Tag Archives: Autobiography of a Face

A Responsive Reader

In my last post I shared what I learned from Lucy Grealy‘s Autobiography of a FaceReading that book was not one of my best “moments.”

Not long after I read that book and experienced the feeling that I didn’t completely connect, I read a companion work. Truth & Beauty, by Ann Patchett, is a memoir reflecting on the writer’s friendship with Lucy Grealy.

I fell into this book completely.  No reservations at all. And it did make me wonder if Grealy’s very difficult personality (personality disorder? and addictions) weren’t something that I picked up on and made me wary when I read Autobiography of a Face. It will be hard to go back and re-read that book as if I don’t know the extent of her “use and abuse” of Patchett.

Then, again, this book is Patchett’s version. Grealy is gone and can’t comment on it. She can’t write a “response memoir.” So why am I so willing to believe Patchett’s version, but hold myself at a distance from Grealy’s version of what is, in essence, her self?

Oh, this memoir business is a tough business.

What did I learn from this book? That the hard truth can be presented in beauty if it is accompanied by compassion.


Here’s a thought. I suspect I didn’t like Grealy from reading her book. The question would be: why not? Maybe it was her lack of compassion for others. I just didn’t see any at all. Would that be because she was born with a personality incapable of feeling compassion? Or would it be a learned response to life, based on her difficulties?

It’s easy to see why Patchett and Grealy were friends. Patchett had enough compassion for them both.


Filed under Book Review, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing

An Unfeeling Reader

Lucy Grealy‘s Autobiography of a Face is on most short lists of best memoirs. Grealy became modestly famous from her story at the time it was published.

While I can’t say I didn’t enjoy reading it or sympathize with the girl who suffered so much, it didn’t affect me–reach me or touch me–the way it seems to affect most readers. I slightly pulled back from Grealy at times as I read the book. That’s kind of horrifying for me to think about because what happens to the young Grealy in the story is tragic: Grealy had cancer as a child and lost part of her jaw to the disease, growing up with a disfigured face.

Photo by Wikipedia

Photo by Wikipedia

As I try to look through the book to give you an idea of why I felt lukewarm, I can’t find any clues–although it seems to me that the world through her eyes didn’t seem like a world I know or a way that I connect with the world. Skimming the book, I realize I need to read it again. Maybe it was me. I want to be fair. I want to be accurate. I’ll toss it on the pile of unread books!

What I learned from this book: sometimes you need to read a book more than once to understand how and why you respond the way you do. I want to learn more about what makes a book engaging or important to me.

Has anyone else read this book? If so, were you completely drawn in?

Stay tuned for Wednesday’s post where I share what I learned from Ann Patchett’s book about her friendship with Lucy Grealy!


Filed under Book Review, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing