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Editorial Reviews

Mary Karr’s courageous, enthralling memoir Lit chronicles in unsparing detail her struggle to accept her addiction to alcohol and her truly inspiring resurrection. But like her other best-selling memoir, The Liar’s Club, Karr expertly avoids treading into maudlin, movie-of-the-week territory. That’s because of her keen eye for detail, sharp wit, and expertly-written sentences - all of which sparkle like diamonds in Karr’s no-nonsense performance of her own carefully-chosen words.

Hearing an author read her work always adds a special thrill to the book, especially in this case. Karr is not just writing about a crucial time in her life, a time when she found her voice as a writer, got married, started a family, and everything seemed to be going her way…until her life unraveled. In Lit, Karr confides her inner-most thoughts and fears about actions and events most people would probably never confess to their parish priest. That might explain why her voice sometimes sounds annoyed or irritated. It’s like she can’t believe she actually did the things she did, looking back now as someone sober and stable.

Credit Karr for also dispelling the myth perpetuated by many mainstream movies (sorry, Crazy Heart) that most addicts magically achieve sobriety and never look back. Karr recounts with rigorous honesty one relapse after another and her serious suicidal thoughts after being sober for months and winning a prestigious literary prize. It sounds illogical, but, as Karr explains, “If you live in the dark a long time and the sun comes out, you do not cross into it whistling.” Reading lines like this, Karr reveals a sweet, tender side, often concealed beneath her brassy, Texas twang.

But no matter the tone, Karr’s pitch-perfect choice of words and her sharpshooter’s eye for detail will dazzle anyone who appreciates the fine art of outstanding writing. Karr’s sure-handed voice — both literally and figuratively — enables Lit to transcend the factual boundaries of confessional memoirs and enter the pantheon of first-class literature. Thank you, Mary Karr, for having the courage and the craft to share with us your truly inspiring story, one spectacular sentence at a time. —Ken Ross

Publisher's Summary

Lit follows Mary Karr's descent into the inferno of alcoholism and madness - and her astonishing resurrection. Karr's longing for a solid family seems secure when her marriage to a handsome, Shakespeare-quoting poet produces a son they adore. But she can't outrun her apocalyptic past. She drinks herself into the same numbness that nearly devoured her charismatic but troubled mother, reaching the brink of suicide. A hair-raising stint in "The Mental Marriott" awakens her to the possibility of joy, and leads her to an unlikely faith.

Lit is about getting drunk and getting sober; becoming a mother by letting go of a mother; learning to write by learning to live. It is a truly electrifying story of how to grow up - as only Mary Karr can tell it.

©2009 Mary Karr (P)2010 HarperCollins Publishers

Critic Reviews

"Astonishing....One of the most dazzling and moving memoirs to come along in years." (Michiko Kakutani, New York Times)

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  • Overall


As a memoir, this ranks up there with the best. The author successfully navigates the parallel paths of intellectual elitism, drugs, sobriety, family, relationships, sex, religion, financial dysfunction and everything in between. Her writing is smart and not always direct, and her language is surgically precise. This is not a sparse, lean style - it's more complex and indirect and you have to pay attention. Things are more rhythmic and measured as the book progresses, but the beginning chapters are not at all linear. Well worth the effort to stay the course, however.

Mary Karr as a narrator sounds rather harsh at the start - but after a few chapters one gets accustomed to the "lived in" voice. It's not a nice, crisp and correct "designer" narration - but it's emotionally riveting and very well matched to the material.

I am only giving this book 4 stars because of the lengthy epigraphs at the start of each chapter. Most of them are annoyingly long and oblique, and I started resenting these passages for taking up so much space in the book. When you like a listen, every minute counts, and I didn't think the quotes did anything to enhance the story. But, bottom line, this was excellent!

23 of 23 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Kim
  • Spokane, WA, United States
  • 03-22-10

Finally! One for the "Win" column

I have made some really poor choices since joining the huge club of audiophiles. I've downloaded some real stinkers and mediocre titles that made me groan with regret within the first 3 chapters - then force myself to listen to the rest either because I wanted to punish myself or I wanted to hold out hope that it would get better if I just kept going. This book goes in the "win" column - fantastic flow and descriptive enough to really take hold of the imagination without going overboard. The last 4 chapters fell out of the groove a bit - but that doesn't cancel out the enjoyment I experienced listening to the rest. The language is sharp and shocking in some sections - which I really appreciate because it's real and I'm no stranger to sarcasm, satire, and cynical rants - I guffawed glee several times. Thank you Mary Karr - you freakin' rule

23 of 24 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

More than just an alcoholic tale

I loved Mary Karr's other two memoirs (which I read in print)and was so excited to see this one out and in her own voice. She explores this time using small moments which she captures so well- Her prose are poetically descriptive. She is brutally honest about her alcoholism without dwelling so much on the gore of her drinking. I found myself identifying with her as a modern mother and wife but you don't have to either to appreciate this story. She does talk about finding god which I thought would be annoying but really wasn't.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Sally
  • woodbridge, CT, USA
  • 04-18-10

Honest, raw, funny, sad

Mary Karr is as wonderful a narrator as she is a writer. I haven't read the first two installments of her memoirs (though I will now) but it didn't matter in terms of "getting" her, her life, her past, etc. This is an honest, raw, fairly gritty memoir. Karr has a great sense of humor and unflinching honesty as a writer and memoirist. I was enthralled.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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This was my favorite listen of Karr's books

I've read a few times that it's a bad idea for authors to narrate their own books, and I have to say now that I've listened to all 3 of Karr's, I think that's mostly right. I first read Liar's Club and then listened to it, to Cherry and then Lit. The first was a hard one to listen to, but the second was better and the third was best of all. I hope now that Karr is really comfortable at narration -- and really good at it -- that she will do some more. She is one of my all-time favorite authors.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Morro
  • Winona, MN, United States
  • 01-04-11

Recovery from Alcoholism Story - Not Much More

I read Mary Karr's "Cherry" and thought it quite good - witty, sad, interesting, a page turner. So I decided to get this one. I didn't read the description because I was fairly sure I would like anything she wrote. Well, she has a wonderful way with words, but unless you are personally in recovery or perhaps a current drinker who is flirting with the idea of quitting, the book is not really all that interesting. Halfway through I was beginning to wonder how much longer I could bear to listen to her endless self-pity, self-criticism, and whinging about what a bad mother she was to her toddler. The market is already quite saturated (pun intended) with these womens' memoirs about getting sober - think "Turnabout" as a classic (and better) example, or Susan Powter's book about her own struggle with the demon drink. This one doesn't seem to offer anything those don't, save for a beautiful or creative turn of phrase here and there.

The best part of the book, in my opinion, is the author's digressions about her wacky mother. Drinking problems are a dime-a-dozen, but not everyone has a senior citizen mother who would use the phrase "I'm locked and loaded for bear," to her boyfriend's threatening babymama. That, and others, just cracked me right up. Ms. Karr is also queen of the poetic simile; alas, none spring to mind at the moment, and although I haven't read any of her poetry, I am sure it is quite good.

Overall, however, the story is tiresome: fortunate, brilliant woman who has managed to scrabble her way out of her "trailer park existence" (her words) drinks too much and finally gets sober and starts believing in god. Blech. Also, with my apologies to the author, I don't think she was the best choice to read this extended essay. Her voice drips with bitterness, sarcasm, scorn, and contempt, even when she is talking about the NICE things that happened to her. It's hard to listen to after a while.

Get this from your local library; don't waste your credits.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Unbelievablely moving

Listening to this, I came to live in the author's struggles and triumphs. It had me in tears at the end. I wanted it to go on and on. I recommend it in the strongest terms possible.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Rule #1: Authors should not narrate their own work

Mary Karr's is not an unfamiliar nor unsympathetic story: a poet/wife/mother/alcoholic struggles with her disease while trying to manage her life. Often witty, sometimes downright funny, and certainly well written, the volume suffers from lack of editing; we get anecdote after anecdote of Karr getting drunk, managing to find her way home and berating herself. Rinse and Repeat. It gets tiring and tiresome. In terms of listening, I stand by my conviction that it is the VERY rare author who reads his/her work well. The narration is unpolished and at times halting. If you must read this book, I'd buy it in paper.

8 of 11 people found this review helpful

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I absolutely loved this book. I could listen to it a million times. It wormed its way into my heart.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Entertaining and Engaging Story

What made the experience of listening to Lit the most enjoyable?

Hearing the book being read by the author added so much more to the enjoyment of learning this story. Mary Karr is very entertaining and I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Definitely! However, I did not have the opportunity. I listen to books most nights when doing chores, etc. I found myself anxiously awaiting the end of the day so I could begin listening to "Lit" again. Excellent story!

Any additional comments?

I enjoyed this book so much that I purchased the Kindle version as well. I have not read Mary Karr's first two books but definitely will in the future. She has some great interviews on YouTube. If you are the least bit undecided about purchasing this book, go to YouTube and read some of her introductions to the book. You will definitely be hooked.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful