Good Minds Suggest—E.L. Doctorow's Favorite Books About Memory

Posted by Goodreads on January 6, 2014
E.L. Doctorow takes readers on a mind-bending trip in his latest work, Andrew's Brain. The decidedly unreliable narrator, Andrew, talks to an unnamed listener in a disjointed stream of consciousness as he recounts a lifetime of memories, full of incredulous events of great tragedy and chaos. Where does the truth lie and what can the traumatized Andrew really remember? Doctorow has often employed a creative approach to the facts in his imaginative interpretations of history, including the novels Ragtime (also a Broadway musical), Billy Bathgate, The March, and Homer & Langley. The National Book Award winner shares his favorite books of fiction and nonfiction that grapple with the slippery concept of memory.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
"Hemingway's chip-on-the-shoulder, sometimes nasty (as with his gossip about Scott Fitzgerald) memories of his life as a young writer in 1920s Paris."

Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
"The master looking back, wresting meanings out of his hard-lived, unwillingly expatriate, literary, and lepidopterist life."

The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald
"Sebald narrates, in the restrained fictive voice of himself, the lives of presumed relatives and others doomed one way or another by the Holocaust."

Patrimony by Philip Roth
"Roth writes fearlessly and lovingly in this sad but magnificently clear-eyed recollection of his dying father."

The Mind of a Mnemonist by Alexander R. Luria
"A Russian psychologist's account of a man who was unable to forget anything—who visualized every sound and was plagued by his astounding hypermnesic capacity. This should be read with the great Jorge Luis Borges's story Funes the Memorius, about a similarly affected young man who has to sit in the dark to reduce the unforgettable sights and sounds pouring into his brain."

Comments Showing 1-15 of 15 (15 new)

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message 1: by jordan (new)

jordan Doctorow is an American treasure, on the short list of the great living writers who deserve the Nobel but who the Academy will continue to tragically overlook.

message 2: by Vicky (new)

Vicky Great list. What about some women writers and more diversity in the list? Any ideas from others.

message 3: by jordan (new)

jordan Vicky: several come to mind, but I really enjoyed Karen Fowler's "We are All Completely Beside Ourselves," my vote for one of the best novels of last year.

message 4: by Vicky (new)

Vicky Thanks, Jordan. I'm very interested in how writers tackle the memory theme. So I will definitely add this to my list.

message 5: by Liz (new)

Liz Bertsch Not one woman writer. Sad.

message 6: by Itala T. (new)

Itala T. Primo Levi, The Periodic Table, and Irene Nemerovsky should be included.Surprised Doctorwo does not mention any women.

message 7: by Mario (new)

Mario Hurtado Hector Abad, Oblivion: A Memoir, is one of the best books I've read in the last couple of years. It is extremely well-written, heartfelt and deals with, among other things, how to live with the memory of many young man's most important relationship: the one with his father. This was a best seller in Latin America and the translation to English I've heard is very good.

message 8: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Welver Wow! Not a single woman in a list of five (count 'em, 5) books! Shocking. But what's worse is that there's not a single Chinese author in the list. I mean, don't they have one of the world's largest populations and they've been writing, like, forever? But what really upsets me is that there's no gay writer from Hood River, Oregon. Though I also have to say that not including a single elephant (I mean, haven't some produced Futuristic Word Paintings?), creatures with fantastic memories, is simply mind-boggling. Come on, Doctorow, jeez, get with it!

message 9: by Liz (new)

Liz Bertsch Oh Sarah, you are so very clever.

message 10: by Jeremy (new)

Jeremy Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists. A Straits Chinese retired judge, a former prisoner in a Japanese slave-labor camp, strives to record how she helped a master Japanese gardener make a garden in memory of her sister, who died in the camp. as her memory slips away. Compelling and unforgettable.

message 11: by Dwan (new)

Dwan Grey No female authors...but this, I'm sure, is Doctorow's very short list of great books of memory..and its not his "politically correct" list...but HIS list...if you respect him as the brilliant author that he is...then you must respect his list...

message 12: by jordan (new)

jordan More interesting to me is the absence of the most famous 20th century writer on memory, Proust. Of course discussing MP can often sound like bragging.

message 13: by Penny Palmer (new)

Penny Palmer Sarah wrote: "Wow! Not a single woman in a list of five (count 'em, 5) books! Shocking. But what's worse is that there's not a single Chinese author in the list. I mean, don't they have one of the world's larges..."

I agree, Sarah. They asked the guy for 5 recommendations. He gave them over to us. Do we really expect him to check them for political correctness first? Would anyone complain if a female author named five of her favorites and neglected to name one written by a white male?

message 14: by Iscribbler (new)

Iscribbler Getting back to the original question about other books about memory - Lisa Genova's Still Alice is wonderful. Perhaps no Nabokov, but definitely a book that sparks conversation about memory and self.

message 15: by Rory (new)

Rory Carr Sarah wrote: "Wow! Not a single woman in a list of five (count 'em, 5) books! Shocking. But what's worse is that there's not a single Chinese author in the list. I mean, don't they have one of the world's larges..."

Oh, come on, Sarah.Doctorow has chosen five of his favourite books on memory, if he had instead been obliged to make a list that did not offend any reader by way of excluding female or Chinese writers then he may yet have offended Irish transexuals by excluding writers from that group.

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