Memoir

  • Strange Big Moon

    Joanne Kyger

    I got really excited when I first got this book and read this on the first page:

    Confession merely enables you to go on acting like a coward, behavior does not change. As self awareness then condones further actions of the same sort.

    At the time this resonated strongly, but over time I lost interest and the book wound up getting buried on a horizontal surface, half-read. Maybe I’ll come back to it sometime, as Kyger’s day-to-day reactions to life in Japan are definitely interesting on some level, including how it came to be that she married fellow Beat poet Gary Snyder upon their arrival. It might be that it was all too “daily life” for the time being....more

  • The Sweet Life in Paris

    David Lebovitz

    Only recently did I get with the program and start reading David Lebovitz’s blog — I’ve tried to make up for lost time by making his butterscotch pudding several times in the last few weeks. I assumed this book would basically be a printed “best of” the blog (which would further help me catch up on what I’ve been missing), but actually the essays are original to the book, though many of the topics were probably mentioned.. like, most of the list of 15 unlikeable things about Paris shows up in expanded form in the book.

    Following a similar approach as his blog, there’s a lot about food (including many recipes) and insider scoops on places to go...more

  • Reading Lolita in Tehran

    Azar Nafisi

    An intriguing concept, pairing a memoir about living through the Iranian Revolution and the resulting totalitarian regime with literary criticism of Western literature as an attempt to put it all into perspective. Unfortunately Nafisi’s effort fell flat to me, mostly because the writing feels too weak for the task.

    The structure of the book itself is confusing, as she shifts around just enough that it’s hard to follow the sequence of events, plus there are many little digressions within chapters that don’t seem to add to the story. Though the book is ostensibly centered around the reading group she begins with some students after leaving her teaching position at the University of Tehran when the veil is imposed on all female...more

  • Make it Bigger

    Paula Scher

    An attractive tight-back bound book with edge-stained pages, Make it Bigger is at its heart a survey of Scher’s work from the 70s through the 90s. Yet it feels more like a memoir or a study of process than just a portfolio of her work. I loved her discussion of discovering how to “sell down” designs at CBS Records (get the highest decision maker on your side and everyone else will fall in line). The various hierarchies of her different positions and the diagram of a meeting are some of my favorite parts of the book.

    I felt she was a little more humble than some in talking about her career — Chip Kidd often sounds a tad self-congratulatory in...more

  • Where I Was From

    Joan Didion

    Maybe I’m just a hater this week but I couldn’t find much to latch onto in Didion’s exploration of her history with California, including her pioneering ancestors’ treks to get there. Though it’s kind of a personal history placed within a larger context, even the parts about her family read strangely impersonal. It seems like each chapter starts out interesting and then gets laden down with too many facts without any real narrative structure. One begins looking at the painter Thomas Kincade — and I love her description of his paintings:

    A Kincade painting was typically rendered in slightly surreal pastels. It typically featured a cottage or a house of such insistent coziness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap

    ...more
  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

    Haruki Murakami

    I really loved this memoir, though I have to say that the translation probably isn’t the best. It’s hard for me to be entirely certain since I can’t read the original in Japanese, but I’m guessing it’s no coincidence that Philip Gabriel has translated two of my less favorite Murakami novels (Kafka on the Shore and Sputnik Sweetheart). I kept feeling like there were nuances that I was missing.

    Even still, I found this little memoir inspiring. It’s about running, but it’s also about writing. It’s about finding focus and keeping momentum. I kind of wanted to start running right when I finished it, even though I’ve never been able to figure out how to breathe right. I...more

  • Drops of this Story

    Suheir Hammad

    While I really like the concept of each piece of this book as drops that collectively represent all the challenges of her life as a Palestinian American, it felt like Hammad spent a little too much time talking about writing her story through all the different references to wetness and where it found her compared to actually threading the pieces together. It’s a rather short memoir, largely because she was so young when writing it, so the repetition becomes tiring rather than powerful. But there’s still a lot of strength in the individual parts, even if they don’t all come together so well.more

  • Slouching Towards Bethlehem

    Joan Didion

    Sometime in the spring, I was looking for used copies of Didion’s books and instead impulsively bought the Everyman’s Library volume of her collected nonfiction, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live. It’s taken only brief journeys off the shelf since it’s so darn unwieldy, and I tend to grab something else for on-the-go reading, get caught up in that, put this one back on the shelf, etc.

    I had only a passing awareness of Didion before The Year of Magical Thinking. As this is a collection of works written for different publications, it’s less of the “Book” Magical Thinking is. Yet the pieces sit together really well, or they are all interesting in their own right...more

  • My Life in France

    Julia Child

    I mentioned when I read Julie and Julia that I felt this book might be more up my alley. Indeed, I sped through this in a matter of days. While the book is focused on Julia and Paul’s time in Paris and France and later time spent in Provence, it oversees the entirety of their life together, with just enough background on the non-France parts to give context without detracting from that focus. There isn’t necessarily always a steady narrative flow—things, like her younger sister’s pregnancy for instance, are introduced, but then it isn’t until years later that the child is discussed again. But then seeing as her grandnephew, Alex Prud’homme, collected these stories through interviews and casual conversations...more

  • The Year of Magical Thinking

    Joan Didion

    Not having it in front of me now, I can’t skim through and remember the precise points that caught me when I was reading this. I can recall that I appreciated the elements that returned throughout the book, waves washing back over, appropriate for a memoir of grief. I poke through a few reviews to jog the memories, noticing that a few describe a lack of “inwardness” or distance from emotions; this one in particular critiques it as “oddly lacking.” I would argue it’s not odd at all. Didion herself describes the hospital social worker’s declaration of her as a “cool customer” with what I felt was full awareness of this distance.

    They took me into the curtained cubicle

    ...more

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