Weekly updates and mini reviews of two memoirs: Kiese Laymon’s Heavy and Manal al-Sharif’s Daring to Drive.
Although I didn’t have the chance to read Francisco Cantú’s The Line Becomes a River, I finished everything else on my list for the week. Terese Marie Mailhot’s Heart Berries and Manal al-Sharif’s Daring to Drive stood out as my favorite memoirs from the week, though I enjoyed Kiese Laymon’s Heavy.
Participating in Nonfiction November has been a helpful way to knock titles off my reading list and find so many others to add to it. My recommendations for fiction/nonfiction book pairings can be found here, and I’m looking forward to reading three books on Universal Basic Income (UBI) ahead of next week’s theme.
For now, my thoughts on Heavy and Daring to Drive can be found below.
Following the author’s life from his childhood in Jackson, Mississippi, to his teaching position at Vassar College, Kiese Laymon’s memoir considers what it means to grow up Black, male, and heavy in America. Laymon centers Heavy on his close bond with his single mother, and from that viewpoint he writes succinctly about body image, Blackness, masculinity, trauma, language, education, addiction, and so much more. The memoir is divided into four parts, each with four sections, all addressed to Laymon’s mother, a college professor who struggled to care for herself as she pushed her son to be his best. Laymon is talented at capturing a person’s strengths as well as their flaws, including his own, and his prose is rhythmic and full of memorable lines.
Daring to Drive follows Manal al-Sharif’s journey to becoming a leader of Women to Drive, a campaign protesting Saudi Arabia’s now-overturned ban on women driving. Much of the memoir describes al-Sharif’s working-class childhood in Mecca; the author sketches her family life, explains Saudi customs, and recounts how her generation was radicalized by a fundamentalist education instituted in the wake of tragedy. Later chapters reflect on the autonomy al-Sharif gained as one of the few women working at Aramco, an oil company whose workers live in a Westernized compound. Here the author also details her abusive first marriage and the workplace sexism she encountered. The memoir is bookended by sections describing the author’s arrest for “driving while female” and her turn toward activism. By the time she returns to her arrest, al-Sharif has contextualized Saudi society and made clear the significance of the Women to Drive movement. Al-Sharif writes precisely, with a matter-of-fact tone that registers but glosses over the pain of what she describes. Her perseverance is astounding, and her memoir’s well worth checking out.