During this holiday season, for the first time in my life, I was asked an interesting question by a classmate: ‘What is your favorite genre of books?’ Instinctively, I answered back with a sheepish grin that I liked memoirs. In a way, I had surprised even myself– never before had the first genre of books that came to my mind been memoirs. For the longest time, I thought of famous people recounting their life as monochrome and dry. Except for the few I considered role models, there was not a long list of individuals that I felt inspired by enough to sit through long life stories. Never taking the time to distinguish a memoir from an autobiography, I became apathetic towards them figuring that if I was going to read nonfiction, It may as well be a self-help book or field journal. That is until I discovered the power of memoirs.
In case you are as clueless as I was, let me break down the difference between the two. While an autobiography usually covers the entirety of an author’s life until the point of writing, memoirs focus on a narrower scope of one part of the author’s life and generally are written in service of a larger theme. That is what makes memoirs so beautiful and distinctive. As a writer, I find it mesmerizing how someone can take the everyday events of life and somehow find a link to the larger world, creating a lesson out of their hardship, joy, or passion. It is in many ways what I try so ardently to do with this blog. To be able to find a way to make life into art and spark a discussion or challenge an idea within a community as a writer…that takes skill.
In the past, I have read a few memoirs including Becoming by Michelle Obama, A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah, and Secrets for the Mad by Dodie Clark. Each has made me feel a personal connection to the author as if a best friend had shared with me secrets written specifically for my ears. Still, it was not until I recently picked up the memoir Crying in H-Mart by Michelle Zauner that my appreciation for this genre truly began to blossom. Crying in H-Mart is a moving account about the struggles and pleasures of growing up as an Asian American. Mainly, the memoir is a commentary on Zauner’s relationship with her mother as a child, leading up to, and following her mother’s development of terminal cancer. Through her words and anecdotes, the reader experiences a journey of grief and reclaiming identity with a combination of food, language, and history which Zauner had resented as a child. In addition to the writing on the page, Crying in H-Mart also includes family photos, which seems to add to the personable quality of the book. Maybe it is because of my own background and the relation I felt to the story, or maybe it is simply Zauner’s vibrant and candid writing style, but for one reason or another, I felt a deep affinity to this book and found that it really created my affinity for memoirs.
Crying in H-Mart is a book that I could not seem to put down. I read it on the plane during my family vacation, I read it curled up by the fire on cold December days, I read it in school (when I probably should have been reading those assigned textbook pages). This memoir not only made me empathize with the author, but it also taught me so much. I learned about Korean Jatjuk and Galbi-jjim, dishes which I now crave to taste. Along with that, I learned about different family dynamics and circumstances, comparing them to my own, and gaining insight into ways my own life and relationships may change in the future. Now, I am invariably listening to Japanese Breakfast, the experimental pop band headed by Zauner, which I would have never discovered without reading her memoir. Each time I hear her voice, I am able to think back to the things she has endured, and it makes her music all the more meaningful. All around, I would definitely recommend Crying in H-Mart to anyone looking to dive into the world of memoirs. Although some relate to it more than others, it is a great ‘easy’ read that captures how through writing, ordinary life can become extraordinary. But this memoir is just one of many. Just like with any genre in literature, there are hundreds of thousands of stories out there to read. The special part is that each one is true, and each one has completely changed that author’s life. If you are someone who reads and enjoys my blog posts, I encourage you to look into a memoir that sparks interest– it can be the story of an athlete you are already familiar with or a foreign politician you know nothing about… as long as you remember that there is always a story waiting to be heard.
“Each of us is a book waiting to be written, and that book, if written, results in a person explained” -Thomas M. Cirignano
**This post is another installation of my posts on reading. Thank you to all my readers who requested more posts on reading/book reviews. Your feedback is greatly appreciated