I haven’t always been a memoir reader and not too long ago, I would only rarely pick up a memoir, maybe as a class assignment or because I thought I had to. I think times are a-changing for me though. In the past 2-3 years, there have been some wonderful new memoirs. I just finished one of the best I’ve read, A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas. Perhaps it’s because of my age (not that I’m old nor young) that memoirs are attractive reads. They help gain some of that essential life wisdom that you start learning in your late 20s-30s. While learning life lessons along the way in my own personal way, I find it helpful and augmenting to read memoirs that I can learn from. The beauty is that we are all so unique and we all have our own stories to tell. (More on that in an upcoming blog posting I hope to do next week, as inspired by Pulitzer Prize winner Jim Sheeler). There is so much we can learn from each other. The power of telling our own stories enables others to learn from our own mistakes, share in grief, and delight in joys. A powerful memoir will do just that and do it well. Another writer whose personal writings are affective is Anne Lamott, who I’ve written about in previous blog postings.

The front jacket of A Three Dog Life has a flag from Stephen King. He says “The best memoir I have ever read. this book is a punch to the heart. Read it.” If that does not get your attention, what would? We all know how prolific and creative Stephen King is, so for a memoir to have his commendation, that means something to me as a reader. As an aside, I have not read that many Stephen King novels to date, however, those that I have read stick to my memory like glue almost as if I’d lived those horrific stories. If I was a horror writer, King would be one of those inspiring mentors. When I picked up A Three Dog Life from my library’s “New to the Library” shelf, I really didn’t know anything about the title or the author. I had heard several people suggest this book and other little murmurings in the literary world that this was a book to read. The book starts with a quote for the naming of the title: “Australian Aborigines slept with their dogs for warmth on cold nights, the coldest being a “three dog night.” Read the book and the title and quote will make a perfectly lovely sense. Any animal lover will see the layers of this quote and its meaning. As we know, a pet can provide comfort and peace to its human and has the capacity to share in grief, sadness, happiness and offer peaceful companionship.

A Three Dog Life (Harcourt, 2006) is the author’s 5th book. More about her books and teachings are on her website at www.abigailthomas.net. Or, read an excerpt from A Three Dog Life. I really appreciate when author’s give excerpts on their websites – this helps readers, librarians, and other bibliophiles in understanding the content.

As other reviewers have written about A Three Dog Life, this memoir is both honest, sad and has a twist of hope,  love and silver linings. The author shares the experience of a tragedy that struck when her husband was hit by a car and  sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI). His life, nor the author’s, was ever the same. The author writes in detail about the experience and how they coped and moved forward with a new life, entirely different from the one they know, and from what others know. He lived for several years after the accident but needed full time care. With severe TBI, the personality changes are profound from extreme agitation and confusion, to loss of long term memory. And yet, the brain sometimes compensates in other ways, and communication may be on an entirely different level, as Abigail Thomas writes about. These moments of uncanny extra-sensory communication – perhaps telepathy – are the most beautiful and striking parts of her memoir.

There are several laugh-outloud moments in the book too. One of my favorites is when the author’s husband tells her she can get as fat as she wants, he’ll love it all (page 164). That just solidly speaks of unconditional love, the kind of love we all yearn for in our relationships. The book is full of these quips and awarenesses. As a reader, my eyes and ears are opened wider for moments like these in my own life.

The honest dialogue Thomas gives the reader is demonstrated throughout the book. A poignant passage is shared when she writes about her impression of the future, as believed when she was younger. she says she believed “the future was where all the good stuff was kept…. the future was a land of its own and we couldn’t wait to get there” (page 168). The author no longer believes that and knows that the path of life is where the action happens all along, entirely in each moment, along the way. The path of life, the power of now, the necessity of appreciating each moment in the present, is expressed so well with sensitive creativity by Thomas. Reading her memoir is a powerful reminder to take one day at a time and appreciate all the moments, both big and little. We never know what the future holds. As much as we’d like to be fortune-future tellers, we know that’s not the reality. This memoir is a solid reminder of this. Thomas has the ability to share her story both as a realist and an idealist. To sum it up, this memoir is powerful and will  help anyone put their own life in perspective. The author begins her conclusion with “Still, how great to be enjoying the ride, however uncertain the outcome. I’d like that. It’s what we’re all doing anyway, we just don’t know it” (page 170). On her relationship with her husband, I highly recommend savoring the final closing page of the memoir. It will bring tears to your eyes, a throb in your heart, and a hope for a relationship as full as theirs.

Happy Reading!

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Have you read a wonderful memoir lately? Tell me about it – I’d like to hear about other authors who are moving their readers on an emotional level.

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