We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
(Vintage, 2017, 288 pages)
So many people highlighted this collection of essays as one of their top humorous reads that I gravitated toward it after realizing I needed a break from all the negativity in the news. Irby is a talented essayist who is able to tackle topics you wouldn’t expect with an openness and sense of humor you have to appreciate. We explore her romantic history, her family life, job performance, her “hate” relationship with her cat, her physical limitations… there’s a lot of sass in this book and there is a bitter edge to her humor that you need to kind of gird yourself for.
It wasn’t the laugh-out-loud book I was hoping for, but I certainly had more than a few audible chuckles while reading. Irby doesn’t keep much back so if you decide to grab this well-blurbed book (praise from the likes of: Roxane Gay, Lindy West, Jenny Lawson, Rainbow Rowell) know that the content and language is in R-rated territory 😉
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
(Graywolf Press, 2015, 160 pages)
This unique “memoir” focusing on the relationship between Nelson and her partner was beautifully written. This is so much more than a memoir because Nelson is also deconstructing things like gender, love, family, and identity. Interspersed throughout her own story Nelson refers to and quotes a number of other intellectuals. The breadth of her knowledge is impressive and when she references these thinkers she does so by utilizing the margins of the book. Initially I was confused by this formatting, but then I acclimated and appreciated the fact that it helped keep the body of the text clean.
The Argonauts isn’t the kind of book you can just breeze through because there is so much to unpack but it’s well worth your time to pick it up.
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee
(Mariner Books, 2018, 288 pages)
I grabbed this book as soon as I saw it sitting on the “New Books” shelf at my public library. I feel like there was so much buzz about this book prior to its publication that I couldn’t not pick it up. This collection of essays reads as more of a memoir since it essentially chronicles Chee’s path to becoming a writer. The essays are beautifully written and I fully understand why there was so much pre-pub buzz.
The end of the Goodreads summary reads, “By turns commanding, heartbreaking, and wry, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel asks questions about how we create ourselves in life and in art, and how to fight when our dearest truths are under attack.” I’d definitely recommend this, especially for those who love literary fiction and enjoy reading memoirs by writers.
Madison Park: A Place of Hope by Eric L. Motley
(Zondervan, 2017, 304 pages)
Madison Park: A Place of Hope is a memoir written by Eric L. Motley. I really enjoyed learning about the author’s life. He grew up in Madison Park in Alabama. Madison Park is a rural southern community whose founding father and namesake is Eli Madison. Eric came from humble beginnings and was raised by his grandparents.
Eric’s grandparents and some of the residents of the community did everything possible so that he could get a college education. From Eric’s grandparents buying books for him to learn from to neighbors dropping off classical music records for him to listen to, Eric had many people in the community, church, and school impart many lessons and wisdom. Below is the description from Goodreads:
Welcome to Madison Park, a small community in Alabama founded by freed slaves in 1880. And meet Eric Motley, a native son who came of age in this remarkable place where constant lessons in self-determination, hope, and unceasing belief in the American dream taught him everything he needed for his journey to the Oval Office as a Special Assistant to President George W. Bush.
Eric grew up among people whose belief was to “give” and never turn away from your neighbor’s need. There was Aunt Shine, the goodly matriarch who cared so much about young Motley’s schooling that she would stand up in a crowded church and announce Eric’s progress or his shortcomings. There was Old Man Salery, who secretly siphoned gasoline from his beat-up car into the Motley’s tank at night. There were Motley’s grandparents, who bought books for Eric they couldn’t afford, spending the last of their seed money. And there was Reverend Brinkley, a man of enormous faith and simple living. It was said that whenever the Reverend came your way, light abounded. Life in Madison Park wasn’t always easy or fair, and Motley reveals personal and heartbreaking stories of racial injustice and segregation. But Eric shows how the community taught him everything he needed to know about love and faith.
This charming, engaging, and deeply inspiring memoir will help you remember that we can create a world of shared values based on love and hope. It is a story that reveals the amazing power of faith in God and each other. If you’re in search of hope during troubled times, look no further than Madison Park.
Tangles: A Story about Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me by Sarah Leavitt
(Skyhorse, 2012, 127 pages)
When I first opened the book and saw the very simplistic drawings, I was afraid that I would be let down by this story. I decided to read it at a slow pace and really study the pictures. I was in awe of how much raw emotion could be shown in the simple black and white drawings.
I applaud Sarah Leavitt for having the courage to write something so incredibly personal. It had to be an incredible undertaking to be able to open up and tell her life’s story of those few short years after her mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She did not live close to her parents and she goes into so much detail about how she handled the stress of staying in touch and the traveling back and forth. Each family member is clearly presented along with the relationships she has with her aunts, sister, dad, and especially her mother. It is very inspiring to see a family through the eyes of the daughter (who is going through some extremely tough situations); for them to know that it’s okay to be able to laugh, get angry, cry, but above all else, love unconditionally.
How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson
(Dial Books, 2014, 112 pages)
I grabbed How I Discovered Poetry after reading A Wreath for Emmett Till. I was hoping to get more insight into Nelson as a poet and this book seemed like it would offer that. The book is slim and is comprised of 50 poems. We see Nelson progress to young adulthood as the United States is gradually progressing toward racial “equality.”
Born in the 1950s Nelson was the daughter of a military man and her family moved often so not only did she see a lot of the United States, she was regularly the new girl and often one of very few black faces in her classrooms. This memoir in poetry was well done but I came to it expecting a little more depth and detail about her life. I’d eagerly read a prose memoir if she ever chose to write one. I think it’s clear I think she has a way with words 🙂
Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace by Ayelet Waldman
(Doubleday, 2009, 213 pages)
It used to be that the books most inclined to catch my eye were food-forward memoirs, but since becoming a mom those have been less on the forefront for me. I was strolling the aisles at my local public library not long ago and this collection of essays caught my eye. What Waldman hits on here is that regardless of how hyper-involved you are (or aren’t) as a parent, you will inevitably find a time when you see yourself as a “bad mother.” We’ve been conditioned by society to think nothing we do is ever really good enough – we’re keeping up with other mothers (and fathers) who only highlight the amazing things they do with/for their kids; keeping hidden the times they lock themselves in the bathroom with wine to cry it out.
This book offers humor, clarity, and the occasional moment that breaks your heart just a little. Whether you’re a new-ish mom or not, I think you can appreciate this collection of essays. I’ve been eager to read Waldman’s latest book, A Really Good Day, but I’m glad I got a better feel for her writing style thanks to this collection. If YOU are intrigued, check out this Modern Love piece that got her on a lot of people’s radars a little over a decade ago.
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
(Hachette Books, 2016, 260 pages)
This is the second title up for discussion by the SCC Between the Covers book club. Prior to picking this up I was familiar with Lindy West thanks to her Op-Ed pieces in the New York Times as well as the work she did prior to that on Jezebel. I initially approached this book as a collection of essays but had to recalibrate when I came to the realization it was a memoir. That helped explain why it seemed like the book progressively got darker. Granted, I laughed throughout as I was reading, but there were some sections that were significantly more humorous than others.
West covers a lot of ground in this book. It’s more than just a memoir; it talks about body image, rape culture, relationships, loss, the world of comedy, online trolling… and she does it all in a way that makes the heaviness of the subject matter seem almost “bearable.” While I was reading I found myself comparing her work to some of Roxane Gay’s essays that touch on similar issues and it was interesting to think of how their tones come across differently.
I’m glad this was our March selection for book club and I’m glad it got me to read more of Lindy West’s work (specifically her writing in The Guardian). If you want to hear more I guess you should come to the book club discussion on 3/28! 😉
The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink by Olivia Laing
(Canongate Books, 2013, 340 pages)
After reading The Lonely City in December I fell under the spell of Olivia Laing. In The Trip to Echo Spring she decides to try and figure out the connection between the work of a few noted authors and their alcoholism. I was initially surprised because Laing chose to focus exclusively on men, but she acknowledges this within the text and has her reasons for limiting herself to one gender. The authors she focused on are: John Berryman, Raymond Carver, John Cheever, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Tennessee Williams.
Laing draws connections between the authors, their work and their drinking by following a route through the United States that has her stopping in locations that had significant impacts on all of the authors. This book is a combination of biography, history, literary criticism, and personal memoir. I was taking notes as I read because I felt like she just gave me a taste of all the men she profiled and I wanted to learn more. I wanted to dive into their biographies and read more of their work.
I’d definitely recommend the book, especially if you’re someone who appreciates reading about literary figures and their “processes.”
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
(Hachette Books, 2016, 260 pages)
Fierce feminist views. Rally call!