Memoir

  • 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 concise...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 a...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 last...more

  • 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 seemingly...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 to...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 her...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 was...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 solstice,...more

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