The best offbeat memoirs

Who am I?

I taught at Yale for 33 years and I hold advanced degrees from the Sorbonne. I am interested in literature as lessons for life, but I am mostly a passionate letter writer, especially to the great authors who have marked me. They are never really dead. I carry them around with me. I selected the category of Offbeat Memoirs because I have written one. I also have an Italian alter-ego, Donatella de Poitiers, who authors a blog in which she muses about how a lifelong Francophile could have forsaken la Belle France for la dolce vita in the Umbrian countryside, where the food and fresh air are way better than the roads.


I wrote...

Letters to Men of Letters

By Diane Charney,

Book cover of Letters to Men of Letters

What is my book about?

Have you ever wanted to write a letter to an author who has been important to you? I write to the authors I admire, both living and dead, who continue to keep me company. Among these are Kafka, Proust, Nabokov, Camus, Flaubert, Balzac, Leonard Cohen, André Aciman, Christo, and my father. In my 18 letters, I reflect on what these writers have taught me about myself, but also what they can offer the reader. Each letter is part memoir, part intellectual coming-of-age, part reaction to having read, loved, studied, and taught the work of these timeless writers.

As if writing to mostly dead guys weren’t “offbeat” enough, rest assured that there’s plenty of additional evidence for my laying claim to that adjective: “Dear Jean-Paul Sartre, There have been many Jean-Pauls in my life, but you’re the only one in whose bedroom I have slept.”

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of My Life in Middlemarch: A Memoir

Diane Charney Why did I love this book?

What do the writers you are drawn to reveal about you? Why at certain points in our lives do we become “attached” to certain authors? The process of attachment is mysterious. As we age (and change) some things remain constant. Our attachment to a particular author may have begun in our youth, but evolved as we have. To reconnect with a favorite author can put us in touch with our younger self in unexpected ways. Mead shows how much Middlemarch has “spoken” to her throughout her life. This book is perhaps more in harmony with my own than any on the list. I have come to love books that underscore how what we read can be inseparable from the person we become.

By Rebecca Mead,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked My Life in Middlemarch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New Yorker writer revisits the seminal book of her youth--Middlemarch--and fashions a singular, involving story of how a passionate attachment to a great work of literature can shape our lives and help us to read our own histories.

Rebecca Mead was a young woman in an English coastal town when she first read George Eliot's Middlemarch, regarded by many as the greatest English novel. After gaining admission to Oxford, and moving to the United States to become a journalist, through several love affairs, then marriage and family, Mead read and reread Middlemarch. The novel, which Virginia Woolf famously described…


Book cover of Kafka in Love

Diane Charney Why did I love this book?

I consider the author my French Writing Partner; I have been her translator. Our mutual love for Franz Kafka brought us together. Her book draws on Kafka’s letters to the women he could never bring himself to marry. Jacqueline and I feel that, in our shared devotion to Kafka, we perhaps understand him better than the women he left behind. He may have had a hard time finding his own soulmate, but in our case, he turned out to be quite the matchmaker.

By Jacqueline Raoul-Duval,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kafka in Love as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Kafka was an attractive, slender, and elegant man--something of a dandy, who captivated his friends and knew how to charm women. He seemed to have had four important love affairs: Felice, Julie, Milena, and Dora. All of them lived far away, in Berlin or Vienna, and perhaps that's one of the reasons that he loved them: he chose long-distance relationships so he could have the pleasure of writing to them, without the burden of having to live with them. He was engaged to all four women, and four times he avoided marriage. At the end of each love affair, he…


Book cover of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed

Diane Charney Why did I love this book?

On the theme of letters, the irresistibly charming author receives and answers them in her Dear Analyst column for The Atlantic. But in addition to showing us the challenges of being a therapist, she bravely includes us in her own therapy. It is hard for me to come up with enough superlatives for this book: wildly funny, insightful, heartwarming, honest, compelling, tender, intensely relatable, and enlightening about what it means to be human. I never wanted it to end. If Kafka had been her patient he might never have written a word.

By Lori Gottlieb,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Maybe You Should Talk to Someone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A TIME magazine Must-Read Book of the Year

Ever wonder what your therapist is thinking? Now you can find out, as therapist and New York Times bestselling author Lori Gottlieb takes us behind the scenes of her practice - where her patients are looking for answers (and so is she).

When a personal crisis causes her world to come crashing down, Lori Gottlieb - an experienced therapist with a thriving practice in Los Angeles - is suddenly adrift. Enter Wendell, himself a veteran therapist with an unconventional style, whose sessions with Gottlieb will prove transformative for her.

As Gottlieb explores…


Book cover of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Diane Charney Why did I love this book?

I write letters mostly to dead guys who aren’t about to answer any time soon (but then I wait for years before sending my love letter to André Aciman, who is alive and willing to answer)? I swim wearing my glasses and a hat. I don’t step on a plane without my Magic Flying Shirt and “I am calm” socks. Am I an introvert? Or just offbeat?

This book is helping me understand many things about myself, others, and how the world is organized so that the loudest mouths are too often considered the best leaders even though their ideas are not necessarily good. 

Introvert Susan Cain has a very important cause to which she is giving voice. And amazingly, decision-makers are actually listening.

By Susan Cain,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Quiet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

SUSAN CAIN'S NEW BOOK, BITTERSWEET, IS AVAILABLE TO PRE-ORDER NOW

A SUNDAY TIMES AND NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER, THIS BOOK WILL CHANGE HOW YOU SEE INTROVERTS - AND YOURSELF - FOREVER.

Our lives are driven by a fact that most of us can't name and don't understand. It defines who our friends and lovers are, which careers we choose, and whether we blush when we're embarrassed.

That fact is whether we're an introvert or an extrovert.

The most fundamental dimension of personality, at least a third of us are introverts, and yet shyness, sensitivity and seriousness are often seen as…


Book cover of Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss

Diane Charney Why did I love this book?

I adored this book by NYT columnist, Margaret Renkl, who comes from a colorful southern family and interweaves her close observations of nature with glimpses of her own autobiography. I see some links between it and my own book project—snapshots of a self at various points in life. She uses her birthplace and nature as her gauge, mirror, and touchstone, whereas I use my authors. I hope I’m not flattering myself too much by feeling that our enterprise is similar. So many quotes moved me to tears. I see that her true subject is responding to grief, but in a wise, eloquent, uplifting way. When Renkl says “Every day the world is teaching me what I need to know to be in the world,” she’s not talking about screaming headlines. 

By Margaret Renkl,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Late Migrations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Named a "Best Book of the Year" by New Statesman, New York Public Library, Chicago Public Library, and Washington Independent Review of Books

Southern Book Prize Finalist

From New York Times contributing opinion writer Margaret Renkl comes an unusual, captivating portrait of a family-and of the cycles of joy and grief that inscribe human lives within the natural world.

Growing up in Alabama, Renkl was a devoted reader, an explorer of riverbeds and red-dirt roads, and a fiercely loved daughter. Here, in brief essays, she traces a tender and honest portrait of her complicated parents-her exuberant, creative mother; her steady,…


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Songbird

By Laci Barry Post,

Book cover of Songbird

Laci Barry Post Author Of Songbird

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Group fitness instructor Mom of two Travel consultant Hiker

Laci's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

It's 1943, and World War II has gripped the nation, including the Stilwell family in Jacksonville, Alabama. Rationing, bomb drills, patriotism, and a changing South barrage their way of life. Neighboring Fort McClellan has brought the world to their doorstep in the form of young soldiers from all over the country and German POWs from halfway around the globe.

Songbird is an inspirational, historical fiction novel, dealing with family, faith, strong women, and the American home front. It explores many historical elements of the World War II era, such as women's aid groups, the writings of Ernie Pyle, D-day, radio and music of the 1940s, and the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Songbird

By Laci Barry Post,

What is this book about?

When the perils and social changes of World War II confront a small southern town, faith, family, and love sustain the lives of one young woman and her family. Can those left behind endure?

"I'm waiting for my life to begin. Waiting for the train to come in," Ava Stilwell, a young woman eager for life, sings a popular song with the big band that reflects her heart. In the midst of a world at war, Ava finds love, a passion for her music, and new opportunities, but the war still looms over her, threatening to take it all away.…


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