Shine a Light | Memoir

This month’s memoirs tell readers about strength, flexibility, and openmindedness; how to be inquisitive, curious about our surroundings, and empathetic to those around us. These books all shed light on people and stories that would otherwise remain hidden. Private conversations and ways to foster more genuine bonds are not the things of tell-all memoirs. Here, Kelly Corrigan aids readers in building stronger connections with loved ones; Clara Beaudoux turns the spotlight on an ordinary Parisian, whose experience reveals what it was like coming of age during World War II; Myriam Gurba writes openly of the sexual violence perpetrated against her as a child and a young adult; and Shoba Narayan describes how stability is a nonexistent commodity for her milk lady Sarala.

Beaudoux, Clara. The Madeleine Project: Uncovering a Parisian Life. New Vessel. Sept. 2017. 285p. illus. ISBN 9781939931498. pap. $23.95. MEMOIR
Beaudoux moves into a Paris apartment and discovers that the previous tenant had left many of her possessions neatly boxed in a basement storage room. When she learns the occupant’s name is Madeleine, her curiosity is piqued. She then contacts Madeleine’s godson, who has no interest in these belongings and gives her permission to do what she likes with the boxes. As a journalist, Beaudoux does what comes naturally and begins to document Madeleine’s life. Using photographs that she captions with posts on Twitter, she introduces the world to this woman, quoting from her letters, showing her keepsakes, and even interviewing those who lived next door and knew Madeleine well. VERDICT A voyeuristic delight, fit for anyone who relishes pawing through boxes of forgotten family treasures. The print format, however, makes it difficult to enjoy the scope of the project fully. For example, readers will have to seek out the audio recordings and links to additional information. 

Corrigan, Kelly. Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning To Say. Random. Jan. 2018. 240p. ISBN 9780399588372. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780399588389. MEMOIR
Like a rollicking, honest conversation with a wise aunt, best friend, or mentor, Corrigan’s (The Middle Place) latest memoir approaches each chapter with a question or phrase, using events from the author’s own life to illustrate how important pieces of conversation can bring us together. The author is upfront about her personal growth as well as her imperfections. Through words and phrases such as “I was wrong,” “tell me more,” “onward,” “I love you,” and “this is it,” Corrigan shares how her worldview is shaped by the people close to her. Words matter, and when they are used with compassion, empathy, and a desire to learn and grow, they are extremely powerful, even if we’ve heard them hundreds of times. VERDICT A user’s manual to tough conversations, this book takes readers through common phrases but looks closely at what we say, share, and gain when we apply them to appropriate situations. [See Prepub Alert, 7/24/17.]

starred review starGurba, Myriam. Mean. Coffee House. Nov. 2017. 160p. ISBN 9781566894913. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781566895019. MEMOIR
Gurba’s writing makes you want to know her better. Her voice is irreverent, lyrical, and sharply observant, even as her book offers dark commentary on what it means to be a woman in American society. Here, she addresses traumatic experiences, including sexual violence that men forced upon her and against other women, disordered eating, and the cultural norms of women’s beauty. Her work also explores issues of race and sexuality; Gurba is mixed race and queer, and her narrative packs a lot into only a few pages. If you believe that women, and all people, have the right to safety in public and domestic spaces, the right to control their bodies and to express their gender identity and sexuality, and that racism and prejudices of all kinds continue to impact and restrict the promise and potential of many in this country, then this is a book you’ll want to read. VERDICT Gurba is a writer for our times; her memoir brings a powerful perspective.

Narayan, Sstarred review starhoba. The Milk Lady of Bangalore: An Unexpected Adventure. Workman. Jan. 2018. 272p. ISBN 9781616206154. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616207618. MEMOIR
Writer and cookbook author Narayan grew up in the Indian capital of Chennai and has spent most of her adult life in New York City. As her parents and in-laws grow older, the author and her husband decide to move their family to Bangalore to be closer to them. Settling into her new home, Narayan begins to buy milk from Sarala, the local milk lady, whose small herd grazes in the city. Sarala and Narayan become friends, and as their relationship develops, Narayan’s involvement with and interest in the cows increases. While Narayan never loses sight of her own privileged position, even as she navigates the intricacies of caste and class in modern-day India, her stories radiate with compassion. Living in Bangalore, the author’s Western sensibilities are met with both delight and inconvenience, and she revels in relating her experiences on the page. VERDICT An absolute joy to read. Through her close encounters with the bovine kind, Narayan shows how Indian traditions are incorporated into her contemporary way of life.

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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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