Tag Archives: memoir

 Unquiet Mind.

Imagine one day your brain is overflowing with ideas, bursting with creativity; you can’t stop the thoughts from coming, faster and faster and faster. You’re exhilarated, you don’t sleep, you see everything with a clarity you didn’t think possible; your brain is on fire with understanding. You’re euphoric, delighted, inspired by life.

And then it isn’t and you aren’t.

Instead you can’t get out of bed. You can’t go to work. You don’t eat or you eat too much. You stop showering. You’re apathetic, possibly suicidal. Nothing matters, nothing is exciting, everything is pointless. You’re tired. You’re done.

That’s life with bi-polar disorder. There’s no in-between.

UnquietMind

Kay Jamison is a clinical psychologist and an expert in the field of mood disorders. She has also suffered from bipolar disorder since early adulthood. A good friend with bipolar disorder asked me to read her book, so that I might understand him and his illness. I’ll confess, the idea of “mania” is seductive to me. As someone who is pretty even-tempered, the idea of going off the rails is tempting. However, the personal and financial fall-out is too scary—and that’s what makes me different from someone suffering from bipolar disorder.

Jamison wrote Unquiet Mind as a memoir, so it doesn’t get too scientific—though she does explain the science behind drugs (some work, some don’t and it seems like all of them deaden) and brain chemistry. But ultimately, it’s her story about years of refusing medication—even while studying it! At one point, instead of finding a therapist, she buys a horse. She racks up piles and piles of bills, is evicted multiple times and yet completes a PhD. It’s a highly personal glance into someone’s very personal struggle.

Do I understand my friend’s illness better now? Maybe?

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, by the way, so it’s a great time to read Unquiet Mind!

suzy

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Autobiography or Memoir?

One of my favorite go-to genres is autobiographies and memoirs. These days there are tons—is it just me, or does everyone seem to write a book about their life?

TypingSnoopy

Snoopy is busy writing his memoirs. Click through for source.

What’s the correct term for this popular genre? Autobiography or memoir? I’ve heard both used interchangeably, but further research shows that there are slight differences between the two. Autobiographies usually chronicle someone’s entire life, from childhood until present day while memoirs focus on a specific time period or event (and often jump around in time). Autobiographies also usually include a lot of facts. Memoirs care more about the story and are less concerned with fact-checking and getting every detail right.

Another difference between autobiography and memoir is when the book happened to be written. Autobiographies were once the preferred style, written by celebrities or politicians. Now memoirs dominate with an intimate, conversational style and more room for embellishment or “stretching the truth” of personal history. Because of their more approachable style, anyone can write a memoir (and they do!).

I’ve already read quite a few autobiographies/memoirs this year; I’ve tried to classify them below!

 

malcolmx

Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
Autobiography

This one is pretty straightforward. The word “autobiography” is actually in the title! Told to Alex Haley, Malcolm X recounts his life chronologically starting with his childhood and Haley finishes the story with Malcom’s untimely death.

 

 

 

wild

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Memoir

Strayed writes about a specific time in her life—hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Flashing back and forth in time from the trail to memories of her mother, Strayed’s struggle to hike the PCT mirrors her quest to move on after her mother’s death. Focused on her experience, not facts, this book clearly falls into the memoir category.

 

 

AnneFrank

Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Autobiography

Less straightforward to categorize is Anne Frank’s account of her time spent in hiding during WWII. While her diary mainly focuses on a specific time period, you can’t get a more accurate account than a diary. Readers get to experience Frank’s thoughts, emotions, and observations day-by-day, which is why I’ve chosen to label this book an autobiography.

 

 

 

Cover of My Life on The Road
My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
Autobiography

I really struggled to categorize this one, especially since it was recently published and probably branded by publishers as a memoir. Following the criteria I laid out previously, Steinem’s book falls closer to autobiographies in a couple ways. Steinem begins the book in her childhood and (for the most part) continues chronologically through her life. Even though her theme is “my life on the road,” there isn’t one event or time that she emphasizes more than others. People, places, dates and other facts are also important to the story taking place.

 

bookcover

Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures by Phoebe Gloeckner
Memoir

This book combines text, illustrations, and comic strips into a truly unique story of a teenager growing up in San Francisco during the 1970s. Though the author will not directly say how closely the book follows her own life, she highly implies most of the story is based in truth. This book’s focus on Minnie’s teenage years and its questionable veracity leads me to label this book as a memoir.

 

Disagree with my classifications? Any good autobiographies/memoirs you’ve read recently? Let us know in the comments below!

-Adina

Take a look at some of the autobiographies/memoirs that the library has to offer!

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Food Books That Aren’t Really About Food

Cookbooks, memoirs and novels are my most checked-out items, and as I’ve recently discovered, there’s a sort of magical thing that happens when those worlds collide. You don’t have to be a hardcore gourmand to appreciate the fact that food plays a central role in all our lives, making it a vibrant and relatable conduit for storytelling, exploring memories, making analogies and creating a sort of shorthand between the author and food-savvy readers.  Cooking and baking can be the hook that gets you interested or a thread that ties the story together, but it’s never the whole story.   Here’s a look at some of the recent selections I’ve enjoyed in the subgenre I’m calling food-books-that-aren’t-really-about-food, both fiction and nonfiction.

Julie and Julia

“Maybe I needed to make like a potato, winnow myself down, be part of something that was not easy, just simple.”

Julie & Julia – Julie Powell

The movie adaptation of this memoir was released few years ago, when I first started being interested in cooking. I thought it was sweet movie with nice performances, but it was all-and-all pretty forgettable to me. As is so often the case, the book is so much better! I loved Powell’s sharp, foul-mouthed humor. The story isn’t so much a treatise on the wonders of Julia Child as it is about about finding meaning and purpose when you are feeling adrift. After finishing this, I added Powell’s more recent memoir, Cleaving, to my to-read list.

Seconds – Bryan Lee O’Malley

Seconds has been praised time-and-time again by CLP staffers, so I’ll keep my synopsis short: The author of Scott Pilgrim is back with a faced-paced story featuring magic mushrooms, mistakes and second chances, and a house fairy in a graphic novel set in the restaurant world. It takes about one sitting to read, and it’s definitely worth your time.

Heartburn – Nora Ephron

For my first experience with a Nora Ephron book, I went for this short novel about a cookbook author grappling with her husband’s affair. While it doesn’t sound like a setup ripe for hilarity, Ephron manages to pull it off with trademark wryness. A book about cooking-as-caretaking, relationships and Rich People Problems, I have to admit, I don’t know that I would have enjoyed it half as much if I hadn’t listened to the audiobook which is narrated brilliantly (of course) by Meryl Streep.

Excerpt from Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley. Online source: http://comicsalliance.com/lucy-knisley-relish-review/

Relish:  My Life in the Kitchen – Lucy Knisley

Lucy Knisley was born and raised surrounded by an eclectic collection of restaurant critics, artists, chefs, home cooks, farmers and gardeners, and she has the stories to prove it. I quickly devoured (heh, see what I did there?) this adorable graphic novel filled with food-centric memories, stories about growing up, and reflections on the value of friends, family and food. Comic-style recipes, like this one for huevos rancheros, punctuate the book.

Maman’s Homesick Pie – Donia Bijan

I picked this up with a few other Middle Eastern cookbooks for my monthly themed potluck, and was happily surprised to find it wasn’t really a cookbook, but a memoir with recipes (written by an award-winning chef) interspersed throughout the chapters.  Maman’s Homesick Pie chronicles the life of author Donia Bijan and her family members as they adjust from a happy, well-to-do life in Iran, to living as immigrants in America as a result of Islamic revolution, to Bijan’s training as a professional chef in Paris.  All of her memories are woven together with stories about food: how food was used as a bridge to the family’s Persian heritage, and how adapting to American food rituals is a big part of the enculturation process. The story is engrossing, as is the rich, descriptive food writing. Even if you aren’t interested in that, I say it’s worth a checkout for the recipes alone.

Some related selections from my to-read list:

The Language of Baklava: A Memoir – Diana Abu-Jaber
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake – Aimee Bender
Shark’s fin and Sichuan pepper: a sweet- sour memoir of eating in China – Fuchsia Dunlop
Food: A Love Story – Jim Gaffigan
Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India – Madhur Jaffrey
The Sweet Life in Paris – David Lebovitz
The Baker’s Daughter: A Novel – Sarah McCoy
Aftertaste: A Novel in Five Courses – Meredith Mileti
Cakewalk: A Memoir – Kate Moses
Baking Cakes in Kigali – Gaile Parkin
Yes, Chef – Marcus Samuelsson
Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family – Patricia Volk
The Truth about Twinkie Pie – Kat Yeh

-Ginny

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Pride Week @ CLP: The Stories That Won’t Let Go

pride week_slider (2) cropped

There’s a story that won’t let go of me.

Some days, this book takes the form of a novel. On other days, it has flirted with being a collection of linked short stories and at times, it feels like it wants to be a memoir.

You won’t find this book on our shelves here at the Library (yet) because I’ve written and rewritten this story for … well, let’s just say it has been a few years.  Like most things in our lives, it is a SomedayMaybeLifeIsntGettingAnyShorter work in progress.

As those of you who are writers know, sometimes it takes longer than we’d like for a story to find its voice and its path.  And that’s where I am with this novel/short story collection/memoir of mine, which focuses on a family losing a loved one to AIDS in the midst of the epidemic.

So what to do when the words won’t come and the story won’t allow you to give up?

You write. And you read.

You read the stories of love taken too soon. You discover Mark Doty through his eloquent poetry and his gorgeous memoirs. You listen to Dog Years on audio and you — admittedly, not much of a dog person — cry on your commute home.

You read Paul Monette, who reminds you that we are all on Borrowed Time.

You read the impossible, improbable love story of Marion Winik and her husband Tony in First Comes Love.

You read Randy Shilts’ And The Band Played On and you wonder how different things would have been if better decisions had been made by the people in charge.

You read Michael Cunningham and you believe that every single one of his fictional characters are real.

You read Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt and Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan, and your admiration for the incredible quality of what is truly groundbreaking YA (young adult) and teen literature today increases exponentially. You are inspired and intimidated to add your words to that.

You read and you read some more. You realize that you have so much you want to and need to read and learn about the LGBTQ history, the sociology, about those who have gone before and those who are here now. You stand in awe at the shelves, at the words they hold, the lifetimes and legacies they capture. There is so much, and at the Library it is yours; it is all right here.

And then you realize why your story – and all of these stories – won’t let go.

It’s because you owe it to those whose stories have already been told and those whose epilogues were written too soon. It’s because you are a privileged white, straight, married female and you have an obligation to be an ally and a voice for those who are silenced and silent, and who don’t have the same legal rights as you do because of who they happen to love. It’s because there is a new generation emerging with opportunities that yours — the one growing up silenced, the one learning about love amid the stigma and fear — never did until it was sometimes too late.

“There is a nearly perfect balance between the past and the future.

As we become the distant past, you become a future few of us would have imagined.”

~ page 1 of Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan

~Melissa F.

 

 

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June 10, 2014 · 5:00 am

Somewhere Inside the Rainbow: Pride 2014

Pride Pittsburgh is only a few days away, so this week the Eleventh Stack blog is highlighting selections from the Library’s LGBTQ collections. We’ll be covering a wide selection of materials, from movies to memoirs, written by, for, and about LGBTQ people and their families, friends, and other allies.

Pride week 2014

Of course, the term LGBTQ isn’t an end in itself, but a jumping-off point for exploration; there are millions of ways to be in the world, including pansexual, asexual, intersex, genderqueer, and androgynous (click here to see one blogger’s list of frequently used terms and definitions). You could say that LGBTQ is a continually evolving conversation from a chorus of voices, simultaneously complicated and enriched by considerations of race, religion, and class.

If you are–or would like to be–part of that conversation, there are as many points of entry in the Library as there are kinds of people in the world: comics, biography, short stories, history, theology, cultural studies, YA lit, wedding planners, you name it. Whether you’re reading to broaden your horizons, or to see your own experiences reflected in the literary/ cultural record, we’ll be happy to help you find the perfect title (or fifty).

Welcome inside the rainbow – we hope you’ll enjoy reading along with us this week.

–Leigh Anne

 

 

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Contemporary Black Voices

There’s a lot of great African American writing out there these days, waiting for you to discover it. Thanks to blogs like For Harriet and White Readers Meet Black Authors, it’s easy to keep up with new–and new-to-you–authors and titles. Your friendly neighborhood librarians are, of course, another great outlet for keeping up with Black literature, fiction, poetry, and memoir. Here are a few recent titles to consider.

Photo from Louis Cameron's African American Flag Project - click through to see more images.

Photo from Louis Cameron’s African American Flag Project – click through to see more images.

residueThe Residue Years, Mitchell S. Jackson. Her name is Grace, and she desperately needs some. His name is Champ, and he desperately wants to be one. They are mother and son, recovering addict and drug dealer, dancing in different ways to the same tune. Set in Portland, the story begins with Grace graduating from rehab and struggling to find a job, pay the bills, and renew her relationships with her children. Champ spends his drug earnings lavishly on his mother, trying to help her achieve a better life, but Grace feels wrong about taking it. Champ, for his part, doesn’t always feel good about earning it, but with the costs of living and a baby on the way, it’s the fastest, easiest path to success…right up to the point where it isn’t. A sobering look at how hard it can be to break destructive patterns, even when you want to.

The Awesome Girl’s Guide to Dating Extraordinary Men, Ernessa T. CarterThursday has never been interested in awesomedating any guy longer than a month, but lately she’s been having these strange dreams about accepting a stranger’s proposal in–of all places–a farmers’ market. The dating guide she borrows from a husband-hunting friend becomes her go-to source of advice, supported by the loving–and sometimes blunt–input from her group of girlfriends. Although the story revolves around Thursday’s complicated search for true love, her friends Sharita, Risa, and Tammy are also having their own struggles. But at least they can all count on each other to stay grounded about what’s important. Keep a box of tissues handy on the way to the happy ending, then cry for joy when the power of love and friendship carry the day. Solid chick-lit with some gritty themes.

birdThe Good Lord Bird , James McBride. In the aftermath of a church fire, an unusual manuscript is discovered in a lock box: the narrative of former slave Henry Shackleford who, through a series of both comedic and not-so-funny mishaps, finds himself a) fighting in abolitionist John Brown’s army, and b) spending a large portion of his life pretending to be a girl. Fans of historical fiction will find much to love here, as Shackleford’s fly-on-the-wall adventures–related with dry, dead-pan delivery–take him all over the country, meeting the likes of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, culminating in a front-row seat at Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry.  McBride does an amazing job capturing what historical events must have looked and felt like to the common people of the time, and his 2013 National Book Award for the adventure is well-deserved.

Men We Reaped, Jesmyn Ward. Novelist Ward (Salvage the Bones) turns from fiction to memoir with an exploration of her reapedhometown, DeLisle Mississippi. Five men important to her, including her brother Joshua, died between 2000 and 2004. While the surface causes varied, the underlying reason was horrifyingly simple: hopelessness brought on by feeling trapped in their circumstances. Ward pulls no punches in examining the experience of being both poor and Black in the contemporary South, the lack of work (any work, much less meaningful work), the forced choice between staying home and repeating old patterns or getting away and “making it” but being unable to spend your life surrounded by the people you love best. Beginning with her own family’s roots, then spiraling out into the many stories that make up DeLisle’s closely-knit Black community, Ward weaves a ferocious tapestry of love, loss, and, ultimately, her choice to live in spite of the dying.

mcmillanWho Asked You?, Terry McMillan. Betty Jean’s worked hard all her life, and retirement is only six years away. However, the double-whammy of her husband’s unexpected illness and her daughter’s disappearance means that Betty Jean has a sick man to care for and two grandchildren to raise. Her sisters have strong opinions on how she should handle these plot twists, but Betty Jean is determined to do what she thinks is right, no matter what. Told by a colorful cast of characters in alternating chapters, Who Asked You? is a large-hearted look at one woman’s life as perceived by her family, friends, and neighbors. McMillan (Waiting to ExhaleHow Stella Got Her Groove Back) leaves  no stone unturned with her candid and funny take on growing older and weathering the unexpected, and readers who enjoy stories about family ties will root for Betty Jean and her kin as they learn to love each other better.

Your turn: what African American titles and authors have you been reading lately?

Leigh Anne

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Stacking ‘Em Up: Our Favorite Reads From 2013

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a library blog in possession of a good staff must be in want of a best books post. Library workers are frequently their own best customers, passing titles back and forth with reckless abandon, buttonholing colleagues in stairwells to insist they check out the book that kept us up late swooning (or shivering). Nothing brings us more joy, however, than turning those efforts outward and sharing our favorites with you.

The Eleventh Stack team consumed a mountain of reading this year (probably taller than Richard, and he’s pretty tall). Here are some of the ones we enjoyed most.

Maria:

turncoatThe Turncoat by Donna Thorland

Though labeled historical fiction, this book has a passionate and sizzling romance at its heart, so I would call it historical romance as well. The first book in the Renegades of the Revolution series, I loved this dangerous romance set amid the intrigues of Revolutionary War Philadelphia. Quaker country-girl-turned-rebel-spy Kate Grey falls for British officer Peter Tremayne despite their opposing allegiances. I especially enjoyed its life meets fiction aspect as George Washington, John Andre, General Howe, and Peggy Shippen all make appearances here. I look forward to reading more in the series from this debut author. Thorland, who is also a filmmaker, made a fascinating book trailer; I think it would make a great movie.

detroit

Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff

My poor hometown. Native metro-Detroiter and award-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff writes a raw and thoroughly readable portrait of the Motor City’s state of emergency, from its abandoned neighborhoods, horrible city services, double-digit unemployment rates, and rampant crime to the die-hard residents who refuse to give up. A moving and frightening account of the decline of a great American city.

Melissa F.

I spent most of 2013 hanging out with some questionable, unreliable, but incredibly memorable characters from the Gilded Age.  You don’t get much more eyebrow-raising than Odalie from The Other Typist, Suzanne Rindell’s debut that has been described as “part Hitchcock, part Patricia Highsmith, and part Gatsby.” It’s a phenomenal, can’t-put-down read that I’ve been recommending all year long.  Also of note is The Virgin Cure , Ami McKay’s historical fiction story of a twelve year old orphan in 1870s New York that is based on the true story of one of her relatives.  

The OrchardistAnd then there was benevolent Talmadge from The Orchardist. I adored Amanda Coplin’s luminous debut novel with its grand, overlapping themes of morality and religion, of being one with the earth and the eternal struggle of good versus evil. It’s been compared to The Grapes of Wrath (this one is way better). Like Steinbeck, Amanda Coplin joins the list of authors who have given us a true American classic.

(Other highly recommended books in case the Gilded Age isn’t your thing: Tenth of December and In Persuasion Nation, both by George Saunders; Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan; Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys, The Bird Saviors, by William J. Cobb, When It Happens to You, by Molly Ringwald (yes, THAT Molly Ringwald!), Still Life with Oysters and Lemon and Dog Years by Mark Doty (listen to the audio version); Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon, and Songdogs, by Colum McCann.)

What can I say? In the words of Sinatra, it was a very good year.

JessBurial Rites, Hannah Kent

If you’ve had good experiences with Alice Hoffman and Geraldine Brooks (Kent even gives a shout out to Brooks as a mentor in her acknowledgements), then this is for you.

In rural Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir has been tried and accused of murder – and now must await execution in her home district. No prison means she’s forced upon a family who obviously wants nothing to do with her. Over the next months, Agnes is put to work on the farm. She slowly begins to open up about her messy past to a young priest, chosen for a long ago kindness, and to the wife of the household, who begins to see a Agnes as woman who has been worn down by a harsh life. Based on true story of one of the last two executions in Iceland, Kent deftly blends some amazing research with strong prose to weave a story about woman who was truly a victim of her circumstances.

SuzyTraveling Sprinkler, Nicholson Baker. Suzy really enjoyed this book a lot, but is not here to tell us about it because she is off riding her bike someplace not currently buried under several feet of snow. We are extremely jealous of very happy for Suzy, and hope she comes home soon to tell us more about the book.

Leigh Anne

Much to my surprise, the two books I’ve enjoyed most this year were both set during World War II. I’ve never been much of a war buff, but that’s a testament to how the power of good fiction can make you more interested in history. In this case, the novels were Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life and Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity.

Life After Life –the tale of an Englishwoman who keeps reincarnating as herself and trying to kill lifeafterlifeHitler–has cropped up on a number of best/notable lists this year, including the New York Times, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, and I’ve already reviewed it earlier this year, so let me just say this: what an ending. When I read the last few sentences, and the light bulb over my head finally went on, I was amazed at how cleverly Atkinson had made her point: no matter how hard we strive as individuals, we can never act out of context. We always need other people to help us achieve our objectives, even if we are strong and clever.

verityCode Name Verity takes us behind enemy lines as Verity the spy and Maddie the pilot tell their stories in alternating sections. The crux of this novel–which I also reviewed earlier this year–is truth: who’s telling it, who’s hiding it, and how flexible it can be depending on how high the stakes are. For Maddie and Verity, the stakes are very high, indeed, and I loved that the book, while intended for a teen audience, didn’t shy away from the horrors of war…or deliver a tidy happy ending. If you want a great portrait of what it must have been like to be a teenager during WWII, pick up this novel….but be prepared to have All Of The Feelings. If you adore Wein as much as I do after you’re done, you’ll want to move on to her 2013 release, Rose Under Fire, in which pilot Rose Justice is captured and sent to the concentration camp Ravensbruck.

It was really hard to pick my favorites from what turned out to be an amazing run of excellent reading this year. Some other books I devoured include Letters From Skye (historical romance), Longbourn (historical fiction), and The Son (epic southwestern family saga). And now I must stop, before I blog your ear off…

bookcover Joelle 

I do love fantasy books! My favorites for this year were The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. Both of these books have already achieved positive critical acclaim, but I will add mine:

The Golem is created by a mysterious and mischievous Rabbi as a bride for a young man who is set to travel to New York from Poland. The Jinni had been trapped for centuries in a lamp which also made its way to New York City. They both try to fit in to society with their separate supernatural talents, but recognize each other as different right away. It is interesting to see these magical beings from two different cultures coming together. The author creates characters with unusual and distinctive personalities.

ocean Neil Gaiman is the master of creating fantasy worlds that do not follow any specific cultural tradition, yet are somehow universal. A man journeys back to his old home town, and is drawn to a place only half remembered. The reader is transported to the mind of a seven year old, a time in a person’s life when one is very vulnerable, and when one can accept magic as a matter of fact.
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Holly
Nestled behind the International Poetry Room on CLP-Main’s second floor, you’ll find one of my favorite places in the Library.  The Oversize Book Room is home to volume upon volume of giant, gorgeous books. These are books that are graphic-heavy, photo-heavy, and often really heavy in weight, and therefore they do not fit on our regular book shelves/make great impromptu weapons.  Fashion, art, landscape photography, crafts and home repair are some of the subjects that you can find here.   One day while helping a patron find another book in this section, I stumbled upon the splendid  Jack London, Photographer. This is my favorite book of 2013 because it exemplifies what I love most about the Library and the serendipity that lives here.  I had no idea that Jack London was a photographer, and a talented one at that!  This gem contains somewhat disparate, at least in terms of location, photo collections.  They are a fascinating  look at early 20th century history through the eyes of a classic author.  Chapters have titles like ” The People of the Abyss,”  which is a stark look at impoverished Londoners in 1902. Battlefields are a subject as well, such as  those of  the Russo-Japanese war of 1904 and the Mexican Revolution of 1914.  I loved this book because it was a rejuvenating break from my usual reading of text-heavy new fiction and new nonfiction.

Don

For me this was an unusual year, and my reading reflected all the strangeness. I found myself reading old (Kim by Rudyard Kipling), new (A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki), rereads (The Final Solution by Michael Chabon and The Fall by Albert Camus), pastiche (The Mandela of Sherlock Holmes by Jamyang Norbu), Buddhist fiction (Buddha Da by Anne Donovan), science fiction (Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone by Ian MacDonald), and the truly, wonderfully bizarre (Duplex by Kathryn Davis).

Part of the unusual nature of all this is the fact that, thematically, there is a great deal these books have in common. There are all kinds of connections between them, come to think of it. And really, there is not a book listed above that you can go wrong with, but, since we are picking favorites, here we go…

My favorite book of the year turns out to be a tie between the first two listed: A Tale for the Time Being, and that hoary old chestnut, Kim. Both of these books surprised, in different ways. I was frankly stunned by how good Kim (and Rudyard Kipling) is. I’d always thought of Kipling as just another dead old white guy, with a penchant for British colonialism and simplistic stories, who might easily be ignored for, oh, 50-plus years or so. And was, by me.

It really is delightful to wake up every day and realize how very, very wrong you can be.

timebeing

Ozeki’s book is difficult to describe, so I’ll let the author speak for herself (from her website):

A Tale for the Time Being is a powerful story about the ways in which reading and writing connect two people who will never meet. Spanning the planet from Tokyo’s Electric Town to Desolation Sound, British Columbia, and connected by the great Pacific gyres, A Tale for the Time Being tells the story of a diary, washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, and the profound effect it has on the woman who discovers it.

Kim is part quest–for self and for meaning–, part old-fashioned adventure via the time-honored motif of the journey, and, consistently, a fine, penetrating story on what it means to be human.

Yes indeed, how very good it is to wake up each and every day.

Melissa M.

5In5Of course my favorite book this year was a cookbook, specifically Michael Symon’s 5 in 5: 5 Fresh Ingredients + 5 Minutes = 120 Fantastic Dinners. I’ve watched this man on television so many times now that as I was reading the recipes I could hear them, inside my head, being read to me in his voice. Now, Michael does cheat the five ingredients rule a little because he uses items from his pantry that are not part of that total number. The first section of the book, after the introduction, is a list of what items should be in your pantry at all times. These include things like extra virgin olive oil, a variety of vinegars, pasta, canned beans, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, and other spices. You probably already have most of those in your kitchen cupboards, so no worries there. The recipes are not complicated; most have only 3-4 steps. This is food you could cook on a weeknight and would want to eat. Plus, who wouldn’t love a cookbook with a chapter called “On a Stick”? Foods on a stick rule!

There you have it! Your turn. What were your favorite reads of 2013, whether new finds or old favorites?

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