Choose Your Own Adventure | Memoir

Self-discovery is what links this month’s memoirs. Who are we? What are we here for? Do we have a purpose? While all the authors here write about finding themselves in a fascinating variety of ways, special attention should be called to Sands Hall’s account of her years as a Scientologist. This completely absorbing book is as gripping as any thriller as well as searching and insightful.

starred review starHall, Sands. Flunk. Start. Reclaiming My Decade Lost in Scientology. Counterpoint. Mar. 2018. 400p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781619021785. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781619021808. MEMOIR
Novelist Hall (Catching Heaven) has written a beautiful memoir about spending seven years as a Scientologist. What sets this memoir apart from so many recent “leaving Scientology” narratives is that the author has no ax to grind. Though she never felt comfortable as a member of the religion, she fell in love with the study of words and their meaning, which she says is an integral part of Scientology coursework. She still uses these methods as a teacher of creative writing. Although her experience was mild compared to others’, she was frequently pressured to “disconnect” from her parents, as they disapproved of her involvement in the religion and were thus considered “suppressive persons.” Hall leaves much up to readers to decide, but few will close this memoir wishing to become Scientologists and she does sound a clear warning, at the end, to stay away. VERDICT An early candidate for memoir of the year, this is a thrilling story of one woman’s search for truth and her place in the world.

Kuusisto, Stephen. Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey with an Extraordinary Labrador. S. & S. Mar. 2018. 256p. ISBN 9781451689792. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781451689815. MEMOIR
Poet and teacher Kuusisto has written two previous memoirs about blindness, but in this one he relates his experience with his first guide dog, Corky, who came into his life late, when he was 38. Though short and succinct, this book contains a wealth of detail, depth, and substance that memoirs twice its length often don’t. Kuusisto intersperses his story of learning to work with Corky with little histories of the guide dog, his own story of growing up blind, and how his relationship with Corky opens him up to life for the very first time. VERDICT A wonderful account of personal discovery and the importance of animals in our lives. [See Prepub Alert, 10/9/17.]

Staniforth, Nate. Here Is Real Magic: A Magician’s Search for Wonder in the Modern World. Bloomsbury USA. Jan. 2018. 256p. ISBN 9781632864246. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781632864260. MEMOIR
This debut memoir tells two stories. Staniforth first writes of how he became a professional magician in a fascinating tale of determination and exhausting cross-country tours. Burned out, he decides something needs to change. The second narrative details his journey to India to rediscover wonder and astonishment, the two qualities he identifies as being essential to magic. In India, the author finds street magicians, snake charmers, and various gurus. But what he learns is that the world around us is truly magical and wonderful, and we don’t have to search for this, we only have to open up our eyes and minds. VERDICT A fascinating story of enlightenment and self-discovery.

Wachs, Stephanie Wittels. Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful: A Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love and Loss. Sourcebooks. Mar. 2018. 304p. ISBN 9781492664109. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781492664116. MEMOIR
Wachs’s brother, Harris Wittels, was a stand-up comic and writer perhaps best known for his work on the popular TV series Parks and Recreation. He was also somewhat of a lost soul who eventually succumbed to drug addiction. In alternating chapters, Wachs tells us about her brother and about her life during the year following his death. Though the author’s grief is obvious, there’s something almost too personal. It reads like a private diary made public, and as such, its stories and emotions don’t quite resonate with those who weren’t there. VERDICT Perhaps for fans of Wittels or Parks and Recreation, but it’s hard to say who else would be interested.  

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Derek Sanderson About Derek Sanderson

Derek Sanderson is currently Assistant Librarian for Instruction Services at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, NY. When not reviewing books or at the library he enjoys spending time with his son, reading, listening to the Grateful Dead, making mix tapes, and watching whichever sports are in season.

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