Memoir Short Takes: Stories Broad and Narrow

June delivers a batch of memoirs that seem, at first, unrelated. There are a few‚ dealing with a serious mental illness or the practice of pilgrimage‚ that appear topical, specific. Others look wider, with narratives that encompass an entire lifetime. Still, through the craft of storytelling, these books show that whether broad or narrow in scope, they reflect the whole of their writers’ lives.

sharp Memoir Short Takes: Stories Broad and NarrowFitzpatrick, David. Sharp: A Memoir. Morrow. Aug. 2012. 368p. Illus. ISBN 9780062064028. $25.99. MEMOIR
Fitzpatrick, the son of a middle-class family not without its own torments, matter-of-factly relates the alarming details of his slow, inexorable descent from a beach-loving adolescence into a 20-year addiction to self-injury, or cutting. His long climb back to a life he could live outside of institutions (and the terrible captivity of his own thoughts) provided Fitzpatrick with ample opportunities to experience the benefits and drawbacks of the many therapies he and his desperate family pursued over the terrifying course of his illness. VERDICT In a word: harrowing. Fitzpatrick’s own story pales in comparison to those of some of his fellow patients. Readers will be haunted by these accounts but gratified by the author’s hard-fought détente with the demons that drove him to carve into his own skin.

Lewis-Kraus, Gideon. A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). 2012. 352p. ISBN 9781594487255. $25.95. MEMOIR
The popularity of pilgrimages among the young, hip, and secular is reverently dissected by freelance writer Lewis-Kraus in this chronicle of his own expeditions along pilgrimage routes. Following in the footsteps of travelers on the Camino de Santiago, the temple path of Shikoku Island, and, finally, the Hasidic festival trail in Uman, Ukraine, Lewis-Kraus has time to mull over his fraught relationship with his father, his pain-ridden feet, and the age-old tension between obligation and desire. VERDICT Lewis-Kraus’s fabulous descriptions of hipster life in Berlin provide the perfect frame for this portrait of determination and a quest for understanding once he hits the road.

Marafioti, Oksana. American Gypsy. Farrar. Jul. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9780374104078. pap. $16. MEMOIR
The trials and tribulations of Gypsy émigré Marafioti are recounted affectionately in this clear-eyed look at the upheavals her family experienced after they fled the Soviet steppe for Hollywood. Their itinerant showbiz life in the USSR did little to prepare Marafioti and her sister for the realities of high school in the United States. She describes the difficulties of maintaining Romani customs, as well as the traditions and lore that explain them, in an alien place far from the Russia where they grew up. VERDICT Marafioti provides readers with a more in-depth look at Romani culture than most of her audience will have seen. For readers wondering about the origins of those legendary caravans and that surplus of jewelry.

Pasanella, Marco. Uncorked: My Journey Through the Crazy World of Wine. Clarkson Potter: Crown Pub. Group. 2012. 224p. ISBN 9780307719843. $24. MEMOIR
New York City vintner Pasanella (Living in Style Without Losing Your Mind) demystifies the opaque mythology of the world of wine with the hard-earned knowledge he gained from opening a wine shop in a seedy, not-quite-yet-gentrified area of lower Manhattan. As much about family and food as wine, this reminiscence will appeal to non-oenophiles, though it will reward readers who can tell pinot noir from grigio. VERDICT Pasanella packs in a lot of personal tidbits: he gossips about the men who work at the nearby fish market, his employees, heavy-hitting winemakers and importers, Martha Stewart, the New York State Liquor Authority, and so on. This is a chatty book.

Price, Reynolds. Midstream: An Unfinished Memoir. Scribner. 2012. 192p. ISBN 9781439183496. $25. MEMOIR
The years between 1961 and 1965 were pivotal to novelist Price’s (Kate Vaiden) life. He chronicles them in a manuscript that remained unfinished at the time of his death in 2011. Friends, relatives, and students have helped put together this final work from that manuscript, supplementing it with letters and other materials. The book provides a detailed account of the years in Price’s life just before his first novel, A Long and Happy Life, was published to acclaim in 1962 and as he came to terms with the type of life he would lead as a gay man, a writer, a professor, and a son. VERDICT This is a memoir in the classic mold; excerpts from diaries and asides about dinner parties and steamship voyages buoy Price’s short but fully reported story of his first appearance on the literary radar.

Roper, Jane. Double Time: How I Survived‚ and Mostly Thrived‚ Through the First Three Years of Mothering Twins. St. Martin’s. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780312552237. $24.99. MEMOIR
Stunned by the logistical difficulties of raising twin daughters, blogger and novelist Roper (Eden Lake; blogs.babble.com/babble-voices/baby-squared/) spends the first few years of their lives trying to regain equilibrium in her own. Bouts of unhappiness lead her to seek treatment, over and over, for a depression that just won’t quit. The details of managing one’s own mental health while trying to raise two healthy kids form the basis of this frank conversation piece. VERDICT Roper doesn’t whine her way through her story. It’s not hard to accept that even an articulate, well-educated, relatively privileged mother in a stable relationship, with the full support of her partner, can have a hard time getting the help she needs if she’s suffering from postpartum depression.

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