Nonfiction Previews, August 2012, Pt. 3: A Paul Auster Memoir and Serious Scholarship About Marilyn Monroe

Auster, Paul. Winter Journal. Holt. Aug. 2012. 240p. ISBN 9780805095531. $26. MEMOIR
This book is called a memoir, but as might be expected of the brilliantly offbeat award-winning author of The New York Trilogy, it’s not a standard retelling of life events. Instead, as he approaches his mid-Sixties, Auster considers bodily pain and pleasure, the passage of time, and the weight of memory, stirring in reflections on his mother’s life and death. High-minded readers will anticipate.

Banner, Lois. Revelations: The Passion and Paradox of Marilyn Monroe. Bloomsbury USA, dist. by Macmillan. Aug. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9781608195312. $26. BIOGRAPHY
Yes, it’s the year of Marilyn; with the 50th anniversary of her death coming in August, she stars not only in nonfiction but in fiction (see J.I. Baker’s The Empty Glass, coming from Blue Rider in July, and Michel Schneider’s Marilyn’s Last Sessions: A Novel, previewed in fiction). This book is especially interesting for its author, not your standard celeb biographer but a founder of the field of women’s history, cofounder of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, and the first woman president of the American Studies Association. Obviously, she’s going to take Marilyn seriously.

Chaudhary, Arun. First Cameraman: The Improbable Story of How a Disheveled Film Professor Became the First Official White House Videographer, and What He Learned Inside. Times Bks: Holt. Aug. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9780805095722. $28. MEMOIR/POLITICS
From 2009 to 2011, filmmaker and NYU film professor Chaudhary served as the White House’s first official videographer. He describes it best: I [was] sort of like President Obama’s wedding videographer, if every day was a wedding with the same groom but a constantly rotating set of hysterical guests. The insights range from observations of top political players to what it’s like being stuck in a White House bathroom as President Obama conducts a YouTube town hall on the other side of the door. Hmm, fun, and Chaudhary’s story has been featured in the media.

Cusk, Rachel. Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation. Farrar. Aug. 2012. 160p. ISBN 9780374102135. $23. SOCIAL SCIENCE
One of Granta‘s Best of Young British Novelists in 2003 and a Whitbread and Somerset Maugham award winner, Cusk often writes perceptively in her fiction about domestic entanglements and their larger consequences. Here she switches to nonfiction, using her own painful separation to ponder the effects of divorce on both individual and society. Love her writing; a book I’m excited to see.

Garrett-Davis, Josh. Ghost Dances: Proving Up on the Great Plains. Little, Brown. Aug. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780316199841. $27.99. SOCIAL SCIENCE
Enough with the coasts; let’s get to the heart of things. We need more writing about the often overlooked Great Plains. Here, Garrett-Davis, who was born in South Dakota and kept looking for a way out (he is now studying for a Ph.D. in American history at Princeton), returns to reflect on Native American ghost dancers, his homesteading great-great-grandparents, and the fate of the noble bison. Take a good look.

Kelly, John. The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People. Holt. Aug. 2012. 416p. ISBN 9780805091847. $30. HISTORY
Author of the praised and popular The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time, Kelly moves on to a major catastrophe of the 19th century, the Great Irish Potato Famine, which cost twice as many lives as the American Civil War. Kelly investigates both causes and consequences, as the British used the famine as a pretext for further oppressing Irish society and desperate Irish emigrants remade the countries where they settled, especially America. Good popular history.

Malone, Michael S. The Guardian of All Things: The Epic Story of Human Memory. St. Martin’s. Aug. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780312620318. $25.99; eISBN 9781250014924. SCIENCE
A recurrent theme in fiction today is amnesia, depicting, I think, our recognition that we are utterly defined by memory, our fear of losing it, yet simultaneously how intrigued we are at the idea of wiping away the burdensome past. Malone, the Silicon Insider columnist, here investigates how human civilization is rooted in memory and how our means of preserving it have evolved, from cave paintings to the Internet. Science ideas are so important, and it’s good to have them communicated by someone who talks regularly and felicitously to lay readers.

Torregrosa, Luisita López. Before the Rain. Houghton Harcourt. Aug. 2012. 240p. ISBN 9780547669205. $25; eISBN 9780547669236. MEMOIR
Former New York Times editor Torregrosa, author of The Noise of Infinite Longing, a memoir of her Puerto Rican family, here details how she fell in love with married reporter Elizabeth in the Eighties. Their love is played out in the Philippines, with the fall of Ferdinand Marcos as backdrop. Definitely different. Lots of reading group activity; investigate.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.


  1. Phyllis Smith Pemberton says:

    Luisita Torregrossa’s memoir “…Infinite Longing” was special to me, as I went to college with her. This new work will not disappoint.!