I recently finished reading a collection of memoirs compiled by the London Review of Books called Meeting the Devil (2013). It begins with Hilary Mantel's title piece describing in disturbing candor the details of the author's hospital stay while she recovered from stomach surgery. It is a powerful piece because of Mantel's ability to navigate between a patient in pain and a witty observer. A sample:
"When my dressings are stripped off I bob up my head to look at my abdomen. My flesh is swollen, green with bruising, and the shocking, gaping wound shows a fresh pink inside; I look like a watermelon with a great slice hacked out. I say to myself, it's just another border post on the frontier between medicine and greengrocery; growths and tumours seem always to be described as the 'size of a plum' or the 'size of a grapefruit'. Later a nurse calls it a 'a wound you could put your fist into'. I think, a wound the size of a double-decker bus. A wound the size of Wales. It doesn't seem possible that a person can have a wound like that and live, let alone walk about and crack jokes."
After that beginning piece, each memoir offered something different and unexpected ranging from Terry Castle's candid remembrance of her infatuation with Susan Sontag in "Desperately Seeking Susan" to world renown literary critic Edward Said's "Between Worlds." Said gives an account of being born in Jerusalem as the child of wealthy Palestinian parents, (his father was a U.S. citizen) , first educated at an English school in Egypt, and then finishing his formal education in America. "The day in early September 1951 when my mother and father deposited me at the gates of that school ..," writes Said, "was probably the most miserable of my life." Of course, it was these beginnings that gave Said his insights to the complex world of Arab and Western relations.
In the spirit of brevity (read laziness). Here's a more complete (or incomplete) rundown of authors, titles and my personal assessment: the (++) means excellent, (+) means good and (0) means it didn't work for me. I thought this book would be one that I would just read a few pieces and re-shelve, but as you can see below, I went the distance -- a testimonial if there ever was one.