The Good Memoir

This week a woman asked me for a book club suggestion.  She was looking for a memoir or a short biography, she said, but something “not all woe and depressing.”


Memoirs get a bad rap.  And of course there are bad memoirs, just like there are bad novels, but good memoirs are “not all woe and depressing.”  Good memoirs, like all good books, all good storytelling, lift the reader up and keep us hooked.

If you’re someone who remembers first lines, take this one:  For the first seven years of my life, my nickname was Jolly — Jolly because my smile, pudgy cheeks, and a potbelly intimated that a giggle was just around the corner.  While I couldn’t recall this word for word, I remembered most of it and, of course, Jolly.  I remembered the joy I felt reading that intro.  I wanted to know about this jolly boy.

Five years ago, my friend Matthew Sanford published his first book with that first line.  Matt had an incredible story to tell.  I knew this, which means to say a knew some basic details of Matt’s life.  What I didn’t know was “the story,” and what an incredible story this is.  Even when I read WAKING in an early draft, I knew he was onto something.  I toted that manuscript around for two days and read it every chance I could get.

Here’s what it’s about:

When Matthew Sanford was just thirteen, his family’s car skidded off an overpass on an icy Iowa road — killing his father and sister, paralyzing him from the chest down, and changing his life forever. Years later, yoga would dramatically change it again. In WAKING: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence (Rodale, June 2006), Matthew chronicles his journey from the intensive care unit to becoming a paralyzed yoga teacher and founder of a nonprofit organization. Along the way, Matthew gains a deeper understanding of the connection between mind and body, and formulates an entirely new view of existence as a “whole” person.

Yes, he said yoga teacher.  So if you or your book club are looking for a special memoir to read, here you go.  When you turn the last page, you’ll have plenty to discuss, and you’ll want to go out an live your best life.  Nothing woe or depressing in sight.



12 thoughts on “The Good Memoir

    1. Teri Post author

      Can I just say, Matt was a fabulous yoga teacher. The best. I, however, am a bad student.

      (p.s. Yea, Sarah, your husband will love this story)

  1. Averil Dean

    I cannot wait to get this for my sister, another yoga teacher who happens to love memoir. You’ve become my go-to source for reading suggestions. Thanks, Teri.

  2. macdougalstreetbaby

    I love stories like this one, where resilience and heart overcome personal tragedy and heartache. I believe in yoga and all of its powers. It’s not surprising at all that it helped Mr. Sanford find his way.

  3. amyg

    i was just telling myself today that i can’t buy another book until christmas. so much for that.

    (how did i miss that sarah w’s hubbie is a yoga instructor?!)

    thanks for the recommendation.

  4. timkeen40

    What a story of perseverance. Losing the parents at an early age would have been more than enough to send a lot of us into a life of self-pity. Being paralyzed from the waste down would have been a nail in the coffin. LIfe is truly what you make of it.


    1. Teri Post author

      Exactly, Tim. Reading this story, I feel no pity, only constant amazement at the power of the mind and spirit. And all starting in a 13 year old boy.

  5. Laura Maylene

    Thank you for the suggestion!

    My writing buddy has been working on a memoir for years. It is a fabulous manuscript. I never explicitly thought about how her memoir isn’t a “downer” — while it’s heartbreaking at times, and dives into serious subject matter, it’s also hilariously funny and self-deprecating and playful. I’m sure that will serve her well when she is ready to seek publication.

    I just got a flash of the day when her book is published and you, Ms. Memoir Guru, might read it and mention it on this blog. That would be perfection.

    1. Teri Post author

      Your friend will find representation for sure. Can you imagine being a nonfiction agent and getting the rare funny manuscript in your hands? It’s got to stand out.

  6. lizisilver

    Teri, you need to do PR for books. When you suggest a book there’s no doubt in my mind it will be added to my list. Half way through Lacuna now, don’t want it to ever end. Thank you for insisting.

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