The genre of the memoir is particularly unique in how it grapples with the complexities of memory. Most memoirists’ central concern rests not with telling the truth as it happened but in detailing emotional depth and earnestness. Myriam Gurba’s 2017 memoir, Mean—which Alta’s California Book Club will discuss at its April 15 gathering—uses humor to relate moments of immense trauma and convey what it means to be a survivor of sexual violence.
Mean follows Gurba as she manages and lives with the wounds of her past. Gurba recounts the period between early childhood and young adulthood, when she came to terms with the centrality of race, sexuality, class, and misogyny in how girls and women structure their everyday lives. Just as the form of her story is not fixed—it is true crime, cultural criticism, poetry, queer coming-of-age—the tone of her narrative is also fluid. It’s hilarious, mournful, spirited, witty, irreverent.
“A stranger chose me to rape. There was no nepotism involved,” Gurba wrote derisively of her assault. “Stranger rape is like the Mona Lisa. It’s exquisite, timeless, and archetypal. It’s classic. I can’t help but think of it as the Coca-Cola of sex crimes.”
The delightful, surprising, and oftentimes unsettling hodgepodge of literary registers offers a multifaceted lens through which we, as readers, come to understand the complexities of Gurba’s life. There is no one way Gurba writes of her life because her life has not unfolded in a unilateral way. There are moments of joy, disconnection, meanness, niceness, love, hate, and pain, all of which make her who she is and allow us to understand how she relates to the world. Gurba’s memory, like her life’s story, is not static. Indeed, there is no singular way to remember something, and perhaps the appeal of Mean is that we might remember the same thing differently over time.
To join Alta’s California Book Club conversation with Gurba on April 15 about memory, meanness, and more, click here.
THE ORIGINAL ‘GIRL IN THE WELL’
In a book review, Heather Scott Partington considers how William Deverell’s Kathy Fiscus: A Tragedy That Transfixed the Nation revives a “forgotten story.” Alta
SEMINAL POEM FOUND
An early draft of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl has been recovered, and it offers us a refreshing perspective on the Beat poet. Guardian
We are sending a hearty congratulations to C Pam Zhang, author of How Much of These Hills Is Gold, for becoming the winner of the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award. American Academy of Arts and Letters
BOOKSTORE VS. PANDEMIC
Bay Area independent bookstores have been weathering the pandemic. Read more to learn how. Datebook San Francisco Chronicle
LISTEN TO CAROL EDGARIAN
The author of Vera joins podcast host Mitzi Rapkin to discuss how her obsession with the 1906 San Francisco earthquake led to her latest novel. First Draft
BIG TECH, BIG PROBLEMS
Tamara Kneese reviews Your Computer Is on Fire and calls it “the book tech critics and organizers have been waiting for.” Los Angeles Review of Books
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