Memoirs have always held a special space for me. While I’m not a fan of kitschy reality shows, there is just something mesmerizing about getting tangled up in the beauty of a real person’s story in between the pages filled with crisp typesetting.
Every once in a while I stumble upon a truly special memoir, one whose words I read over and over again to soak up the details. Hippie Chick Coming of Age in the ’60s (She Writes Press, $16.95) by Ilene English easily belongs in this category.
I often claim that I grew up in the wrong decade, with a strange gravitational pull to earlier years, simpler times, the quintessential hippie decades. English’s book quickly transported me to the era I have daydreamed so much about experiencing on a deeply personal level.
Hippie Chick tells English’s colorful story of coming of age in the 1960s. Her writing is raw and uninhibited. It’s refreshing to read a memoir where it is clear the author did not hold back. The authenticity jumps through every chapter.
English’s story opens in her teen years, as she loses her mother during a critical point and all too early in her life. From there, it follows her adventures all across the country as she discovers love, loss, friendship, spiritual teachers — and LSD.
Her adventure eventually leads her to our very own city of Eugene, where English had a longstanding stained glass art booth at the Saturday Market and eventually became a manager of our beloved open air market, which is celebrating its 50th year.
English brings her story to life with treasured emotion. I often found myself chuckling and smiling at her words. A few sections brought tears to my eyes, and one chapter left me sobbing and reflecting on the realities of my own emotions and life choices. This emotional registration through words is a gift not found in just any book.
While the story itself is excellent in terms of entertainment — full of amazing experiences and a few hard times — most of all this is a memoir of growth. There are lessons to be learned from English, and she does not hold them back. Reading this transformed me in some way, and I feel I know English on a deeply profound level, even though I have yet to meet her in person.
This is a book you will not be able to put down, a warrior’s story that reminds us that no mater how twisted the path is, there will be bright times and — in the end — we will be OK. ν
You can catch a reading of Hippie Chick at Tsunami Books 2 pm Sunday, Oct. 13, where Ilene English will be reading excerpts from her memoir and signing copies.