10 Light-Your-Hair-on-Fire Memoirs

Unforgettable, classic, real-life stories. Read—and live the wiser for it.

Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father

Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father

352 pages; W.W. Norton
The most resonant memoirs tell more than the story of just one person; they also open a window on an entire society. In Fairyland, for example, Alysia Abbott examines her childhood with her single, openly bisexual father—a rare situation in the early 1970s—and, in doing so, paints a vivid portrait of the rise of gay culture that revolutionized their hometown of San Francisco—and, later, the whole country. The book begins with the death of Abbott's mother in a car accident. Steve assumes responsibility for his daughter and he is a creative, whimsical and intelligent parent. He writes comics and poetry; he adores his toddler and she adores him. But the two live a peripatetic existence, moving from apartment to apartment, sharing rooms with drag queens and boyfriends and roommates who feel totally comfortable dropping acid in front of a toddler. By her teenage years, Abbott is eager to start a more stable, so-called normal life. Only when her father is diagnosed with AIDS in the late 1980s is she forced to confront her life choices—and his. Forgoing judgment or blame, she recreates an era when a small subculture of American society, as Abbott describes, "believed...that rules of family needed to be shattered and rewritten." Today it seems as if that belief has, in many ways, become a reality. Reading Fairyland, you often feel as if you're looking back and looking forward at the same time, predicting what's to come in America as much as what happened. Think of it as an intelligent, intimate look at two people—and a time period known as the past-present.
— Leigh Newman