Tag Archives: The Tender Bar

The Magic of Family Ties and Memoir Writing

My five-year-old daughter was very proud of this portrait she created of our extended family.  “Make four copies and give them to Aunt Lisa, Uncle Mike, Uncle Matt and Grandpa,” she instructed me earlier this week while putting her crayons away. I chuckle now when I think of this exchange, and today I share her creation with my siblings — at least digitally.

Three of us with Dad…the growing-up years.

Family ties are a magical thing…if you are lucky, you can depend on your family in good times and bad. I’ve been very fortunate in that department; I consider my brothers and sister much more than siblings, but close confidantes. Even though my brothers live in other states, and I wish we could be together more often, I know they’ve always got my back.

Virtually all books have something to say about the powerful connection of family in shaping who we become or — in some cases — don’t become. Writing down childhood memories creates a wonderful  legacy to leave the next generation, and even those who faced painful childhoods can often heal themselves and others through their stories.

In an interview with The Economist, Secretary of the Royal Society of Literature and Literary Editor of Intelligent Life Maggie Ferguson said the best memoirs pull you in from the beginning.  “The disaster with memoir is when it sells sentiment. I think it’s a disaster if you are settling scores with other people. There has to be generous root.”

Here are two memoirs — one published back in 2005 and one coming out next week — worth a closer look:

The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer — a poignant memoir about a boy striving to become a man, and his romance with a bar. A national bestseller, The Tender Bar was named one of the New York Times’ 100 Most Notable Books of 2005.

Blue Nights by Joan Didion — to be released May 29th – is described as “a work of stunning frankness about losing a daughter.” This book already is getting significant acclaim as a New York Times Notable Book.  Didion shares memories from own childhood and married life, as she reflects on her daughter’s life and on her role as a parent. She grapples with the candid questions that all parents face.

 

Masterful Storytelling – Open by Andre Agassi

Good biographies chronicle a person’s life, serving as honest portraits that take you through the lows and the highs of a life well lived. 

Great biographies transport you there — moment by moment — making you laugh, smile and at times tear up as you experience the triumphs and tribulations of the person’s life.

In the case of Open: An Autobiography, by Andre Agassi, you experience it all — from Andre’s early years under the tutelage of his tennis-obsessed father in Las Vegas, to his rebellious teen years spent at junior tournaments and doing time at The Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, to his bumpy ride to tennis greatness, and finally, to his notable post-tennis career as a husband, father and education crusader.

You don’t have to be a tennis fan to appreciate Andre’s struggles with the physical and mental demons that dogged him as an athlete (the opening of the book is him waking up, disoriented and in unspeakable back pain, in a New York City hotel bed the morning of his last U.S. Open match in 2006.)

J.R. and Andre. Photo by:
New York Times

The book is a compelling read — filled with emotion and honesty, vivid personalities, lessons of forgiveness and acceptance and finding yourself.  It also is incredibly well written — the narrative is at times inspired, a credit to Andre’s collaborator J.R. Moehringer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Andre discovered and courted Moehringer for his book project after reading his memoir, The Tender Bar, about growing up fatherless in Manhasset, New York.

Andre winning the 1999 French Open.

One of the more dramatic parts in Open was Andre’s nail-biting final against Andrei Medvedev to capture the 1999 French Open. Andre recalls his lackluster playing early in the match and Brad Gilbert’s meltdown in the locker room during a rain delay. The experience jars Andre to get his game back, enabling a come-from-behind victory.  I love the minute-by-minute recreation of the match, where the changing weather and Andre’s mood are masterfully interwoven.

Here are a few of my favorite excerpts of Open. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

He steps up, well inside the baseline, sending me a message that he anticipates a softie, and when he gets hold of it he’s going to ram it down my throat. He wears a look on his face that unmistakeably says: Go ahead, bitch. Be aggressive. I dare you. 

This moment is the crucial test for both of us. This is the turning point in the match, perhaps in both of our lives. It’s a test of wills, of heart, of manhood.

the pivotal moment in the third set of the 1999 French Open final against Medvedev

She smiles. Off she goes. I go tearing after her. It feels as if I’ve been chasing her all my life, and now I’m literally chasing her. At first it’s all I can do to keep pace, but near the finish line I close the gap. She reaches the red balloon two lengths ahead of me. She turns, and peals of her laughter carry back to me like streamers on the wind.
I’ve never been so happy to lose.

— racing Stefi on a San Diego beach early in their courtship

It’s early evening. The sun is just disappearing behind the masts and sails of the boats at the dock. Perry and I are early, Brad is right on time. I’d forgotten how distinctive looking he is. Dark, rugged, he’s certainly handsome, but not classically so. His features aren’t chiseled; they look molded. I can’t shake the idea that Brad looks like Early Man, that he has just jumped from a time machine, slightly out of breath from discovering fire. Maybe it’s all his hair that makes me think this. His head, arms, biceps, shoulders, face are covered with black hair. Brad has so much hair, I’m both horrified and jealous. His eyebrows alone are fascinating. I think: I could make a beautiful toupee out of just that left eyebrow.

— the first time Andre and Brad Gilbert meet and begin working together