Here’s an idea: life is a journey, not a destination. I read that on a coffee mug or something. Maybe it was Emerson’s coffee mug. Memoir can be a journey, too: through a war, or across an ocean, or into a marriage. In good memoir, the story is every bit as important as the ending, and this month’s memoirists take us along on their journeys through middle age, hell, and everywhere in between. You will not want to miss the ride.
David, Anna. Falling for Me: How I Hung Curtains, Learned To Cook, Travelled to Seville, and Fell in Love. Harper. Oct. 2011. c.320p. ISBN 9780061996047. pap. $14.99. MEMOIR
What do former Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Helen Gurley Brown and TV sexpert and writer David (Bought; Party Girl) have in common? Probably? Not much. But it was Gurley Brown’s 1962 classic Sex and the Single Girl that David turned to in desperation when her life, romantic and otherwise, was running off the rails. David’s yearlong attempt at living like Gurley Brown provides her with some useful life skills, if not what she expected. Self-help aficionados will enjoy this meta take on a self-help book‚ a self-help book about a self-help book.
What I’m Telling My Friends: This was pretty funny and a good reminder that there’s much to be said for putting on your own oxygen mask first. You can have a nice life if you know how to roast a chicken, travel alone, and dress right. The rest is gravy‚ but you’ll be in a much better place to make that gravy if you can take care of yourself, if you know what I mean. And I think you do.
Ephron, Amy. Loose Diamonds‚Ä¶and Other Things I’ve Lost (and Found) Along the Way. William Morrow. Sept. 2011. c.176p. ISBN 9780061958748. $19.99. ESSAYS
Ephron (One Sunday Morning; A Cup of Tea) turns a journalist’s eye on herself in this series of humorous, odd, and whimsical snapshots from a life lived in relative privilege in the land of the Hollywood insider. She details a surreal childhood friendship with an avian-obsessed neighbor and her own infatuation with Saks Fifth Avenue, but there are also points of real seriousness, including thinly veiled accusations of date rape (back before it was taken seriously) and mentions of her mother’s drinking. Those in the know may enjoy sussing out the identities of the people who appear in these pages.
What I’m Telling My Friends: I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who Ephron was talking about, or alluding to, in her essays, since I am pretty much the ultimate entertainment world outsider. Still, there’s not much here for the rest of us to grab on to, unless it is the knowledge that even the beautiful people have trouble blending their stepfamilies, too.
Lagnado, Lucette. The Arrogant Years: One Girl’s Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn. Ecco. Sept. 2011. illus. c.400p. ISBN 9780061803673. $25.99. MEMOIR
Lagnado revisits her family’s remarkable experiences as Egyptian immigrants in this distaff version of her earlier, acclaimed memoir, The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit. Lagnado’s mother is the subject this time, and the story of her early years in Cairo is a captivating one. Lagnado covers familiar territory once her father enters the picture, and the book’s focus is diffused when the family arrives in the United States. Still, the story will have great appeal to readers in search of tales about immigrant experiences, and it weaves together the life stories of several women in a way that will resonate with readers of any ethnicity.
What I’m Telling My Friends: The author’s mother’s early life in Egypt is so vividly drawn that the rest of the book actually seems pale in comparison. Lagnado’s done a fabulous job, again, of transporting us to a multi-ethnic Cairo that no longer exists. That alone is worth the price of admission.
Manning, Lauren. Unmeasured Strength. Henry Holt and Company. Aug. 2011. illus. c.272p. ISBN 9780805094633. $25. MEMOIR
Manning walked into hell when she opened the door of the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001. She spent the next ten years recovering from burns over 80 percent of her body and dealing with the murder of hundreds of fellow workers and friends. Her steady narrative recounts the almost unimaginable events of 9/11 from an eyewitness’s point of view and carries the reader through her years of hideous surgeries, grueling rehab, and healing. This is a story of survival in the face of horror.
What I’m Telling My Friends: Manning never self-aggrandizes and does not present herself as a hero, but it is clear that she chose, very early on, to fight to live despite her devastating injuries. If you want to read a victim’s story, this is not your book. If you want to read a book filled with grace and gratitude and determination, this is for you. (Check out Love, Greg and Lauren by Manning’s husband for a collection of his emails to family and friends about her injuries and early recovery if you need further proof that this is one tough woman.)
Ureneck, Lou. Cabin: Two Brothers, a Dream, and Five Acres in Maine. Viking. Sept. 2011. c.256p. ISBN 9780670022946. $25.95. MEMOIR
Ureneck (journalism, Boston Univ.; Backcast: Fatherhood, Fly-fishing, and a River Journey through the Heart of Alaska) skips the red convertible and faces down middle-age angst, illness, and divorce by building a cabin, with the help of his brother and nephews, deep in the Maine woods. Part journalistic, part lyrical, the retelling of the cabin’s construction allows Ureneck to muse about the importance of family, nature, and memory. Readers in search of stories of escape will enjoy Ureneck’s tale of man against lumber.
What I’m Telling My Friends: Ureneck writes beautifully about the challenges of mid-life and trying to accomplish something of worth in the face of mounting adversity. It’s a guy’s book, but I enjoyed every page of it and kind of want to drive by the cabin and see if it is as great as it sounds.
Weir, Theresa. The Orchard: A Memoir. Grand Central Publishing. Sept. 2011. c.240p. ISBN 9780446584692. $24.99. MEMOIR
Take the building blocks of a gothic romance‚ restless girl, handsome but moody guy, whirlwind romance, haunting backdrop, and a secret‚ and move them to a Midwestern apple farm, and you have all the elements of Weir’s (Bad Karma; Cool Shade) early marriage. Her chops as a mystery/suspense/romance novelist (she has also written under the penname Anne Frasier) serve her well here. The portrait she creates of two people working at love in a menacing environment is the stuff of novels. Her reflections on love and honor in times of great difficulty move this dreamy memoir from the land of make-believe to a place of heartbreaking reality for readers of novels and family histories alike.
What I’m Telling My Friends: Eerie and atmospheric, this is an indie movie in print. You’ll read and read to see where it is going, although it’s clear early on that the future is not going to be kind to anyone involved. Weir’s story is more proof that only love can break your heart.
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