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150 of 162 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Happened After "The Liar's Club" and "Cherry"
Mary Karr is an awesome writer and "Lit" just became one of my top 50 books of all time. The first 100+ pages are harrowing as Ms. Karr describes her long self-destructive slide into alcoholism (just like her parents). These pages are hard to take, just like watching a car wreck in slow motion. However her brutal honesty and her gallows humor about her road to redemption...
Published on October 24, 2009 by C. Hutton

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123 of 143 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I can't *believe* I'm saying this...
...but I didn't love this book. I am a big fan of her other books. I've read Liar's Club so many times it's all soft and worn down at the corners. In fact, if anyone else had written Lit, I would probably give it 4 stars because it's beautifully written and full of fantastic insights, both large and small.

Lit blends a recovery story with a religious conversion...
Published on November 11, 2009 by porkchop


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150 of 162 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Happened After "The Liar's Club" and "Cherry", October 24, 2009
This review is from: Lit: A Memoir (Hardcover)
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Mary Karr is an awesome writer and "Lit" just became one of my top 50 books of all time. The first 100+ pages are harrowing as Ms. Karr describes her long self-destructive slide into alcoholism (just like her parents). These pages are hard to take, just like watching a car wreck in slow motion. However her brutal honesty and her gallows humor about her road to redemption and sobriety save this memoir from being another AA recovery tale. She writes of her self-centered, off-center mother and a childhood from hell with the ring of truth. The heart of the memoir is family : grieving for her father (who, she perceived to win "the better parent prize" because he didn't stand over her with a butcher knife), figuring out her relationship with her now sober but still off the wall mother, and exploring the past with her big sister. This book is not for everyone because Ms. Karr's early life was messy and uncomfortable. But she writes like she is having a conversation with the reader and she is a master story-teller.
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72 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Memoir I've Read Since "The Liar's Club", October 26, 2009
This review is from: Lit: A Memoir (Hardcover)
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I have to admit that Ms. Karr's "The Liars' Club: A Memoir" is one of my favorite books of all time. Memoirs are one of my favorite genres and being able to see behind the scenes in the life of a poet/writer is intriguing. I enjoyed reading "Cherry" and was thrilled when I saw that Ms. Karr had "Lit" coming out, taking up where "Cherry" left off. What I enjoyed most about this book was her lyrical, moving language and her fierce honesty. This couldn't have been an easy book to write because she holds nothing back and is brutally candid about her alcoholism and how it almost destroyed her, but more importantly, how she overcame her inner demons to find sobriety and success. She has several stories about her experiences in AA that had me either rolling with laughter or crying. The story about the woman, the frozen turkey and the vodka was side-splitting funny. I won't share the details because you need to buy the book and read it for yourself. It's overflowing with wit, humor, love, angst and wisdom.

Each chapter begins with a quote, most from poems, (and a few from some literary masterpieces) and I've discovered some amazing new poets from them. I've highlighted and dog-eared pages to refer back to in nearly every chapter. I like that she included a 'Contents' page and titled each of the 45 short chapters. The book is divided into four major sections:

I. Escape From The Tropic of Squalor
II. Flashdance
III. Self Help
IV. Being Who You Are Is Not A Disorder

Ultimately, this is a dazzling tale of redemption, liberation, grace and survival. By all accounts, Mary Karr should not have survived her hardscrabble life, but thank God she did because we are all richer for her life and her stories.

I also highly recommend her poetry, "Viper Rum (Poets, Penguin)", Sinners Welcome: Poems", "Abacus", and "The Devil's Tour".

Thank you, Ms. Karr, from the bottom of my bookaholic, poet-heart, for having the guts to share your incredible, extraordinary journey with us.
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123 of 143 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I can't *believe* I'm saying this..., November 11, 2009
By 
porkchop (Richmond, VA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Lit: A Memoir (Hardcover)
...but I didn't love this book. I am a big fan of her other books. I've read Liar's Club so many times it's all soft and worn down at the corners. In fact, if anyone else had written Lit, I would probably give it 4 stars because it's beautifully written and full of fantastic insights, both large and small.

Lit blends a recovery story with a religious conversion experience, against the background of the rest of her life (family, writing, academics). I wasn't right there with her all the time. The story was so permeated with alcoholism that everything else got cut off at the knees. I wanted more slices of life to let me know what she was missing, more humor to frame the sadness, more high times, more *characters*. Her husband Warren wasn't half the person he should have been. She didn't write about him with her usual fearlessness--I don't know why. If she was protecting him as a person, she cheated him as a character.

The connection between recovery and faith was a little forced. She's on such firm ground with vice and self-indulgence...I don't think she was able to downshift far enough to churn through her own naivete about grace. The work of explaining it showed, and for the last 100 pages she didn't seem to have her usual grip on what she was saying. The fact of that was touching in its own way, but there wasn't enough substance to her conversion.

There was plenty of honesty here (not surprising) but not enough truth.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The book is nothing short of brilliant. Mary's voice rings true. Bravo!, November 16, 2009
This review is from: Lit: A Memoir (Hardcover)
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Mary Karr doesn't beat around the bush. Her autobiographies glow with firecracker brilliance, her voice a refreshingly honest, gritty and irreverent scrutiny of herself and those around her. I loved her first book, "The Liar's Club" which was about her childhood growing up hardscrabble Texas. I also loved her second book, "Cherry", which was about her teenage years. And now, with the publication of "Lit", she has really come into her own as a mature voice to be reckoned with.

Yes, Mary has grown up. She still has the sharp tongue and unique way of phrasing things that sometimes make me laugh out loud and other times make me cringe. And now, in her third book, "Lit", she has added a maturity to her stories that is so honest and real that I feel that I know her completely. In this book we see her edging on self destruction. Her family traumas catch up with her and she resorts to alcohol.

Mary is a poet. That's why she went to college. She struggled. She had almost no money. And she had a lot of catching up to do to study the great poets who she had never heard of. But she persevered, graduated and married a young man from a wealthy New England family. The young couple lived poor though because he refused to take money from his family, and so their life was a struggle, something she was used to. She worked at a college teaching poetry and did some freelance writing and she and her husband were content if not deliriously happy. But then she got pregnant and everything changed. In Mary's own unique voice we meet her darling son, first as an infant and then as he starts to grow. She's feeling pressure. She tries her best to be a good mother. But her past haunts her and she turns to alcohol to get her through her days.

Her descriptions of her addiction made me cringe -- hiding bottles, lying to her husband, driving drunk and nearly getting killed. And then she tries to stop. There are so many attempts. So many failures. So many times her trips to Alcoholics Anonymous just didn't work. There was struggle after struggle. I've read other books about alcoholics but I can honestly say that I have never really understood it until I read Mary's words. She brought me into her life and I saw it through her eyes. And, as much as I could, I felt it too.

The book is nothing short of brilliant. All her irreverence and unique sense of humor is there. She doesn't shirk from the truth. And even though her eventual redemption is not a path I personally would have chosen, it is perfectly appropriate for her. I applaud her for writing this book. And I applaud her for sharing her life with her readers.

Bravo Mary!
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not so much, December 25, 2009
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This review is from: Lit: A Memoir (Hardcover)
I don't get it. This happens to me often with movies but rarely with books. Something gets amazing reviews. I read/see it. And then I sit there scratching my head saying to myself "what is everyone else thinking?" and flip back to the reviews to actually try to figure it out.

My issues with Lit were this:

1. The sentences seemed overly crafted and forced. It lacked a naturalness. I had to work to get in the flow. And there were many sentences I read that seemed to be all about the language at the sacrifice of the content, if that makes any sense.

2. The pacing made very little sense to me. She seems to like colorful characters and scenes with dialogue. This type of thing works well in memoirs like Tobias Wolff's (one of her mentors) This Boy's Life: A Memoir and perhaps in her other memoirs but in a conversion memoir it is much more about the internal than the external. Therefore, there were things like only two paragraphs on her fall from new sobriety to a suicide attempt and a whole relationship and failed engagement but then a whole chapter where she was in the psychiatric hospital. These major events would be glossed over; the colorful events would be fleshed out.

3. The two conversions, that of drunkenness to sobriety, and that of non-believer to believer, were dealt with superficially at best. It is a monumental task to try to put into language any dealings with the spiritual and I commend anyone who tries. I am afraid she does not succeed.

4. There are events in the book that seem to be for the benefit of readers of her other memoirs (I am not one of these people). I didn't get their inclusion. They seemed unnecessary and out of place.

5. And finally, if you are going to go for it and write a memoir, I think you have to go all the way, no half-ways. Another reviewer here said something about how she treated her husband and other characters so flatly or something to that extent. Basically there was nothing offensive in their treatment. I mean she divorces the man. He couldn't have been all good or neutral right? But it isn't only the characters where she holds back, it is the institutions as well. I felt there was a lot of gloss over her depiction of Alcoholics Anonymous, I understand gratitude over an organization getting you sober, but it can't be all good all the time. Her basic complaint was I don't get the higher power, I'm so intellectual, which is the sort of cliché speech you hear at every meeting-- not that it is wrong or not her experience, just that there has to be more. It made me not identify with her. I felt like she was holding back everywhere on every page. I am not sure if it was because she was afraid of offending or because she was more concerned with structure and style than substance and feeling that she seemed to write with such timidity but I wish she had just went for it.

There are much better recovery memoirs-- Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story. I had high hopes for this one. But I think I'm just the odd one out so maybe you should just check it out for yourself because she seems to have a lot of raving fans. I might just not have gotten it.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fun writing style, but rather shallow, April 16, 2011
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This review is from: Lit: A Memoir (P.S.) (Paperback)
Mary Karr has a charming, light style of writing and a good grasp of the dramatic. Unfortunately, she never seems to gain any real insight into her issues in this memoir-- I found her descriptions of her substance abuse to be pretty superficial and her conversion to Catholicism even more so. Clearly, she is desperate for the certainty that the faith provides, but she never seems to see this about herself. Instead, she presents herself as converted by repeated proofs of prayer-That is she asks and god delivers- in the form of cars, cash and success. Her need to uncritically reduce faith to some sort of pray order delivery service- both demeans Catholicism and makes her come off as infantile.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars All Style, No Substance, January 3, 2012
This review is from: Lit: A Memoir (P.S.) (Paperback)
I'm a sucker for memoirs of self-destruction. Whether by booze, drugs, or mental illness, chronicles of despair and endurance of lives hardly worth surviving are more often compelling than not. This wasn't one of them.

As another reviewer mentioned, she wrote this for the money. It shows. The lack of connection with a difficult life comes through in every well crafted, stylistic, and hollow sentence. Virtually every line, and certainly every paragraph, was like watching a little girl put her hands over her ears and pirouette her way through chaos and carnage without any thought as to why. And, virtually every sentence was peppered with language and metaphors that did not infuse them with emotion but drained them of any. This pretentious writing at its best. Even her "letter" to her son felt detached, as if she wanted to convey some deep feelings and instead sounded like someone who dreamed of Anne Sexton, drowned in thesaurus and, as a result, never said anything.

I just finished Driving With Dead People and, while not about alcoholism, it's a powerful and gripping memoir that works from front to back. The strange thing is, I think Mary Karr is probably a better writer. The problem is, she knows it. A good memoir is a story that needs to be told. Lit is a story that didn't need to be told, it was for bills needed to be paid. Financial needs are powerful but they are insufficient motivation for quality writing.

Memoirs are often criticized for being too sentimental. Lit has the opposite problem. It feels like it was told, with forced color, by an indifferent witness to a difficult life. As anyone with a brain knows, it's way too easy to obscure yourself and your emotions through language, self-deprecation, and wit. I wish she'd written something else for the money and waited to write this one when she actually wanted to. It would have made a huge difference.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vital and Dark, December 1, 2009
This review is from: Lit: A Memoir (Hardcover)
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Despite owning The Liars' Club, I never read it or Cherry. But a friend insisted that Mary Karr was the bomb diggity, so I grabbed Lit.

Karr really is the bomb diggity. This book explodes into your consciousness and you can't stop reading, except for momentary pauses to observe how perfect a sentence or insight is. Then you dive right back in to the gold-smeared rubble that is Lit.

Lit has many meanings--lit, as in literary, lit as in literature, lit as in on fire, lit as in brightened and lit as in buzzed or drunk. This is quite fitting--as this memoir carries us through Ms. Karr's literary career as a poet, author, and teacher of literature, as well as her marriage (and its demise), her alcoholism, and the kindling of her spiritual flame.

Despite not having read her previous books, I didn't feel that I was unable to follow Lit--there is a section where she plays catch-up for those of us who hadn't read The Liars' Club, but it comes in the middle of the book and is relatively short. Hence, it shouldn't annoy those who've come prepared nor confuse those of us who have two more books to read before we sleep.

At turns humorous and sarcastic and biting and vulnerable and terrifying, Lit has lit a fire under me to read Karr's other books. I know that I will re-read this one again and again.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Honest, October 28, 2009
This review is from: Lit: A Memoir (Hardcover)
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I read The Liar's Club and Cherry several years ago and loved them both. When I saw that Mary Karr was continuing to tell her story with a new memoir, I just had to read it. Karr writes with an honesty that I only wish I could match, and reminds us all of what it means to be human, to make mistakes, and to blame yourself for things you can't change.

Her newest memoir, Lit, focuses mainly on her drinking and how she started drinking in the first place. It describes her struggle to become a published writer. Her mother was an alcoholic and her childhood was poor and unstable. Lit explores her late teens and college years, her early career, and her marriage, as well as motherhood, sisterhood, and being a daughter. Karr deals with the guilt she experienced as a result of not caring for her father as much as she would have liked when he was living out his last years. She deals with the disgust she feels toward her mother, and also the determination she felt to not become like her mother. If anything, this book proves that no matter how much you try to change where you came from, you are always the same person deep down inside.

If you enjoyed The Liar's Club and Cherry, you will enjoy Lit. I would recommend reading them first, but it's not necessary to enjoy this book. I had read them so long ago that I couldn't remember much from them anyway.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful Memoir ... Follow-Up to "Liar's Club", December 1, 2009
By 
Jennifer "Jenners" (Sicklerville, NJ, United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Lit: A Memoir (Hardcover)
Book Overview

Lit is Mary Karr's third memoir. Her first, The Liar's Club, chronicled her toxic childhood in Texas and her volatile relationship with her artistic, raging, alcoholic mother and sad, distant, drunken father. Her second memoir, Cherry, covered her adolescence and sexual coming-of-age. In her third memoir, she writes about her adult life--college, career, marriage and motherhood--and her struggle to overcome her childhood wounds and alcoholism.

The book opens with a letter to her son Dev and two short vignettes that set the framework for the story to come. In one of the vignettes, Karr describes herself as a young mother too drunk to see straight, shivering outside on the small porch while chain-smoking and drinking whiskey and promising to change the burnt-out light bulb on the porch tomorrow. Yet when tomorrow comes, the mother finds herself once again shivering in the night air, drinking, smoking and promising once again to change the light bulb. In this one short chapter, Karr sets the tone for the entire memoir.

The narrative starts right before Karr's college years and progresses chronologically through her life--her struggle to be a poet and writer, her failed marriage to another poet who grew up in a wealthy but emotionally distant family, her struggles with motherhood, her years of therapy and attempts to come to terms with each of her parents, her desperate struggle with alcohol and then her long and painful process to become sober--which included a stop in a mental hospital. But strip away the rest of it, and this books is really about an alcoholic's struggle to become sober and finding God along the way. It is also about Karr's attempts to make peace with her mother, whose love she never felt sure of and whose personality shaped so much of what she ended up being as a mother and a woman.

My Thoughts

The Liar's Club was one of the first memoirs I ever read and pretty much set the bar for all memoirs I read afterward. The book is powerful and made me realize what memoirs could be. Although she provides a sort of coda at the end of The Liar's Club, you still end up wondering how she survived her childhood and want to know more about the family's fate. This book provides those answers and is a must read for anyone who read The Liar's Club.

What makes Mary Karr's memoirs stand out from the pack is her writing. She has a true gift for language and a bluntness that serves her well. She is exceedingly honest in her self-assessment and spares herself nothing. Yet she manages to convey all the ugliness of her life in this beautiful prose that left me marveling. Here are just a few of the passages that I marked while reading.

On her feelings about the power of poetry:

Such a small, pure object a poem could be, made of nothing but air, a tiny string of letters, maybe small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. But it could blow everybody's head off.

On describing how she slowly began to see the power of God in her life:

This is what an unbeliever might call self-hypnosis; a believer might say it's the presence of God. Let's call it a draw and concede that the process of listing my good fortune stopped my scrambling fear, and in relinquishing that, some solid platform slid under me.

On beginning to write again after a long absence:

The writing has come back--with a polished quiet around it. Somehow I feel freer to fail. But the work mortifies me. Previously I'd seen the poems as adorable offspring, but they've become the most pathetic bunch of little bow-legged, snaggle-toothed pinheads imaginable. Even the book I published with such pride a few years before--eager to foist it on anybody who'd read it--now seems egregiously dull, sophomoric, phony. If the pages were big enough, I might as well use them to wrap fish.

I think at its core, this book is about Mary Karr's struggle to become sober and accept God in her life. Throughout the book--as her drinking leads to more and more problems--she tries to run from the demons of her past. Yet when she is finally scared into trying to stop drinking, she fights the help of a Higher Power tooth and nail. As she begrudgingly begins to accept what her sober friends tell her--that accepting God (in whatever way you perceive God) is the only way to true sobriety and peace--she takes you step by step through her conversion process and it is incredibly revealing and powerful. More than any other book I've read, I think this book probably makes the best case for the power of prayer and why God's presence can make a difference in a life.

My Final Recommendation

If you've read The Liar's Club, you really must read this book to get the rest of Mary Karr's story and how her relationship with her mother resolves itself. (The chapter at the end of the book where she moves her elderly mother out of her falling down house and into a condominium was an incredibly powerful piece of writing.)

If you've struggled with drinking and been distrustful of the role that prayer and a Higher Power can play in getting sober, this book is a must read as it presents the unvarnished truth about Mary Karr's struggle to get sober and her initial distrust and eventual acceptance of the role of God in her life. Readers will appreciate her skepticism because it makes her eventual conversion all the more believable and powerful.

If you enjoy reading memoirs, Mary Karr has both the life and the writing skills to make a top-notch memoir that is both literary and down-to-earth. This isn't the easiest book to read as the subject matter is often sad and disturbing; yet, at the same time, it is often filled with humor and a "humanness" that speaks to us all. Although it took me a while to read (as I often needed a break from it due to the often depressing story), I felt it was well worth my time, and it left me thinking about spirituality and the power of prayer.
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Lit: A Memoir (P.S.)
Lit: A Memoir (P.S.) by Mary Karr (Paperback - June 29, 2010)
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