I learned how to be a girl from Mary Karr.

moonrise-kingdom-04When I was 12, I stole Mary Karr’s first memoir, The Liars’ Club from my dad’s office and read it all the way through in a day or two. I remember rushing through it, gobbling it up like Melville with his oranges, hungry for every detail, thrilled by every disaster. I read it under the covers late at night as my sister slept in our shared room, snoring her little-girl snores and muttering in her sleep. I hated that I was the older sister—kid sisters, it seemed to me, were always more fun. Karr certainly was. Younger sisters had someone to teach them how to be a girl, someone to emulate. I had only books and a nerdy older brother, who taught me how to make chain mail, but not how to apply eyeliner (hence my early forays into makeup were rather unfortunate).

Some might say I was too young to be reading Liars’ Club (like my dad, for instance) but I think I read it at exactly the right time. That book gave me permission to be a little bit bad. And her next memoir, Cherry, taught how to be a teenager, how to be a tough little beast who takes a beating and gets right back up.

Karr continues to teach me how to live through her graceless mistakes and graceful language. Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Karr in The Paris Review: 

You have constantly to question, Is this fair? No life is all bleak. Even in Primo Levi’s camp, there were small sources of hope: you got on the good work detail, or you got on the right soup line. That’s what’s so gorgeous about humanity. It doesn’t matter how bleak our daily lives are, we still fight for the light. I think that’s our divinity. We lean into love, even in the most hideous circumstances. We manage to hope.

But we remember the bleakness.

That’s mostly what we remember.

I’ve read this interview several times over, and each time, I learn something about being in the world and writing to it.

Anyway, if you haven’t read Liars’ Club or Cherry, they’re both wonderful books. Cherry is the story of her high school years. I read it when I was in high school myself and it was so refreshing and real. It felt like someone I knew was talking to me, telling me that it’s all going to be okay. I wish schools taught Cherry instead of Catcher in the Rye. Boys that age could use a little female perspective once in a while.


2 thoughts on “I learned how to be a girl from Mary Karr.

  1. Good stuff, Katy! I’ve been following Mary Karr’s work every since Liar’s Club came out and I put it together that she was the same kid I went to college with so many years ago. She’s a great writer and is STILL trouble! Your review of her new book has only made me want to read it more.

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