Telling stories: 3 memoirs

Storytelling invites understanding. In particular, a real-life narrative, such as a memoir, asks for attention and comprehension. Recently, I enjoyed reading three disparate memoirs, appreciating their interesting information and separate points of view. Tig Notaro, Juan Thompson and Pat Summitt each tell different stories with distinct voices in memoirs published not long ago, and all three volumes are worth reading.

Tig Notaro is a talented comedian with a subtle style. Her comedy received increased attention in 2012 after she opened a set by announcing her recent cancer diagnosis, and then led her surprised audience to laughter with her calm, intelligent humor. In her 2016 memoir, I’m Just a Person, Notaro describes this experience in detail, while narrating her life to date with her usual dry wit. I particularly liked Notaro’s thoughts on what not to say to a person diagnosed with cancer.

Juan Thompson is a thoughtful son with a famous father. He’s also a father himself. In Stories I Tell Myself: Growing Up with Hunter S. Thompson (2016), Juan works to understand both relationships, creating an affecting account of love. For readers curious about Hunter S. Thompson, the renowned writer and counterculture icon, this memoir offers interesting particulars from an inimitable personal perspective. For anyone interested in thinking about a difficult parent-child relationship, this book provides a poignant narrative of conflict and reconciliation. Above all, I appreciated how Juan Thompson is clear-sighted about the complex nature of memory, as he tells stories about his experiences and thinks through a complicated bond.

Pat Summitt was an intense coach with a steely stare. On and off the basketball court, she always expected a great deal from her players. Over four decades, they responded by winning an unprecedented number of games. In addition, every student in her NCAA program graduated with a college degree. Summitt also demanded much of herself, being relentless in pursuit of success and resolute in response to adversity. Her tenacious approach was never more evident than when she was diagnosed in 2011 at age 59 with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Summitt responded to this news with her characteristic determination, explaining in her post-diagnosis memoir that “I wanted to meet the disease as assertively as I’d met every other challenge in my life.” Her attitude overall is made plain in this 2013 volume, Sum It Up: 1098 Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective, as she describes her health struggles, along with her coaching achievements. Summitt narrates her story briskly and directly, and the resulting volume is a quick and interesting read. Even though some of the subject matter is grim, the overall tone of the memoir is no-nonsense and upbeat. Faced with a devastating disease, Summitt chose to focus on awareness, advocacy and research, until her death on June 28, 2016. The Pat Summitt Foundation continues her work fighting Alzheimer’s disease.

Numerous intriguing memoirs have been published in the last few months. Interestingly, these books include: another account by a great comedian (Carol Burnett’s In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem and Fun in the Sandbox); a different son dealing with his father (Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run); and one more fierce visage from sports (Abby Wambach’s Forward: A Memoir). Given my love of novels, I don’t know that I’ll read these works very soon – and so I’m counting on you. If you read one, will you let me know what you think?


Love this! My grandparents were major supporters of the Western Kentucky University basketball teams when I was growing up. I always remember Pat Summit wearing a bright yellow suits when Western's women's team played the Vols. She was incredible coach and woman. And she will forever be seared in my memory as "the Banana Lady".