Writer’s Picks: Richard Glover’s Top Ten Memoirs About Dysfunctional Families

Writer’s Picks: Richard Glover’s Top Ten Memoirs About Dysfunctional Families


Author, radio personality and columnist Richard Glover had an unusual upbringing and his portrayal of his eccentric parents couldn’t be stranger if he made it up. Flesh Wounds is a highly entertaining memoir that manages to be both laugh-out-loud-funny and deeply moving. Richard tells Better Reading about 10 of his favourite books, also featuring dysfunctional families:

Maggie and Me by Damian Barr. A young boy, who already knows he’s gay, is growing up in a Scottish slum. Everyone in the household is drunk, violent and unemployed. Then, watching the TV, tiny Damian sees Margaret Thatcher emerging from the smoke and mayhem of the IRA’s bombing of the 1984 Tory conference. Maggie doesn’t have a hair out of place. This little abused boy, sitting on his piss-stinking couch, thinks: “If only she could come here, she’d sort this lot out….” “Maggie and Me” is so fresh, unlikely and hilarious, I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t love it.

The Anti-Cool Girl by Rosie Waterland. Rosie’s book came out at the same time as mine, so my wife read it straight after reading “Flesh Wounds”. Afterwards, she picked up my book and said: “You really are just a middle-class whinger”. Ok, it was said with a jokey smile, but it’s a fair point. Rosie’s parents were so much worse than mine – jaw-droppingly awful – yet it’s brilliant how Rosie shrugs off any urge for self pity. At 29, she’s already one of Australia’s funniest writers: read her now before she’s unspeakably famous.

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. The phenomenal success of “Angela’s Ashes” has been blamed for the rise of what is derisively called “the misery memoir”. This book, it’s true, describes how Frank’s childhood home floods every time it rains, how the father drinks every night until he drops, and how no child in the street has shoes. But for all the misery and poverty, what’s really on offer is an Irish shovelful of poetry, love and laughter.

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. This is the book I re-read immediately before starting on “Flesh Wounds”. I hoped, I suppose, to inhale some of Durrell’s lightness of touch. His family is not that weird, but he captures their eccentricities so beautifully, as well as the passing comedy of life in Corfu in the 1930s. I read this book when I was 15 and again just recently and still have the same view: “mesmerising”.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. After losing both parents to cancer within a month, twenty-something Dave becomes father to his much younger brother. Don’t be put off by the jokey title, this book is a heartfelt and funny celebration of young men and the way their raucous humour can be deeply layered with genuine emotion.  I guarantee you will love these two boys-on-the-way-to-be-men.

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs. A psychotic mother, a young man trying to understand his sexuality, and a fill-in father who believes he can find meaning in studying the poo of family members. The spirit of book is caught perfectly by the title: it’s fast, dangerous and exuberant.

The Wah-Wah Diaries by Richard E Grant. This book (and the film it describes) had quite an impact on me. Grant’s story started in Swaziland; mine began in Papua New Guinea. Yet both stories have an alcoholic dad, a British expat community living it up among what they called “the natives”, and outbursts of both sex and violence. The book is partly about filmmaking, but it’s also a vivid slice of colonial family life – similar, bizarrely, whether it was Africa or north of Australia.

Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee. In Flesh Wounds I talk about how many people miss out on the love they expect – the love of a mother, father, spouse or child – and yet how most of us survive by finding the love we need elsewhere. In Cider with Rosie, Laurie’s father abandons his family, but Laurie’s mother shines: her frisks and gaieties, her fits of screams, her love of man, her hysterical rages, her justice towards each of us children – all these rode my Mother and sat on her shoulders like a roosting of ravens and doves. This is the childhood memoir of one of the great (somewhat unacknowledged) poets of the twentieth century.

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. Caitlin’s book is a memoir of growing up poor in a crowded
council house in the English town of Wolverhampton. It’s not only gritty and funny, it also finds time to remind us how the life of a poor kid can be changed by the presence of a local library. You will laugh your guts out.

glover,richardWhy Be Happy When You Can Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson. Winterson, who is now one of Britain’s most acclaimed novelists, was adopted into a family of quite mad evangelicals – mad to the extent that her adoptive mother formed the view that her newly-delivered daughter was the devil. Eventually Winterson rebelled, telling her mother she was gay and was going to leave home to find happiness. Her mother’s response forms the title of the book. Read it and you’ll be really quite happy.


To find our more about Richard Glover’s Flesh Wounds or purchase a copy click here or see our recent interview with Richard Glover here.

Click on the images below to find out more about these titles.

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  1. Rosemary Seam says:

    Have read and loved several of these, will look out for the others…..is it a co-incidence that so many of these authors are British….?? Any book recommended by Richard would be worth checking out…..(loved his….)

  2. Sharon Rundle says:

    You missed “44 A Tale of Survival” by Graham Rundle. Heart-wrenching, yet also with such sweet moments and some very funny observations as well.” I’m biased of course but thousands have bought the book and found it a great read.
    Otherwise, an excellent list, Richard.

  3. Roanna Gonsalves says:

    Some interesting books on this list, thank you. Graham Rundle’s book 44 would have been a great addition, it is a very important story, beautifully told.

  4. Roy Wells says:

    Growing up in a dysfunctional can be tough. It is even tougher when you have two dysfunctional families with stepparents. I had an evil stepmom and a parade of clowns for stepdads. I always tried to think of ways to get rid of my stepmom but I never acted on any of my plans. I found that it was therapeutic to write stories that would lampoon them. I have a new story called My Psycho Family! It is free if you have a Kindle and Amazon Prime. I hope you enjoy it.