Sorry about the cloak-and-dagger stuff, but I cannot say much more than this: for the past month, I have been fulfilling my civic duty by serving as an alternate juror on a federal criminal trial.
I can say that I have come to appreciate‚ truly‚ the value of narrative as a result of my time with the feds. A trial is just one big story, told in different voices; the interaction of the jurors, as they get to know each other, is composed of little narratives.
Voices like these, loud and quiet, inform each of this month’s memoirs. Some tell of grief and mourning, and some of cocktails and high heels, but they all tell us a story and communicate a life.
Casey, John. Room for Improvement: Notes on a Dozen Lifelong Sports. Knopf. 2011. 240p. ISBN 9780307700025. $25.95. MEMOIR
National Book Award-winning novelist Casey (Spartina) chronicles a lifelong addiction to extreme physical exertion in this series of interconnected essays. Rowing, judo, long-distance running, biking, cross-country skiing-you name it, he’s done it, and done it hard. In the hands of a lesser writer, this would be all braggadocio. With Casey’s matter-of-fact delivery, these short tales of a man against the clock (or river or trail) become single-serving epics.
What I’m Telling My Friends It’s not just about the scoreboard. Casey’s life of challenge has provided him with consolations, distractions, and triumphs. Maybe we should all get outside and “just do it.”
Cody, Joshua. [sic]: A Memoir. Norton. 2011. 225p. photogs. ISBN 9780393081060. $24.95. MEMOIR
It’s not just sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll in Cody’s encounter with cancer‚ it’s more like sex and chemo, sex and morphine, and sex and Debussy. The ferocity with which Cody reaches out for life in the face of disease and gruesome treatments underlies each word of this often dreamlike saga. No gauzy Hallmark special, this story provides readers with a snapshot of the hazy, bloody depths of a battle for life.
What I’m Telling My Friends Cody was diagnosed while he was a grad student in music composition, and it shows. The theme here has many gorgeous variations but one major idea: life is for living. Cody never stopped seeking out experiences, even if some of them may have been from morphine dreams.
Miré, Soraya. The Girl with Three Legs: A Memoir. Chicago Review, dist. by IPG. 2011. 384p. photogs. ISBN 9781569767139. $26.95. MEMOIR
The corrosive personal and social effects of the cultural practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) pervade every aspect of human rights activist Miré’s account of her early life in Somalia and of her emigration to Europe and, eventually, to the United States. The complicity of other women in perpetuating the practice of FGM as well as the betrayals by her family members loom in the background of this conversational story of Miré’s efforts to heal her body as well as spirit.
What I’m Telling My Friends If you need any proof that the personal is the political, this memoir is for you. Miré holds the practice of FGM under a magnifying glass, but her narrative is diluted by meandering, name-dropping anecdotes of celebrity encounters as she travels as an anti-FGM activist.
Rosenblatt, Roger. Kayak Morning: Reflections on Love, Grief, and Small Boats. Ecco: HarperCollins. Jan. 2012. c.160p. ISBN 9780062084033. pap. $12.99. MEMOIR
Rosenblatt (Lapham Rising; Children of War) continues the meditation on grief and loss he began in Making Toast, which tells of the shell-shocked months his family endured after the sudden death of his 38-year-old daughter, Amy. Hours spent paddling alone in a kayak provided Rosenblatt with time to reflect on his loss and on the universal experience of grief. His journey toward the acceptance of grief as a way to keep Amy in his life is both affecting and graceful.
What I’m Telling My Friends Rosenblatt’s thoughtful examination of the life, language, and literature of grief will prove helpful to others trying to make sense out a world of hurt. His reasoned argument that love conquers grief is one that only a survivor can make. [See Prepub Alert, 7/25/11.]
Wilkinson, Kendra with Jared Shapiro. Being Kendra: Cribs, Cocktails, and Getting My Sexy Back. It: HarperCollins. 2011. 240p. photogs. ISBN 9780062091185. $24.99. MEMOIR
A career as a reality TV star and one of Hugh Hefner’s “girls next door” did not prepare Wilkinson for the additional demands of marriage and motherhood. The steps she took to regain equilibrium in her world are breathlessly recounted here; anyone wondering whether they, too, should allow a reality TV crew into their home during their first successful breastfeeding session may benefit. (Kendra’s advice: set limits.) This book takes up where Wilkinson’s previous memoir, Sliding Into Home, left off, and we can, no doubt, expect another installment as life throws its next curve at her.
What I’m Telling My Friends Honestly, there was not much here for me to grab on to. There are some opportunities to satisfy any voyeuristic questions you may have had about where Wilkinson and her husband, Hank Bassett, like to have sex. But I don’t recall you ever mentioning you were thinking about that-I know I wasn’t.
Winterson, Jeanette. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Grove. Mar. 2012. c.240p. ISBN 9780802120106. $25. MEMOIR
British novelist (Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit) Winterson’s adoption as an infant by a fanatically religious mother and an ineffectual father set in motion a lifetime of stories. She includes sketches of the unrelenting drabness of a childhood in postwar northern England and provides a vivid picture of the grotesque behaviors of the lunatic mother she refers to as “Mrs. Winterson.” This is a detailed portrait of a life that saved itself.
What I’m Telling My Friends The hard work Winterson did to find her place in the world after growing up as an outsider’s outsider is not exaggerated. We are lucky she survived to tell the tale. [See Prepub Alert, 9/12/11.]