I think we can all agree that I am on a Good Book Run. Yesterday I finished Mary Karr’s most recent memoir, Lit, having devoured her first two in prelude.

This was my favorite. Partly, I think, it’s the content: There’s little as satisfying as a redemption arc, and the story here is addiction/recovery. Also, recovery is notoriously hard to capture in interesting language, especially since it comes prepackaged in a familiar lexicon.

AND so often in recovery narratives, the drama of addiction overpowers the serenity of sobriety. There’s a bit of that here, but in general Karr-of-the-crackerjack-Texas-wit finds surprising and electric ways to talk about surrender.

One oddity: She can’t stop apologizing for her spiritual life. She must mean to make her book more palatable to the all-head, no-body academics she lives and works among, to dial their Freak Detectors back to Low for as long as it takes to get through the testifying. But it feels skittish.

Also, Karr occasionally breaks through the fourth wall to give her reader instructions, including, basically, “This next part is about my childhood, and if you’ve read my other books, skip it.” What is that? Embarrassment? The section turns out to be only a few paragraphs, all helpful reminders, even to someone who read both previous books in the last month.

Which reminds me: What Karr doesn’t apologize for is repeating verbatim nuggets from the other memoirs, stand-out phrases that capture concepts and people. And that, too, surprised me. For someone with such a sharp and original voice, I’d think it’d be a point of pride to avoid repetition.Though maybe, it occurs to me now, they’re Homeric epithets? But she’d need to use them more, in that case.

All of which leads me to feel: One more revision. With a better editor.

However. Still a fantastic book.

2 Responses to “Lit”

  1. Liza says:

    I love reading your book reviews. It inspires me to read more substantive things (instead of the mystery candy I usually crave). But even when I veer away from mysteries I find myself indulging. Right now I am reading The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz. Funny and food-filled. I also read the Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. Good. Good. Good. (as you can see I am not much of a reviewer!).

  2. admin says:

    Aw, thanks, Liza! I’m always interested in what Gawande writes in The New Yorker. I hadn’t heard of the Lebovitz, but nice title!

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