Teachers suggested many books for me to read when I was young, so I slogged through a canonical list of Austen, Dickens, Eliot, Hawthorne, Melville, and Maugham. These are all worthy should reads. They forced me to imagine life beyond my small town of Emporia, Kansas. The conventions of fiction—Aristotle’s unity of plot, catharsis—became familiar.
Finally, though, I took charge of my own reading list and discovered memoirs. These enraptured me. Their narrators are intimate and true, not invented characters with exaggerated beady eyes and rumpled top hats. Memoirs now populate my private shelf of books to reread.
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