02/14/2011 05:34 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Memoirs About Love: A Reading List

"You should write about love memoirs," a friend counseled.

It seemed a logical suggestion for the month of February, a time for romance and passion, so I began perusing my shelves of memoir, querying friends and browsing library and bookstore stacks. Finally I took to surfing the internet in what was proving a fruitless quest to locate a handful of memoirs that trace the story of romantic love.

I was slow to accept the reality of what I instinctively knew: Memoirists are not a crowd who write personal narratives of blissfully joyous times, of hearts and flowers and romantic love.


Because memoirists find their material in challenging times.


Because that's where the conflict is, and popular stories are about conflict -- overcoming the odds, coming to terms, figuring out what to do in the face of this, that, or the other thing.

Conflict is the very essence of story.

Even if the conflict a memoir explores is just a frame of mind that needs to be changed -- about childhood dreams, a heated youth, a tangled marriage -- our root material is how we as characters in our own stories finesse the surprises of life.

A lone narrative about romantic love, which can be one jet-fueled blast of hormones and adrenaline, is rarely textured enough material for the memoirist. (And as surely as I write this, many among you will be able to counter with examples of memoirs of romantic love. Please post your suggestions.)

I can report on one recently-released memoir that funnels us down the chute from single life through romance to marriage, Ree Drummond's The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels -- A Love Story published at the beginning of the month by William Morrow.

Ree's blog had readers returning for months to read serial installments of her tale of romantic love. Threaded through that blog story, of course, was conflict: between Ree's love for city and her love for the man, who lives in the country -- way out in the country!

But still, despite Ree's new book, memoirists most often turn to other loves for their material: family, home, food, pets, work, travels.

I list here a few love memoirs -- old and new -- that have captured the more nuanced shades of the people, places and things we humans love: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion; A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers; Marley & Me: Life and Love With the World's Worst Dog by John Grogran; Geography of the Heart by Fenton Johnson; Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov; Comfort me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table by Ruth Reichl; Making Toast: A Family Story by Roger Rosenblatt; The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls; Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams.