• 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 that...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 where

  • Julie and Julia

    Julie Powell

    I was fairly excited about this book when I first heard about it. I never read the blog that started it all, but I went through a month or two of entries on a slow day at work. It seemed pretty entertaining. I have a certain affinity for Julia Child since we shared the same birthday; I like the idea of projects like making all the recipes in one cookbook; plus the book has a cute cover.

    Unfortunately my expectations floundered early on, as Julie Powell delves in further than just Julia Child and her groundbreaking cookbook; more often it’s a memoir of a frustrated, going-on-30 secretary at a government agency in New York City, including sidetracks...more

  • Another Bullshit Night in Suck City

    Nick Flynn

    A bristling memoir about Flynn growing up in Scituate, MA, his mother struggling to keep it all together and his father acting as a heavy, yet absent, presence. Like both his parents, Flynn learns to cope with substances and he stays in Boston, where he knows his father is or tends to return, even though he desires no relationship or contact with him. He begins working at a homeless shelter almost randomly. Eventually his father is evicted and arrives at the shelter against his son’s wishes. He struggles to come to terms with his father, with his dreams of being a writer, of his Great American Novel, as he begins to be recognized for his poetry.

    It’s possible this story...more

  • Everyday Matters

    Danny Gregory

    Having fell into the habit of stopping by Danny Gregory’s site over the past year after first hearing about this book, it seemed time to check out the book. Part sketchbook and part memoir, the book explores the aftermath of his wife’s subway accident that left her paralyzed and him struggling to reevaluate inside a new existence, partially by teaching himself how to draw. Sometimes there isn’t much cohesion between the memoir bits about dealing with his bouts of existential angst and the sketchbook bits of various scenes around New York City — sometimes it feels like there should be more of a narrative as well, but the art is beautiful....more

  • In the Shadow of No Towers

    Art Spiegelman

    I love Spiegelman’s Maus books, so I was interested in his response to 9/11. The book is very tall and printed on board. The pages were originally published as installments in several periodicals, but it was pretty disappointing to read it all at once. It is repetitive and lacks an overall narrative arc. Near the end it goes off on a more involved tangent of recalling old comic characters (which was present from the beginning). But I think it’s to be expected, as Spiegelman was making these pages in the midst of everything, and it was so impossible to see the bigger picture most times. And a lot of people burnt out and sought distractions in all sorts of...more

  • Bill Peet: an Autobiography

    Bill Peet

    One of my favorite books as a kid was Jennifer and Josephine, and though I never read any other of Peet’s many children’s books, I considered him a favorite writer. I spotted this book at the library — an illustrated autobiography! His insight into the early years of the Disney animated features and Walt Disney’s personality are some of the best parts of the book. It is also inspiring how long he strived towards writing books for children until finally, slowly, figuring it out. He obviously was a pretty down-to-earth guy with an ironic sense of humor and sentimentality, so it’s no wonder his books are still relevant today....more

  • One Writer’s Beginnings

    Eudora Welty

    For some reason I had the expectation that this book was more specifically about writing, but instead it is a loosely sketched memoir of how honing in on her senses led her to be a writer with a lot of family history. It was far more interesting as a memoir than as any kind of guidance for fiction writing.more