One of the most well-written memoirs is by the granddaddy of memoirists, Tobias Wolff. His coming-of-age memoir, This Boy’s Life, is often held up as the gold standard of memoirs.
And it deserves this place, although I think it ought to share the position with some others ;).
But if you had never read a coming-of-age memoir, and you wanted to sample one, this book would be a good place to begin.
I read this book as a woman reading the story of what it’s like to be “this boy,” and I learned what it’s like to be the son of a single mother and to be a boy in the home of a man who isn’t his father. It’s the sort of book I can imagine suggesting teen boys read. But I think teen girls should read it, too. And women and men.
Toby grows up in a home with his mother and sometimes with a stepfather, but his knowledge of his father and older brother (who grows up with the father) is sketchy at best. He does spend time with his brother Geoffrey when he’s a little older, but they are more like acquaintances or remote cousins.
Interestingly, Geoffrey, the intellectual brother of Tobias, has written his own memoir of his childhood and their father: The Duke of Deception.
In Geoffrey’s book I learned of the extreme personality and antics of their con man father. But Geoffrey’s tone is different from that of Tobias who sounds fairly well-adjusted and humble. The older brother seems a bit elitist, the sort of person who is very well educated and doesn’t let others forget it. In this respect, he reflects their father’s influence on his own personality. In fact, it is up to the reader to decide at the end how much like the father is Geoffrey. Is this resemblance Geoffrey’s fear or is it reality?
While This Boy’s Life is the book read by so many, I think reading The Duke of Deception afterward makes for an enriching experience.