Book Review: Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr

lit definition

  • n.
    literature, as a school subject. :
    I’m flunking English lit again.
  • mod.
    and lit up. drunk. :
    Todd was lit up like a Christmas tree at our office party. , He’s lit and can’t drive home.
  • Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions by Richard A. Spears.Fourth Edition.

    Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr is an interesting amalgamation of these two definitions.  Mary Karr the Peck Professor of Literature at Syracuse Universary. And once upon a time, she liked to get “lit” up, drunk.  And right away, she comes off as one of the most unreliable narrators I’ve ever met.

    Anyway I tell this story is a lie, so I ask you to disconnect the devices in your head that repeats at intervals how ancient and addled I am.  It’s true that – at fifty to your twenty – my brain is dimmer.  Your engine of recall is way superior, as you’ve often pointed out.  From Lit: A Memoir, page 1.

    This is from the prologue, which is a letter to her son Dev.  And

    Maybe by telling you my story, you can better tell yours, which is the only wa to get home.  In which I mean to get free of us. From Lit: A Memoir, page 6.

    Karr starts her story with her seventeenth year.  She left home to wander aimlessly with a bunch of stoner surfers, work crappy jobs, and pretty much loose herself in a confused state of blah.  After an encounter with “Sam-u-el, his name was- short version Sam” the scary, philosophy spouting, possible harmless/possible would-be rapist, drug-addled man Karr accepts a ride from while hitchhiking, she decides to get herself, NO, NOT CLEAN, but an education.  She moves to Minneapolis and begins college, where she is neither particularly promising or a waste of everyone’s time.  Luckily for her, she meets a professor who takes an interest in her mind and wants to help her.  Because girlfriend seriously needs help.

    Karr is the daughter of alcoholics.  The love of alcohol is encoded in her DNA.  While drinking with her daddy (and I’m pretty sure it was at a time when it was not legal for her to do so) she says:

    The bottle gleamed in the air between us.  I took the whiskey, planning a courtesy sip.  But the aroma stopped me just as my tongue touched the glass mouth.  The warm silk flowered in my mouth and down my gullet, after which a warm blue flame of pleasure roared back up my spine.  A poof of sequins went sparkling through my middle. From Lit: A Memoir, Page 43.

    For me, when reading books like this, I already have an idea of how it ends.  Yes, it’s a look at Karr’s decent into alcoholism and madness.  Obviously, she’s written a book about is, so it seems she’s probably recovered. Yet my friends, the trip is worth the $14.99 paperback price and then some.  I hope from these small snippets I have given you, you can see what an amazing writer Karr is.  It was apparent immediately to me that Karr is a poet.  Her words evoke her fear, her confusion, her hope, her doubt, her madness, and her love.  Another taste:

    I keep getting drunk.  There’s not more interesting way to say it.  Only drunk does the volume crank down.  Liquor no longer lets me bullship myself that I’m taller, faster, funnier.  Instead, it shrinks me to a plodding zombie state in which one day smudges into every other-it blurs time. From Lit: A Memoir, page 171.


    Out of the kitchen holding a crockery mug comes a lady with cropped dark hair and eyes the color of fresh-dug earth.  Liz has the frank, inquisitive gaze of a trained scientist, but softer in its aspect.  The clubhouse/college-dorm feel of this place suggests a camaraderie lacking with my writer pals. From Lit: Page 241.

    Literally I can turn to any page in the book and find a tiny gem.  The language is exquisite.  I adore Karr’s dark humor.  Her biting wit and sarcasm reminds me of myself… which actually may be disconcerting.  Watching Karr exorcise the demons of drink, drugs, Mother, Father, Husband, Son, and Self is fascinating.  If you enjoy such intimate looks at life, addiction, family and resurrection of self, Mary Karr is the way to go.  You won’t regret it.

    Lit: A Memoir
    Mary Karr
    Category: Nonfiction/Autobiography
    Published by: Harper Perennial
    Format: Paperback
    On Sale: 01 July 2010
    ISBN: 9780060596996

    Purchase from:

    The Book Depository | IndieBound | Powell’s Books

    Please see other stops on this tour.
    Many thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for my copy of this book.

    I am a Book Depository, Powells, and Indie Bound Affiliate and will make a very small profit
    if you buy a book through one of my links.

    8 thoughts on “Book Review: Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr

    1. This was my first experience with Karr, but I loved her writing, and the story. Like you, I can relate to the sarcasm and dark humor…it's something my family is particularly good at, especially in bad times.

    2. I haven't read Lit yet, but I also enjoyed Karr's writing and dark humor in Cherry. She's certainly led an interesting and rather self-destructive life. I'm interested to read this and find out how she turns out!


    3. I can't imagine how I missed out on this tour–I've been looking forward to this book for so long. Sounds like the wait will be well worth the wait!

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