Amanda Reads: The Rules Do Not Apply

Hello, internet people! It’s feeling good to be back in the swing of reading books and writing about them. This week’s book is Ariel Levy’s The Rules Do Not Apply.

Those of you who know me in real life (or, perhaps, from light internet stalking) know by now that my version of “you had me at hello” is “you had me at grief memoir.” I’m an addict, trying to puzzle together the pieces of the living with grief thing. So of course, between the eye-catching cover and the presence of grief, I eagerly requested an advanced reading copy of The Rules Do Not Apply (which, disclaimer: I received in exchange for my honest review).

The Rules Do Not ApplyWhat to say about this book? It’s a bit of a challenge, really. There were huge swaths that I related to greatly, and other things that I struggled to comprehend–wanting a child, then losing a child, being married, then losing your wife to alcoholism. Reading this book was like opening a window to another world, a world in which I would never walk (no matter where life takes me, I can confidently say I will never be a pregnant lesbian).

For all that, at times this memoir falls into the trap of writing about yourself–it can seem, at times, a bit self-centered and insensitive to others. I know that it’s hard not to cast the people in your life as supporting characters, but I felt that Levy did this a bit more often than I could handle. This is especially the case while she discusses her transgender lover, who she loved once before his transition and had an affair with afterwards. I have every bit of sympathy for the challenging things Levy had to write about in this book, and at times I think she handles them quite well… but at others, I had to squirm and hope the uncomfortably handled bits would pass quickly.

Grief is something we carry, and Levy brings that to the page well. It’s interesting to me that so much of the memoir actually takes place before the events occur, and that the memoir ends not long after she loses her child. While this nontraditional approach left me feeling unfinished at the end, it was refreshing to see a grief memoir that doesn’t neatly end with “and now everything is fine, you see. I’ve done it. I’ve done grief. Over.” Instead, Levy admits that grief comes to swallow you in your every day life even long after the events occurred. Grief doesn’t end. You just learn how to carry it with you, and I appreciated the honesty of that ending.

In so far as a recommendation, I’d say to approach this book with an awareness of its flaws. Educate yourself about the issues that are lightly (and sometimes poorly) touched upon here, such as trans rights and alcoholism. But if, like me, you are on the constant march to read things that help you carry your own grief more easily, I’d say it’s worth giving this one a shot.

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Amanda Reads: The Art of Memoir

Oh my gosh, you guys! I just finished reading Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir and now I have to go and read all of Mary Karr’s work because I loved this book. You can tell from reading it that Mary Karr knows what she’s talking about. At the same time, she makes sure to admit that every writer’s process is going to be different, especially since every memoir is going to be different.

Mary Karr
That’s not to say that reading this book didn’t give me a few good panics about the prospect of setting out and actually doing this whole MFA program thing that I’m starting on Monday. Karr explores issues of veracity and, more terrifyingly, of dealing with the still-alive people you’re writing about when it comes to publishing secrets about them. It’s enough to make any socially anxious aspiring memoirist sweat to imagine sharing certain scenes with certain people, like “Is the way I depicted this private moment for public consumption okay with you? Cool.”

That being said, this book is chock full of great advice for writers who plan on attempting the thing. Mary Karr’s voice absolutely sparkles throughout, making it such a pleasant read that I completely forgot I was reading required craft-related stuff for class. It inspired me to try new ways of looking at my material, and I even wrote a few pages just from sheer inspiration. I don’t know if every bit of advice is something I’ll personally apply down the road, but I really enjoyed hearing about memoir from one of the best in the business. Plus, there’s a great reading list at the back.

That’s honestly all I have to say about this book. To make up for how short this post is, here is a picture of my cat trying to make me pay attention to him instead of this book:

Mowzer on Memoir