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  • BN Editors 1:00 pm on 2019/11/21 Permalink
    Tags: , after the flood, , , , Memoirs, national book award for nonfiction, ,   

    Breaking the Frame: Sarah Broom Unearths Her Family’s Story in Her National Book Award-Winning Memoir The Yellow House 

    Last night, journalist and author Sarah M. Broom took home the 2019 National Book Award for Nonfiction for her memoir The Yellow House, an emotional and revelatory chronicle of her family home in New Orleans, where her mother raised 12 children before it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2006. In it, their story becomes a sort of biography of the city itself—a place that was flooded with problems, from racial division, to poverty, to government corruption, long before the waters rose.

    Below, we present a profile of the author and her book by Amy Gall, originally published in September 2019.

    For author Sarah Broom, the expression “home is where the heart is” works not just as a truism, but as an understatement. “I was haunted by the house I grew up in from the moment I left it to go to college in 1997. I’m interested in place and what it means to be tethered to place, and through the years, I kept taking notes on the physical house itself without knowing what I was going to say about it. And then in 2006 after Katrina hit and the house was demolished by the city, the story changed for me. Because rather than write about this physical place that I can cast my longing and interrogations on, there was no place. Then I was writing about absence and that process blew open a world for me.”

    That blown-open world would eventually become Broom’s stunning debut memoir The Yellow House. It tells the story of the shotgun home Broom’s mother bought in New Orleans East at the age of 19 and where she raised twelve children, Broom being the youngest, until the house was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

    In order to construct this meticulous narrative, Broom, who had spent much of her adult life running away from the city of her birth, moved back to New Orleans in 2011 and spent the year doing extensive interviews with her family. It was an act that was at times cathartic but also gave rise to its own difficulties when the resulting stories began to get published. “An excerpt from the book ran in The New Yorker in 2015 and the magazine is meticulous about fact checking, so they called my siblings to ask them if what they said was true and my siblings were like, ‘Sigh. Here she goes again.’ It’s very hard to be written about. My family understands, I think, the value of having these stories in a book and I think they know that in a way this will outlast them and be something that the next generations can draw on to understand where they came from. But in the moment, that’s not the thing you’re thinking about when you’re feeling exposed and vulnerable.”

    The true power of The Yellow House emerges in the way Broom takes these highly personal stories and stitches them into a larger narrative about New Orleans itself, a city that has been plagued by racism, capitalist greed, and government corruption since long before Hurricane Katrina brought all of these issues to the nation’s attention. “I spent a lot of time thinking about the dysfunction of New Orleans. In a way, it made me feel closer to the city, like I was claiming it in the way that Joan Didion writes about making a place your own. But then I was also turning it on its back and looking at its soft underbelly and saying, what kind of place is this that made me and noticing that there are some icky things under there. But those icky things were part of what it means to tell a full story. The whole section about the French Quarter, for instance, is a game of taking what people know about New Orleans and saying, ‘How do I exploit that knowledge and push it to the edge of itself? How do I go into the myths of America like: it’s a meritocracy, and, if you buy a house it will lead you to wealth, and then blow them up?’ ”

    Broom got her start in journalism, earning her degree from the University of California, Berkeley, where she worked with Cynthia Gorney, “an old school journalist from the Washington Post.” The investigative rigor Broom honed there fed a project that wound up expanding outside the limits of a typical memoir. “I was trying to make something a little beyond the frame, because it was personal but that was just one layer, and even the personal was a lot of investigative reporting. If my uncle said to me, ‘In 1920 we were living on Saint Joseph Street by the rice mill,’ I wouldn’t just write, ‘Uncle Joe said they lived on Saint Joseph Street.’ I’d find the name of the rice mill, figure out where the train tracks were, figure out from census records how long they were there, and then construct a story from that fact. I used the thing he said to build a kind of world, and that’s an extra layer of journalistic work. I spent a lot of time in public libraries, cemetery libraries, driving to Raceland where my father is from. I basically lived on the fifth floor, which is called the Louisiana Division, of the main library in New Orleans and the University of New Orleans archive. But there needed to be all these layers of investigation because the book for me was like a concentric circle, just expanding and getting broader and broader.”

    Broom took particular pains to illustrate how inadequate healthcare, access to education and employment and “environmental racism” trap black families like hers in cycles of poverty and violence. She uses those broader themes to return powerfully to the memories of childhood shame she carried, growing up in a home that, even before Katrina, had fallen into a state of disrepair. “There was a moment in the book where I say something about how I learned to define myself by the place I’m from and the trick in the work of shame I think, is rather than allow you the clarity of mind to say, what the fuck is wrong with this system? What the fuck is wrong with this world? You take it on as yours. Now, as a thinking, interrogative person, that shame feels ridiculous to me.”

    Sometimes the heaviness of the work would stop Broom in her tracks, but inspiration could also come from unexpected places. “It was very hard, because you’re sucked into this world. For a long time I didn’t talk to my siblings in real life, because I was writing them and I was listening to them and it was just a lot, all their stories and their fears and ideas. At some point I was going so insane with this story and it seemed too unwieldy and I couldn’t gather it together and I remember standing up in my office, and going to the wall where I would do charcoal drawings every morning as a kind of exercise and just writing ‘Show Up’ and underneath that ‘Stay.’ And that became the thing that I did. I didn’t overthink it and say ‘This is so hard.’ I just showed up and stayed.”

    After spending so much time documenting the loss of her childhood house, one might expect that Broom would be hesitant about owning a home, especially in New Orleans. But an unexpected discovery piqued the author’s interest. “When my book went into production, my friend sent me a listing for this little yellow shotgun house. I never wanted a yellow house. I was not a person trying to replace my childhood home. But it was the cutest little house and I became obsessed with it. The house is only about 650 square feet, so I can’t really host big gatherings there. Only about four people can fit in there at once. But buying it was a moment where I was just thinking about myself and my own needs. And when you’re from a large family, that doesn’t happen that often. So, the house is special for me in that way.”

    This new yellow house has a history just as interesting as its predecessor, and may even inspire her next book. “The house is supposedly from 1811 and was originally owned by a free woman of color. I’d like to write about it someday. Who knows? The rest of my life might just be looking up addresses and saying what’s the history of this place?”

    The Yellow House is available now. Explore all the winners of the 2019 National Book Awards here.

    The post Breaking the Frame: Sarah Broom Unearths Her Family’s Story in Her National Book Award-Winning Memoir <i>The Yellow House</i> appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jen Harper 1:30 pm on 2019/11/01 Permalink
    Tags: , becoming deluxe signed edition, , Memoirs, , , ,   

    Celebrate the Deluxe Signed Edition of Becoming with 15 Inspiring Quotes from Michelle Obama’s Iconic Memoir 

    A year after the release of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s bestselling memoir Becoming, readers continue to revel in the warmth, wisdom, humility, and candor of her story. In it, she details the experiences that have helped her to become the woman she is today and the person she continues to evolve into.

    Becoming covers Mrs. Obama’s upbringing in Chicago, her education at Princeton and Harvard, her marriage to former President Barack Obama, her balancing being a mom to daughters Malia and Sasha with her work, her family’s time in the White House, and more. The memoir also encourages readers to tell their own stories, to help empower them become who they are also meant to be. Becoming is at once a deeply intimate and personal chronicle of an astonishing life, while also sharing important, moving, and near-universal lessons whose truths will resonate with many readers.

    As Mrs. Obama beautifully writes in her book, “It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.”

    And on Friday, November 1, a special deluxe signed edition of Becoming will be available for pre-order from Barnes & Noble. It will be available in stores for purchase on November 16. This beautiful edition comes in a gift box and features a clothbound book signed by the author and former First Lady of the United States. There is also additional book content—Michelle Obama’s “Note to Self”, along with two gorgeous, frame-worthy prints of her inspiring words, and a portrait of Michelle Obama by renowned photographer Miller Mobley.

    To celebrate the arrival of this stunning deluxe edition, we’ve collected some of our favorite quotes from Becoming. Which ones most inspire you?

    “For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.”

    “Am I good enough? Yes I am.”

    “Inspiration on its own was shallow; you had to back it up with hard work.”

    “Do we settle for the world as it is, or do we work for the world as it should be?”

    “If you don’t get out there and define yourself, you’ll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others.”

    “It was one thing to get yourself out of a stuck place, I realized. It was another thing entirely to try and get the place itself unstuck.”

    “There are truths we face and truths we ignore.”

    “Bullies were scared people hiding inside scary people.”

    “My job, I realized, was to be myself, to speak as myself. And so I did.”

    “Friendships between women, as any woman will tell you, are built of a thousand small kindnesses… swapped back and forth and over again.”

    “Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result. It’s vulnerability that breeds with self-doubt and then is escalated, often deliberately, by fear.”

    “Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child—What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.”

    “Happy seemed like a starting place for everything.”

    “Time, as far as my father was concerned, was a gift you gave to other people.”

    “At fifty-four, I am still in progress, and I hope that I always will be.”

    The Deluxe Signed Edition of Becoming is available for pre-order starting November 1. Quantities are limited, so this edition is available only while supplies last, and there is a limit of two copies per customer.

    The post Celebrate the Deluxe Signed Edition of <i>Becoming</i> with 15 Inspiring Quotes from Michelle Obama’s Iconic Memoir appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Molly Schoemann-McCann 3:06 pm on 2019/09/17 Permalink
    Tags: , , baron wenckheim's homecoming, crossing, death is hard work, drive your plow over the bones of the dead, , Memoirs, , , space invaders, the barefoot woman, the collector of leftover souls: field notes on brazil's everyday insurrections, , translated literature, when death takes something from you give it back: carl's book, will and testament   

    Announcing the Longlist for the 2019 National Book Award for Translated Literature 

    Throughout this week, the longlists for the 2019 National Book Awards are being announced, with the selection of finalists in each of five categories—Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Young People’s Literature, and Translated Literature—to follow. This morning, we present the longlist for the category of Translated Literature. Additional longlists will be announced each day.

    From a dangerous journey across war-torn Syria as three siblings endeavor to fulfill their father’s final wish, to a strange, gripping whodunit set in a remote Polish village, this year’s National Book Awards longlist for Translated Literature spans the globe and encompasses stories of heartbreak and redemption, tributes to children who were lost and parents who sacrificed everything, and stories of families broken and made whole again.

    The complete list is as follows:

    When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back: Carl’s Book, by Naja Marie Aidt, translated by Denise Newman
    In March 2015, Naja Marie Aidt’s twenty-five-year-old son, Carl, died in a tragic accident. When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back chronicles the few first years after that devastating phone call. It is at once a sober account of life after losing a child and an exploration of the language of poetry, loss, and love. Intensely moving, When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back explores what is it to be a family, what it is to love and lose, and what it is to treasure life in spite of death’s indomitable resolve.

    The Collector of Leftover Souls: Field Notes on Brazil’s Everyday Insurrections, by Eliane Brum, translated by Diane Grosklaus Whitty
    Eliane Brum is a star journalist in Brazil, known for her polyphonic writing that gives voice to people often underrepresented in popular literature. Brum’s reporting takes her into Brazil’s most marginalized communities: she visits the Amazon to understand the practice of indigenous midwives, stays in São Paulo’s favelas to witness the joy of a marriage and the tragedy of young men dying due to drugs and guns, and wades through the mud to capture the boom and bust of modern-day gold rushes. Brum is an enormously sensitive and perceptive interlocutor, and as she visits these places she provides intimate glimpses into both everyday and extraordinary lives: a poor father on the way to bury his son, a street performer who eats glass, a woman living out her final 115 days, and a hoarder rescuing the “leftover souls” of the city.

    Space Invaders, by Nona Fernández, translated by Natasha Wimmer
    Space Invaders is the story of a group of childhood friends who, in adulthood, are preoccupied by uneasy memories and visions of their classmate Estrella González Jepsen. In their dreams, they catch glimpses of Estrella’s braids, hear echoes of her voice, and read old letters that eventually, mysteriously, stopped arriving. They recall regimented school assemblies, nationalistic class performances, and a trip to the beach. Soon it becomes clear that Estrella’s father was a ranking government officer implicated in the violent crimes of the Pinochet regime, and the question of what became of her after she left school haunts her erstwhile friends. Growing up, these friends—from her pen pal, Maldonado, to her crush, Riquelme—were old enough to sense the danger and tension that surrounded them, but were powerless in the face of it. They could control only the stories they told one another and the “ghostly green bullets” they fired in the video game they played obsessively.

    Will and Testament, by Vigdis Hjorth, translated by Charlotte Barslund
    When a dispute over her parents’ will grows bitter, Bergljot is drawn back into the orbit of the family she fled twenty years before. Her mother and father have decided to leave two island summer houses to her sisters, disinheriting the two eldest siblings from the most meaningful part of the estate. To outsiders, it is a quarrel about property and favoritism. But Bergljot, who has borne a horrible secret since childhood, understands the gesture as something very different—a final attempt to suppress the truth and a cruel insult to the grievously injured. Will and Testament is a lyrical meditation on trauma and memory, as well as a furious account of a woman’s struggle to survive and be believed. Vigdis Hjorth’s novel became a controversial literary sensation in Norway and has been translated into twenty languages.

    Death is Hard Work, by Khaled Khalifa, translated by Leri Price
    Khaled Khalifa’s Death Is Hard Work is the new novel from the greatest chronicler of Syria’s ongoing and catastrophic civil war: a tale of three ordinary people facing down the stuff of nightmares armed with little more than simple determination. Abdel Latif, an old man from the Aleppo region, dies peacefully in a hospital bed in Damascus. His final wish, conveyed to his youngest son, Bolbol, is to be buried in the family plot in their ancestral village of Anabiya. Though Abdel was hardly an ideal father, and though Bolbol is estranged from his siblings, this conscientious son persuades his older brother Hussein and his sister Fatima to accompany him and the body to Anabiya, which is—after all—only a two-hour drive from Damascus. There’s only one problem: Their country is a war zone. With the landscape of their childhood now a labyrinth of competing armies whose actions are at once arbitrary and lethal, the siblings’ decision to set aside their differences and honor their father’s request quickly balloons from a minor commitment into an epic and life-threatening quest. Syria, however, is no longer a place for heroes, and the decisions the family must make along the way—as they find themselves captured and recaptured, interrogated, imprisoned, and bombed—will prove to have enormous consequences for all of them.

    Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming, by László Krasznahorkai, translated by Ottilie Mulzet
    Set in contemporary times, Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming tells the story of a Prince Myshkin–like figure, Baron Béla Wenckheim, who returns at the end of his life to his provincial Hungarian hometown. Having escaped from his many casino debts in Buenos Aires, where he was living in exile, he longs to be reunited with his high-school sweetheart Marika. Confusions abound, and what follows is an endless storm of gossip, con men, and local politicians, vividly evoking the small town’s alternately drab and absurd existence. All along, the Professor—a world-famous natural scientist who studies mosses and inhabits a bizarre Zen-like shack in a desolate area outside of town—offers long rants and disquisitions on his attempts to immunize himself from thought. Spectacular actions are staged as death and the abyss loom over the unsuspecting townfolk.

    The Barefoot Woman, by Scholastique Mukasonga, translated by Jordan Stump
    A moving, unforgettable tribute to a Tutsi woman who did everything to protect her children from the Rwandan genocide, by the daughter who refuses to let her family’s story be forgotten. The story of the author’s mother, a fierce, loving woman who for years protected her family from the violence encroaching upon them in pre-genocide Rwanda. Recording her memories of their life together in spare, wrenching prose, Mukasonga preserves her mother’s voice in a haunting work of art.

    The Memory Police, by Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder
    A haunting Orwellian novel about the terrors of state surveillance, from the acclaimed author of The Housekeeper and the Professor. On an unnamed island off an unnamed coast, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses—until things become much more serious. Most of the island’s inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few imbued with the power to recall the lost objects live in fear of the draconian Memory Police, who are committed to ensuring that what has disappeared remains forgotten. When a young woman who is struggling to maintain her career as a novelist discovers that her editor is in danger from the Memory Police, she concocts a plan to hide him beneath her floorboards. As fear and loss close in around them, they cling to her writing as the last way of preserving the past. A surreal, provocative fable about the power of memory and the trauma of loss, The Memory Police is a stunning new work from one of the most exciting contemporary authors writing in any language.

    Crossing, by Pajtim Statovci, translated by David Hackston
    The death of head of state Enver Hoxha and the loss of his father leave Bujar growing up in the ruins of Communist Albania and of his own family. Only his fearless best friend, Agim—who is facing his own realizations about his gender and sexuality—gives him hope for the future. Together the two decide to leave everything behind and try their luck in Italy. But the struggle to feel at home—in a foreign country and even in one’s own body—will have corrosive effects, spurring a dangerous search for new identities. Steeped in a rich heritage of bewitching Albanian myth and legend, this is a deeply timely and deeply necessary novel about the broken reality for millions worldwide, about identity in all its complex permutations, and the human need to be seen.

    Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
    In a remote Polish village, Janina devotes the dark winter days to studying astrology, translating the poetry of William Blake, and taking care of the summer homes of wealthy Warsaw residents. Her reputation as a crank and a recluse is amplified by her not-so-secret preference for the company of animals over humans. Then a neighbor, Big Foot, turns up dead. Soon other bodies are discovered, in increasingly strange circumstances. As suspicions mount, Janina inserts herself into the investigation, certain that she knows whodunit. If only anyone would pay her mind… A deeply satisfying thriller cum fairy tale, Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead is a provocative exploration of the murky borderland between sanity and madness, justice and tradition, autonomy and fate. Whom do we deem sane? it asks. Who is worthy of a voice?

    The 2019 National Book Award winners will be announced on November 20.

    The post Announcing the Longlist for the 2019 National Book Award for Translated Literature appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jenny Shank 2:00 pm on 2019/05/02 Permalink
    Tags: , claiming ground, , francisco cantu, , if the creek don't rise: my life out west with the last blak widow of the civil war, , laura bell, mean, Memoirs, myriam gurba, rita williams, river house, sarahlee lawrence, searing memoirs, , the line becomes river   

    6 Memoirs to Read Next If You Loved Educated 

    Tara Westover’s memoir Educated is a blockbuster by any standard. Those who read it early sensed that this story, of Westover’s evolution from growing up scantly homeschooled in a family of rural Idaho survivalists and then earning her PhD in history from Cambridge, had the elements of a classic-in-the-making. Educated was lauded by Bill Gates and President Obama, became a finalist for many literary prizes (including the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Award, the LA Times Book Prize, and the PEN America Jean Stein Book Prize), and has endured for months on bestseller lists across the globe. There’s a good chance that you’ve already read it. So if you’re hankering for a memoir just as good as Educated, here are six stellar choices to read next.

    If The Creek Don’t Rise: My Life Out West with the Last Black Widow of the Civil War, by Rita Williams
    If you loved the way Educated took you inside a family living as though they were in a prior century, this memoir will inspire the same awe. Williams was born in Denver in the 1950s. Her father left her mother for another woman, and her mom died from carbon dioxide inhalation in a boarding house when Rita was four. Rita was given to the nearest relative, her aunt Daisy, who lived a hardscrabble, subsistence lifestyle in the mountains near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Daisy, incredibly, was the last surviving black widow of a Civil War veteran. In the early 1900’s, when she was a teenager in a family of Tennessee sharecroppers, she married a 79-year-old Civil War veteran to escape the KKK-ridden South. They came West, where Daisy eventually took Rita in, raising her in poverty, with tough love—with an emphasis on the tough. Daisy is verbally abusive and the kind of woman who reminds a child to “urinate or move your bowels” before leaving the house, but also made an arrangement to wash a private school’s floors so Rita could attend. Williams’ rise in life is perhaps even more astonishing than Westover’s—she became a writer for the Los Angeles Times, O Magazine, and the television show “Queen of the South.”

    River House, by Sarahlee Lawrence
    While Westover grew up on a mountain in Idaho, Sarahlee Lawrence grew up on a high desert ranch in central Oregon with her parents, 70’s back-to-the-landers who raised her to be self-sufficient. She writes of her mom, “Her philosophy on mothering was one of release: a bow that shoots an arrow into the world.” And Sarahlee left to become a world-traveling river guide. But as the book opens, she’s running a river in Peru when she’s gripped with a powerful urge to return home. She does, and sets herself the task of building a log cabin, by hand, during the frigid winter months so she can continue to make her living as a river guide in the summer. Lawrence’s tenacity and stubbornness help her as she struggles to build a life and a home she’s proud of.

    Claiming Ground, by Laura Bell
    If you loved the passages of Educated where Westover tenderly described the western landscape, check out Laura Bell’s arresting Claiming Ground. Bell, like Westover, considered herself the black sheep of her family. A preacher’s daughter, Bell graduated from college in Kentucky in 1977 and decided to find her own religion, pursuing her “childhood’s private world blown larger than life, with a horse, two dogs, a rifle, a wilderness.” Bell came west with her sister and began working as a sheepherder in Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin. Each chapter is a lyrical snapshot from her life and work as a sheepherder, ranch hand, forest ranger, and masseuse.

    The Line Becomes A River, by Francisco Cantú
    Over the course of Educated, we see Westover’s eyes open and her mind expand as she learns lessons about the world that her isolated family never could have taught her. Westover also shares her struggles with mental instability as she tries to break free from them and start a new life. Cantú, too, begins The Line Becomes A River as a smart, sensitive young man, and has an awakening—and an unraveling—as he works for the U.S. Border Patrol. Cantú grew up along the border, speaking English and Spanish with his mother, who worked in National Parks. In college, he distinguishes himself as a scholar of the border, but feels his knowledge is too theoretical, and decides to learn firsthand about the situation at the border by joining the patrol, against the cautions of his mother. Searching, searing, and beautifully written, this book captures the complexities of life along the U.S.-Mexico border.

    Heavy: An American Memoir, by Kiese Laymon
    Tara Westover’s relationship with her parents was complicated, to say the least. Her father, whom she suspects has bipolar disorder, dominated her and subjected her to abuse. Yet Westover still loves her parents so much that breaking with them was heart-wrenching. In one of the most celebrated memoirs of recent years, Kiese Laymon likewise lays bare his fraught relationship with food, his body, and his mother, to whom he addresses the book. Laymon’s mother, an accomplished, loving, brilliant, black college professor in Jackson, Mississippi, raised him right and wrong at the same time. As Laymon pores through his past in this unflinching book that in the end casts no blame on his mother, he makes it clear that the abuse he suffered—from the beatings his mom gave him, to sexual violation by a babysitter, to his own disordered relationship with food—are the consequences of growing up in a society that acts as though poor black people are not fully human.

    Mean, by Myriam Gurba
    If you came away from reading Educated with a great admiration for Tara Westover’s pluck and knack for self-reinvention, here’s another indomitable memoirist to meet: Myriam Gurba. In Mean, Gurba tells the story of growing up in California in the shadow of Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, the daughter of a Mexican-American mother and a Polish-American father—she calls herself a “Molack.” Gurba writes with tremendous potency and wit about how people reacted to the Mexican side of her heritage—including a hysterical chapter in which she stays at a neighbor’s house and is served a disgusting, gloppy casserole the woman describes as “Mexican” food. As a young adult, Gurba is assaulted by a stranger who then goes on to rape and kill another woman, but this memoir does not follow the standard structure of a victim’s tale. Instead, it’s a heroine’s story, an account of how Gurba became the bold, hilarious artist, poet, and writer she is today. “Art is one way to work out touch gone wrong,” Gurba writes.

    The post 6 Memoirs to Read Next If You Loved <i>Educated</i> appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jenny Shank 8:01 pm on 2019/04/04 Permalink
    Tags: Memoirs, , , opening up   

    5 of the Best New Memoirs of Spring 

    Memoirs offer readers the opportunity to take a journey through another human’s life. No matter how different the particulars of the memoirist’s experience from our own, the best memoirs tap into something universal. Here are five fabulous memoirs hitting bookstores this spring that together capture a panoply of the American experience.

    Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob 
    In 2014, novelist Mira Jacob’s young son Z became obsessed with Michael Jackson, and he had a lot of questions about him, such as, “Was Michael Jackson Brown or was he white?” Jacob, whose parents are from India, is married to Jed, a Jewish man she met when they were growing up together in New Mexico. She told Z Michael Jackson turned white. “Are you going to turn white?” Z asks. His difficult, important, sometimes silly questions sparked Jacob to write a graphic memoir that takes the reader on a funny and bittersweet journey, illustrated with drawings of the people in her life cut out like paper dolls that move from scene to scene. As Jacob struggles to answer her son’s questions, she delves into her own complicated history of growing up brown, with skin darker than that of her parents, prompting her Indian relatives to describe her as “plain.” Jacob writes with honesty, humility, humor, and wisdom as she recounts painful and poignant moments from her life—such as the time she won a fifth grade Daughters of the American Revolution essay contest, and then, after she sent in her picture for the program, was given the wrong address for the banquet. Harder for her to bear is the way her in-laws vote in the 2016 presidential election, even after Jed writes them to say, “Please consider how this will harm our family.” Searching, candid, and full of heart, Good Talk provides an insightful conversation about race in America today.

    The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays by Esmé Weijun Wang
    It’s believed that approximately one percent of people have schizophrenia, and skilled and intelligent writer Esmé Weijun Wang takes care to guide readers through “the wilds” of the disorder. Wang, who won a 2018 Whiting Award and was named one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists on the strength of her debut novel, The Border of Paradise, was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type, after she was forced to drop out of Yale due to what she thought at the time was bipolar disorder. In between debilitating bouts with hallucinations and delusions, Wang has accomplished incredible achievements, from earning a degree at Stanford to becoming a medical researcher to making her name as a fashion blogger to racking up impressive writing honors, including the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize for this book. She explains the overachieving in this way: “I care about recognition as much as I care about my own self-regard, because I don’t trust my self-evaluation.” With admirable candor and probing insight, Wang chronicles bewildering experiences that include hospitalizations (“My third hospitalization occurred in rural Louisiana. I told the doctor that I was a writer and studied psychology at Yale and Stanford, which was about as believable as my saying that I was an astronaut and an identical twin born to a Russian ambassador”) and episodes in which she believes she is dead. “People speak of schizophrenics as though they were dead without being dead, gone in the eyes of those around them,” Wang writes, but The Collected Schizophrenias goes a long way toward restoring life and humanity to those with this condition.

    Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, by T Kira Madden
    In this harrowing memoir with a surprising conclusion, T Kira Madden describes a childhood of neglect set amid lavish privilege in Boca Raton, Florida. Madden’s Chinese Hawaiian mother grew up in Hawaii. Her father was Jewish and wealthy, the brother of Steve Madden, famous for his shoe empire. Through crystalline essays, Madden captures the experience as it must have felt to live it, in kaleidoscopic, fragmented fashion, out of chronological order. Madden’s mother is her father’s second wife. He left his first wife after Madden’s mother “rescued a mannequin from the J.C. Penney dump” and propped him up in the car and in the apartment for protection—they called him “Uncle Nuke.” Both Madden’s parents struggled with sobriety, and she was often left to her own devices, resulting in behavior including truancy and alcohol use, as well as experience with sexual assault. As shoebiz goes on in the background, Madden attends the kind of wealthy prep school whose students routinely receive plastic surgery as bar and bat mitzvah gifts; as one of the school’s few nonwhite students, she’s referred to by a racial slur she eventually adopts as a nickname. Despite the chaos of her upbringing, Madden’s love and forgiveness for both of her parents graces every page of this frank, lucid book.

    What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays by Damon Young 
    Damon Young is the cofounder and editor-in-chief of VerySmartBrothas, a senior editor at The Root, and a writer of great wit and acumen who tells the story of growing up black and male in Philadelphia with incredible verve. He wrote this book, he explains, “to examine and discover the whys of my life instead of continuing to allow the whats to dominate and fog my memories.” Why did he wait until age 26 to earn a driver’s license? Why did his mother die young? Why did he enjoy Kool-Aid into adulthood? How can he reconcile the fact that he’s troubled by his neighborhood’s gentrification when he also enjoys the upscale amenities this brings? Young tells stories from his life in his trademark kinetic, discursive, joke-cracking style. These essays will amuse and trouble. “Thursday-Night Hoops,” about a pickup basketball league Young plays in with mostly white teammates, should be required reading to help understand the complexities and contradictions of black and white people coexisting in America today.

    The Body Papers: A Memoir by Grace Talusan
    Grace Talusan immigrated to America with her family from the Philippines when she was a preschooler. In this moving, clear-eyed memoir, which won the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, she probes the events of her life, documenting them with photographs and official papers. She involves the reader in her quest to make sense of who she has become by charting where she’s been. “Immigration is a kind of death,” she writes. “You leave one life for another one with no guarantee of seeing your loved ones or home again.” The portrait Talusan creates of her father, Totoy, is one of the most complex and beautiful parts of the book. Totoy grew up in a compound with his family in Manila. To punish him when he was ten, his mother hung him. Totoy thought he would die, but he survived, immigrated to America (after having all his rotting teeth pulled), and became an ophthalmologist. When Grace was young, Totoy and her mother practiced stricter Filipino-style parenting but grew toward an American permissiveness and warmth. After Totoy learns that his visiting father had been sexually abusing Grace from age seven to thirteen, he becomes her fierce protector, disowning his entire extended family to defend his daughter, and doing everything he can to help her heal. But Talusan is still working on healing. It’s clear that telling her story with such openness and perceptiveness, is part of that ongoing process. “Reaching out to other people and connecting,” she writes, “which is the exact opposite of how I felt when I was being abused, is why and how I am alive.”

    The post 5 of the Best New Memoirs of Spring appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
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