Ordering à la Carte | Memoir

For those who are not in the mood for any one thing but ravenous for variety, this month’s memoirs reflect the delightful miscellany of summer, including books about overcoming adversity, practicing mindfulness, rising above poverty, and experiencing romance and art. It’s like eating a pint of raspberries, a giant bowl of popcorn, and fresh gazpacho for dinner—each is so satisfying yet so different. The hope is that readers will find these titles simply delectable.

Catron, Mandy Len. How To Fall in Love with Anyone: A Memoir in Essays. S. & S. Jun. 2017. 256p. ISBN 9781501137440. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501137464. MEMOIR
This memoir emerged from the kernel of Catron’s well-received article in the 2015 New York Times “Modern Love” column, “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This.” In this work, the author explores the origins of contemporary perspectives on love and romance—drawing from traditional fairy tales and her own family myths, as well as popular sources such as Pretty Woman. In deconstructing these narratives, we begin to see how unhealthy and unbalanced they truly are. Catron also brings her own romantic life to the dissection table, as we see her college sweetheart evolve into her cohabitating boyfriend, and how the two become reluctant spouses. We also meet the man who inspired her New York Times piece and learn about the start of their relationship, which moves forward in an informed and aware way. Catron is a talented writer who makes accurate and insightful observations about romance, dating, and even breakups and divorce. VERDICT Recommended reading for anyone in a long-term relationship, as well as for aficionados of the romance genre. [See Prepub Alert, 1/9/17.]

Howd, Jennifer. Sit, Walk, Don’t Talk: How I Survived a Silent Meditation Retreat. Parallax. May 2017. 144p. ISBN 9781941529706. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781941529713. MEMOIR
Howd’s slim guide to undertaking a meditation retreat is both readable and educational. Readers might wonder, “A silent meditation retreat, how much can you say about that?” Howd first shares her own experience about her introduction to meditation practice and her initial silent meditation retreat, complete with its lessons learned. She also gives a list of tips to help new practitioners enjoy a successful retreat, including a packing list and how to reenter the day-to-day world after the retreat has ended. Particularly inclusive are her recommendations for completing a DIY at-home retreat, as she recognizes that one’s resources and daily responsibilities don’t always allow for an experience away from home. The author also includes a recommended reading list, as well as instructions for two different types of meditation. A helpful, firsthand account of how one woman joined the meditation community, Howd’s book provides a gentle introduction to how meditation can offer peace and tranquility in a frenetic world. VERDICT Recommended for readers who are interested in taking up meditation practice.

starred review starReyes, Emma. The Book of Emma Reyes. Penguin Classics. Aug. 2017. 192p. tr. from Spanish by Daniel Alarcón. ISBN 9780143108689. $24; ebk. ISBN 9781101992098. MEMOIR
In 23 letters to Colombian author and historian Germán Arciniegas, artist Reyes maps out her childhood, beginning in an impoverished neighborhood in Bogotá, Colombia, where she plays in the trash heap and lives in a single room with her sister and an indifferent guardian (possibly her mother). Emma is moved to the rural town Guateque, then back to Bogotá, then to another out-of-the-way area called Fusagasuga. She and her sister are abandoned, then placed in a convent workhouse. When she’s older, Emma receives a job assignment in the chapel, preparing flowers, vestments, and statuary for mass. A nun teaches her to read and she enjoys additional freedoms in the extremely restrictive environment, until finally she escapes. This epistolary memoir received high praise when it was first published in Spanish; it is easy to see why. With a child’s innocence, Reyes narrates her experience with precise, direct prose that is interspersed with mature and thoughtful insights. VERDICT This exceptional memoir in a nontraditional format will captivate those interested in Reyes’s artworks, as well as the casual reader. Alarcón’s translation is artful, as is his introduction.

Williams, Patricia & Jeannine Amber. Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat. Dey St: HarperCollins. Aug. 2017. 240p. ISBN 9780062407306. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062407320. MEMOIR
Williams illustrates what it is like to grow up black and in poverty in modern-day America. Most compelling is her depiction of the dearth of options for a young girl in her situation: at age 12, she meets a man in his 20s who offers a means of escape from her unstable home life. By 15, she has two children with him; to support them, she sells crack cocaine. At 18, she’s in jail. At 23, she starts anew, but without a legitimate work history, she struggles to obtain minimum-wage jobs. She earns a GED and a medical assisting degree, but criminal background checks make working in a doctor’s office impossible. She marries again, this time to someone who is steadfast and reliable, and continues to be a strong and supportive force for her family. When it’s suggested that she become a comedian, she brushes it off as unrealistic. But then she signs up for open-mic night and gets the audience laughing at the anecdotes she tells of her childhood. Her first break leads to a guest spot with comedian Marc Maron, followed by well-deserved recognition of her own comedy chops. VERDICT With colorful language and an eye for the ridiculous, Williams uses comedy to address the dark events of her upbringing and early adulthood without lessening their impact or gravity. [See Prepub Alert, 3/8/17.]

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Rachael Dreyer About Rachael Dreyer

Rachael is currently the Head of Research Services for the Eberly Family Special Collections Library at the Pennsylvania State University. If she's not at work or reading, she's probably binge-watching bad TV, trying out some recipe with ingredients she can't pronounce, or getting lost on a new hiking trail. She's a fan of farmer's markets, strong coffee, and unconventionally attractive dogs.

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