Memoir

  • The Long Goodbye

    Meghan O’Rourke

    When I read the excerpt from this book in The New Yorker a couple years ago, I wasn’t particularly drawn to read the whole thing. But a copy showed up in a giveaway pile at work, and I wound up turning to it between library holds. I thought I’d put it aside when something else came along but instead wound up determined to finish, staying up late to get to the end.

    O’Rourke is primarily a poet, though I feel that comes through in her prose in relatively small doses. The early chapters read almost like journal entries: the writing is raw both in the sense that her emotions are on full display and that the text is presented...more

  • Calling Dr. Laura

    Nicole Georges

    It’s that time of year when I tend to think of Portland and my time living there — now five years distant; so it was fitting that Nicole’s new book came out right now. I read it in one snowy evening, finding many old familiars of that city and of the people. Nicole is someone I knew there, through mutual friends as well as crossing paths at the IPRC, but not incredibly well. I wasn’t aware of most of the story she captures in this graphic memoir, but I suspect that my relative closeness has a lot to do with my enjoyment of the book.

    After being told that her father died when she was two, a slightly ironic visit...more

  • Wild

    Cheryl Strayed

    Like many people, I first came across Cheryl Strayed through her column Dear Sugar on the Rumpus, though her identity was still a secret at that point. Sugar’s advice is so unsparingly raw, honest, and compassionate — I think I read all the entries the first time I came across one of them. One day at a bookstore when I couldn’t find Wild on the shelf, I skimmed through Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of the Sugar letters in book form, only to find skimming through that everything was too familiar for the fresh read I was looking for at the time.

    Strayed’s decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail came after several tough years centered around the death of...more

  • Giving up the Ghost

    Eric Nuzum

    The story behind this book is a bit more interesting that its execution. In his adolescence, Eric Nuzum was haunted by a recurring dream of a girl in a blue dress screaming at him in gibberish, which lead him to numb himself with various substances and fear what may be lurking behind closed doors. Another girl, Laura, in his waking life was crucial in him managing to overcome this downward spiral. But she died tragically, leaving him with a slightly more tangible ghost to contend with. Twenty years later, he revisits these events and physically visits some of the most haunted sites in the US to try to determine if ghosts really exist.

    It’s unclear if his only problem...more

  • Swimming Studies

    Leanne Shapton

    The best adjective I’ve seen so far to describe this book is “pointillistic,” as it was described in The New York Times review. Invariably “quietly” will qualify other descriptors, which rightfully suggests it’s a tricky book to recommend to others, especially if you don’t know how it fits in with their usual reading choices. I recently found myself in conversation with someone who revealed her history of competitive swimming and I asked if she’d read this book, then obviously failed to capture its interest potential in one sentence. But we continued talking about swimming and as someone else joined the conversation, the new person immediately asked, “Oh, have you read Swimming Studies?” Between the two of us, we were able...more

  • Blue Nights

    Joan Didion

    A few months ago I saw a reference to Didion’s essay “Goodbye to All That” and read it again and remembered that I still hadn’t read this semi-follow-up to The Year of Magical Thinking about her daughter Quintana’s death. While the first book is primarily about grief, this one is focused more on mortality, and, more specifically, Didion facing hers without her daughter. It’s a much sadder book to me, especially the time Didion spends documenting her increasing frailty and difficulty with writing. It’s not too hard to imagine that this could be her last book.

    I was happy to read this book when I did, as the title refers to the twilights that happen around the summer...more

  • The Principles of Uncertainty

    Maira Kalman

    Maybe you saw these when they were posted as Maira Kalman’s blog on nytimes.com and now it’s only available as this book, which is not such a bad thing. It’s kind of a comic of paintings while also somewhat of a general elegy on the finiteness of life. People who have died are a recurring theme; even some of the people she mentions visiting back in 2006 have since passed on — Louise Bourgeois, Helen Levitt. But her sense of humor particularly tickles me. I read half of it before bed and the rest with breakfast.more

  • Just Kids

    Patti Smith

    A memoir for anyone who gets a little romantic about New York City in the 1960s and 1970s, Smith sketches out her early years in the city and her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. Early on they were lovers, but for most of their time together (and up until Mapplethorpe’s death from AIDS in 1989), they had what could be called an artistic partnership. They shared their early, struggling years, both knowing they wanted to be artists but not knowing exactly how to go about it. The process of their experimentations and insertion of themselves into the art scene as well as the battle to just stay afloat with very little during a time of growing crime make up most...more

  • Plainwater

    Anne Carson

    After Anne Carson won me over at her Nox reading, I finally put this collection of poetry and essays on hold. It seems like several people have noted it as their favorite volume of hers. Right now I was drawn more to her essays than the various sections of verse, especially the two pilgrammages within “The Anthropology of Water.” But there was also this afterword to “Canicula di Anna”:

    After a story is told there are some moments of silence. Then words begin again. Because you would always like to know a little more. Not exactly more story. Not necessarily, on the other hand, an exegesis. Just something to go on with. After all, stories end but you have

    ...more
  • Elegy for Iris

    John Bayley

    I never saw the movie version of Bayley’s recollections of his life with Iris Murdoch. Just like Strange Big Moon, I got halfway through this book before I just didn’t want to pick it up again. In this case, I think only have read Murdoch’s novel The Sea, The Sea so got lost in talk about specific works, many of which was not about that one that I’ve read. But also it’s just exceptionally sad in a way that doesn’t pair well with the dreary end of winter. As much as I hate to say it, I’d almost rather watch the movie because then it will only take me an hour and a half....more

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