Experience can be a bittersweet teacher. If we knew back then what we know now, we’d probably still make the same mistakes, but maybe we’d take them less seriously the second time around, knowing that, in the end, even the most humiliating experiences make for great stories. This fall brings us a passel of memoirs by writers looking back at what they've learned so far -- or, as Lena Dunham wryly subtitles her memoir, what she’s "learned" -- as well as what they’ve gleaned from their cultural heroes, be they literary (as in the case of Azar Nafisi’s follow-up to Reading Lolita in Tehran) or cartoon (as in Jill Lepore’s examination of the life and times of Wonder Woman.)
So share some of the life wisdom of the writers of these memoirs and biographies, and, as the days shrink and the temperature drops, take heart knowing that whatever mistakes you make in the coming months, these writers have done, and written about, far worse.
Not That Kind of Girlby Lena Dunham
By this point, it’s probably hard to find a person in this country who doesn't know Lena Dunham as the precocious creator and star of the HBO series Girls, as well as a film director and contributor to the New Yorker. Fewer people know how the young, endearing hyphenate overcame her self-doubts to get to where she is. While Dunham’s character, Hannah, in Girls, is a certifiable mess, the writer herself seems the picture of accomplishment and savvy. Not true, she writes in this book, which details her struggles with bad boyfriends, worse diets, and fighting to be taken seriously in Hollywood.
The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
Even Wonder Woman has struggled to make it and stay true to herself. In this cultural history of the alter ego of Diana Prince, Jill Lepore writes that the comic book character’s creator, William Marston, created the lie detector while keeping more than a few secrets of his own. Influenced by feminist activists of his time, he envisioned a heroine who would upend social conventions of the day while looking like a cross between a circus ringleader and dominatrix. Wonder Woman would go on to become one of the most enduring comic book characters, and continue to be a feminist icon throughout the century.
The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum
In 2001, Meghan Daum published a book of personal essays, My Misspent Youth, detailing the mistakes she made and lessons she learned being young, ambitious, and broke in Manhattan. Now older, more solvent, and living in Los Angeles, she has a new collection, in which she writes about what happened to her in the intervening decade. Witty, wise, and emotionally raw, these pieces touch on love, aging, death, and the absurdities of modern life.
The Republic of Imagination by Azar Nafisi
In the ten years since Nafisi published her bestseller, Reading Lolita in Tehran, she’s had many opportunities to think and talk and write about the importance of literature for people living under totalitarian regimes. But at a Seattle event for the book, she was challenged to defend the importance of literature in democracies. This book is her response. In it, she examines three novels -- Babbitt, Huckleberry Finn, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter -- and discusses their influence on her life, as well as their significance to American culture.
Yes, Please by Amy Poehler
What does it mean that Amy Poehler has a good "face for wigs?" We can only imagine, but the news delighted her. In this breezy memoir, Poehler writes about growing up in Boston, the big move to New York, and her career on "Saturday Night Live," in movies, and on "Parks and Recreation." Like her BFF Tina Fey, Poehler has plenty of stories of the pitfalls of being a funny lady in the entertainment industry, but take a light, tongue in cheek approach to detailing her struggles, preferring to focus on the humorous side of her experiences in showbiz.