Memoir

  • Born Round

    Frank Bruni

    Frank Bruni is best known for the five years he spent as restaurant critic for The New York Times, but while this memoir is very food-focused, only a sliver of it is about his tenure in that position and funny stories of his challenges in dining incognito. Though he opens with the first phone call he received about the job, he quickly contextualizes the significance for him in considering the position by relating another phone call with a colleague who asks him bluntly, “Are you sure that you’re willing to sacrifice the good shape you’ve gotten into?” After a lifelong struggle with overeating and discomfort with his body size, Bruni had only recently found some balance while working as the...more

  • Still Life with Oysters and Lemon

    Mark Doty

    Most often classified as a memoir, Still Life with Oysters and Lemon feels like a novella-length personal essay that starts with Mark Doty’s interest in 17th century Dutch still-life paintings and moves through an elegiac exploration of objects and intimacy. It’s surprisingly expansive for its length, and Doty manages to suggest a lot of detail in his descriptions and narratives. Writing about paintings seems at first like it could be a terrible idea — something along the lines of dancing about architecture — yet here it leads to graceful, compelling prose.

    The most beautiful still lifes are never pristine, and herein lies one of their secrets. The lemon has been half-peeled, the wine tasted, the bread broken; the oysters have been shucked, part

    ...more
  • Commentary

    Marcelle Sauvageot

    Some ballads begin as your letter does: ‘You, whom I’ve loved so much…’ This past tense, with the present still resounding so close, is as sad as the ends of parties, when the lights are turned off and you remain alone, watching the couples go off into the dark streets. It’s over: nothing else is to be expected, and yet you stay there indefinitely, knowing that nothing more will happen. You have notes like a guitar’s; at times, like a chorus that repeats: ‘I could not have given you happiness.’ It’s an old song from long ago, like a dried flower…Does the past become an old thing so quickly?

    Sauvageot wrote Commentary in a sanitarium not long before her death...more

  • A Field Guide to Getting Lost

    Rebecca Solnit

    I last read this book nearly six and a half years ago; when my friend Eleanor brought it up recently to share a quote from it someone had passed on to her, it felt like perfect time for a re-read. In those six odd years, I’ve read several of Solnit’s books and have come to appreciate her particular way of getting at a subject, where bits and pieces of anecdotes and research fuse together into a nuanced perspective. Much of her work is grounded in history and various arenas of activism, so this feels very personal and nostalgic in comparison, yet I think it has more of those elements than her more recent book, The Faraway Nearby....more

  • The Faraway Nearby

    Rebecca Solnit

    I expect even some of the most stalwart of Solnit’s fans would not consider this her best book, as it seems a bit scattered, though it’s similar in general feel to A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Its “Russian-doll” structure functions less like burrowing deeper into the complexities of a difficult period of her life and more like the tide retreating away from solid ground only to flow back in. Yet for me the timing of this book was uncanny, as I kept finding topical moments throughout. Solnit has a lot to say about telling our stories, of the vagaries of illness, of the possibilities of empathy, of the slow pace of change, and of the isolated time she...more

  • Joseph Anton

    Salman Rushdie

    Recounting nine years of living in protective custody after the Ayatollah Khomeini sentenced him to death, Rushdie’s memoir is befittingly hefty at over 630 pages. About three-quarters of the way into it, the tediousness of his ongoing fight to live freely comes through all too clear. In addition to describing the particulars of living constantly with a team of security personnel and the various meetings to try to force Iran to overturn the fatwa, Rushdie also covers general life stories including his several marriages and infidelities as well as his writing process and various parties he attended and celebrities he met, despite the restrictions to his personal freedom.

    Though I’ve only read Midnight’s Children years and years ago,...more

  • The Gentrification of the Mind

    Sarah Schulman

    As with most historical traumas of abuse, the perpetrators — the state, our families, the media, private industry — have generally pretended that the murder and cultural destruction of AIDS, created by their neglect, never took place. They pretend that there was nothing they could have done, and that no survivors or witnesses are walking around today with anything to resolve. They probably believe, as they are pretending, that the loss of those individuals has had no impact on our society, and that the abandonment and subsequent alienation of a people and culture does not matter.

    This memoir of the AIDS crisis and analysis of its parallels to gentrification might be the best book of the year for me due to its...more

  • On Writing

    Stephen King

    It’s been a while since I read a book focused on writing. Many writing books are useful for thinking about creativity in general or for applying to any type of writing, but this one is geared toward fiction, at least in the specifically advising sections that are technically the core of the book. I actually skipped much of those, as I didn’t find much of the advice helpful and appreciated the memoir parts more. Both the beginning section of how King became a writer and the “On Living” postscript that tells the tale of getting hit by a car while he was working on this book are more interesting to me than a few paragraphs about how adverbs should...more

  • Grace

    Grace Coddington

    As someone who first learned of Grace Coddington from her feisty presence in The September Issue, I felt appropriately chided by the introduction where Coddington declares it “the movie that is the only reason anyone has ever heard of me.” That claim is mostly untrue in terms of the fashion world, but then the average person who saw that documentary is unaware of who edits the spreads in fashion magazines. Her battles with Vogue’s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour make a good axis of drama for the film, yet the suggested animosity between them seems to be largely in the editing. Though if there are any dishy tidbits, Coddington is too loyal to mention them here.

    Her life story weaves in...more

  • Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

    Jeanette Winterson

    I loved Winterson’s first, semi-autobiographical novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit when I first read it as a teenager. Her slightly fictionalized Jeanette struggles through her religious upbringing with her crazy adoptive mother and a difficult coming-out experience. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is partially the memoir version of the same story, up until the point where Winterson jumps ahead twenty-five years to when she began to search for her birth mother.

    I felt some worry through the first part as, even with a memoir perspective rooted in Winterson’s career as a writer, it reminded me so much of Oranges that nothing really felt new, even though it’s been many years now since I...more

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