They say a watched pot will never boil, but have you ever actually watched a pot of water go from lukewarm to boiling? I never have because if I’m boiling water then I’m probably doing a million other things while that happens: chopping vegetables, seasoning meat, catching up on Breaking Bad. So maybe it’s true—maybe a watched pot never does boil. Science may have something to say about that but for now, I’m going with the old maxim.
This month’s memoirists find a number of things once they stop looking for them, whether it’s a mulberry tree, a pregnancy, or even Paris Hilton. Sometimes when you stop searching, you find that the thing that you’ve been looking for has been there all along.
Buhl, Jennifer. Shooting Stars: My Unexpected Life Photographing Hollywood’s Most Famous. Sourcebooks. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9781402297007. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781402297014. MEMOIR
Buhl didn’t move to LA to be a paparazza but after a chance encounter with a photographer who tells her he made $500 on one picture of Paris Hilton, she tries out the profession. Pretty soon she’s chasing celebrities in her pickup truck and peeing in cups to avoid missing the shot. This memoir tells the story of her three years in the profession and reveals the surprisingly cooperative relationship paparazzi have with celebrities. Buhl rises to the top of her game, prepared when opportunity crosses her path: whether it be Paris Hilton flaunting the Holy Bible or Jessica Alba in a bathing suit. Celebrities themselves would benefit from reading this as it not only reveals their secrets but those of the paparazzi as well. VERDICT Any reader who has ever flipped through the pages of US Weekly or People magazine in a grocery store checkout line will find this memoir endlessly fascinating.
Chin, Ava. Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal. S. & S. May 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781451656190. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781451656213. MEMOIR
Chin is the former “Urban Forager” columnist for the New York Times City Room blog and a food writer (Saveur). In this memoir, she bounces from borough to borough in search of yellow morels, lamb’s quarters, stinging nettles, and other wild edibles to create vibrant meals using ingredients found in New York City parks, playgrounds, and in some cases, the cracks of the sidewalk. But while foraging for these edibles, Chin simultaneously finds herself on a quest to make sense of her own family rifts and her romantic shortcomings. And just like the elusive mulberry tree she must find on deadline, Chin finds her most sought-after answers can be found in seemingly obvious places: beneath her bedroom window or at a party in her neighborhood. VERDICT Chin’s memoir is the story of finding when you’ve stopped looking so hard and offers practical advice for foragers of all experience levels. Recipes included.
Doll, Jen. Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest. Riverhead. May 2014. 336p. ISBN 9781594631986. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101631850. MEMOIR
First comes love, then comes marriage. Then comes a sloppy makeout session at a Connecticut wedding that results in the loss of a shoe? From a courthouse marriage to nuptials in Jamaica, Doll has been the guest at dozens of weddings. But what could have been a ragtag collection of her escapades as a wedding guest going overboard at the open bar is instead a thoughtful meditation on the institution of marriage. By exploring her evolving relationship with each couple as they grow into their 20s and 30s, her story is more about how friendships can change as each party enters different phases of life. VERDICT A great book to pack for the plane ride to that friend’s destination wedding, this fun rumination on love, marriage, and adult friendship is the memoir version of Girls in White Dresses. [See Prepub Alert, 12/1/13.]
Stibbe, Nina. Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home. Little, Brown. Apr. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780316243391. $25; ISBN 9780316243407. MEMOIR
This epistolary memoir is a compilation of letters that 20-year-old Nina Stibbe wrote home to her sister while working as a nanny for the two sons of Mary-Kay Wilmers, editor of the London Review of Books. The letters contain Nina’s misadventures as a nanny rubbing elbows with the northwest London literary set (the playwright Alan Bennett is a frequent dinner guest) over mediocre attempts at bolognese. Nina is clumsy and self-deprecating but generously shares tidbits of conversation between the two boys, Sam and Will Frears. VERDICT This eccentric collection of letters will appeal to fans of British quirk; the dialogue is so snappy it’s almost incredible.
Fagan, Kate. The Reappearing Act: Coming Out as Gay on a College Basketball Team Led by Born-Again Christians. Skyhorse. May 2014. 200p. ISBN 9781629142050. $24.95. MEMOIR
In ESPN sports writer Fagan’s coming-of-age memoir we are reminded of the pitfalls of peer pressure. She struggled with understanding her sexuality while playing college basketball on a team led by evangelical Christians. Invited to join the Fellowship of Christian Athletes by the leaders of the team and encouraged by her best friend, she began attending the meetings. For almost a year, Fagan learned all she could about Christianity while silently questioning the message and deciphering her own desire, as she felt targeted when the group prayed for those “living in sin.” This resulted in Fagan becoming withdrawn and struggling to succeed in basketball. When she found love with a fellow teammate, rumors began, and her best friend took her aside to tell her she could not support her lifestyle. Fagan’s memoir details the intertwined relationships of friends, teammates, mentors, and lovers. VERDICT A thought-provoking read that takes you on the journey of a young woman navigating her discoveries and beginning to find her true self.—Meghan Dowell, Consulting Librarian, Beloit College, WI
Hoen, Sean Madigan. Songs Only You Know. Soho. Apr. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9781616953362. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781616953379. MEMOIR
Hoen, also of punk bands Thoughts of Ionesco and Leaving Rouge, places his memoir firmly in the middle of Detroit’s local punk music scene during the 1980s and 90s, after drug addiction and white flight ravaged the city. The addiction is an especially relevant issue, as he details his father’s addiction to crack cocaine and the ways in which it altered his home life and indirectly contributed to his post-adolescent lifestyle experimentation. This book could run alongside music-based memoirs such as Patti Smith’s Just Kids or even Legs McNeil’s Please Kill Me, but Hoen’s writing is a bit choppy. It becomes hard to establish a sense of time as he moves back and forth between memories and meta-memories. Nearly 400 pages seems long for something lacking in historical content; it is, in other words, an extremely long song you know. Not a bad read, just not a memorable one. VERDICT This story’s themes are familiar but maybe only Detroit/Dearborn locals will really snap their fingers to it. Collection management staff there and where punk is popular might want to make sure Smith’s tome is on the shelf.—Stacie Williams, Lexington P.L., KY
McDonald, Donna. The Art of Being Deaf: A Memoir. Gallaudet Univ. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9781563685972. pap. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9781563685989. MEMOIR
There seems to be an image of what deafness is amongst those who are not; McDonald (disability studies, Griffith Univ., Queensland, Australia) asks the reader, “What does it mean to be deaf?” Born in 1950s Australia, she was the only deaf child in a family of five. Placed in an oral-deaf school at age three, she was trained to communicate only in spoken English. After being mainstreamed at age eight, she excelled in speechreading, determination, and hard work. Oralism has its share of controversy; to the Deaf community, it is a denying of self, a demand to adapt to the hearing world or else. When a psychologist asked the author if her hearing loss had a big impact on her, McDonald resented the question but used it as a jumping-off point to reexamine her life, and where her deafness fit into her perception of it. Her personal recollections are fascinating and often stunningly vivid in visual imagery. VERDICT Will appeal to those interested in Deaf culture and disability awareness in general, as well as biography enthusiasts.—Virginia Johnson, Weymouth P.L., MA