
26 February 2013
by Rosie Schaap
Over the course of the past month I've slowly been munching my way through Rosie Schaap's well-received memoir Drinking with Men: A Memoir.
I never really got to the point where I had to keep reading it, but for a while it seems I haven't been finding much at the library and I couldn't find much other nonfiction around the house I was interested in, so when I needed to read, I'd just go back to it and read another chapter. I don't know why, really. It's not a bad book, and it's certainly not bad as far as memoirs (which can, I find, vary widely in quality) go. Feeling pretty ambivalent about it both during and after reading it has left me with just the one question:
Am I done reading memoirs?
Could be. For a long time I read a lot of them. For a long time a lot of them have been published. But for whatever reasons, it's also been a long time since I found one that really lit me up.
This is all not really fair to Schaap's book. There's nothing earth-shattering here, but the author seems to know her way around a sentence and is also likable enough, although I almost didn't make it past her early chapters, wherein she described dropping out of high school and following the Grateful Dead around.* In later chapters she settles into a nice pattern of describing bars she has loved and the drinking companions (almost exclusively male) whom she has loved within them. Perhaps one reason it left me cold-ish was because her descriptions of the bars themselves are much more vivid and loving than her descriptions, really, of her drinking companions (which even include a man whose friendship affected her life very deeply). I really do think "Bars I've Loved" would have been a more accurate, if not a catchier, title.
There's some insight into her friendships with men, and with bar culture, but it wasn't quite what I was looking for. I have my own history of getting along well with guys**, which is a painful history, because once you become an old married lady with a kid, guy friends are impossible to come by. I miss them and rather thought this memoir would have more to say on the actual dynamics of such friendships, but it didn't. Perhaps when I find a memoir that does that I'll have found one that once again makes me want to read more memoirs.
*Here she is describing her experiences following the Dead around: "We were mostly decent if slightly wayward kids who, for a variety of reasons, needed to leave the people who had raised us and who, many of us felt, had failed to understand us, and make a family of our own...We drank and danced, bartered bootlegs, got high and hung out, lived in vans and slept in cars under piles of stripy Mexican blankets in need of a good washing; we gave one another scabies and sometimes worse, and sometimes money, and often pot, and really whatever we had, sold trinkets and tofu stew, and for the most part, though not always, looked after one another." (p. 29.) It's vivid writing, but just the thought of getting scabies and sleeping in cars with strangers, oh my lord, it is NOT for me.
**A guy friend in high school once told me that gossiping and eating candy with me made him feel like he was back in fifth grade again, in the best possible way (we had a total joke class called "Media Film" together, we just shared candy and talked through the entire semester while ostensibly watching and critiquing movies). I still think it's one of the nicest things anyone's ever said to me.