Best Memoir: Our Favorites of 2016, Part 2

Following our summer roundup (LJ 6/1/16; of top-rated memoirs, here’s the second installment, edited to fit. To read the full reviews, follow the online-only Memoir column links and print issue dates below, and stay tuned for the complete “best of” list in the December issue.

redstarCox, Lynne. Swimming in the Sink: An Episode of the Heart. Knopf. Sept. 2016. 240p. ISBN 9781101947623. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781101947630. MEMOIR

In open-water swimmer Cox’s inspiring and engaging sixth book, she confronts new challenges: the recent deaths of both parents and a beloved dog, then the breakdown of her own body. As she struggles, Cox keeps a coolheaded optimism throughout and works to get “my heart, mind, and body back into their normal rhythm.” The book is a reminder that even the strongest and most solitary among us require the support of friends and family. Cox clearly adores those people in her life and lovingly chronicles them here. VERDICT A feel-good nonfiction beach read for the athletic and nonathletic alike. (LJ 7/16)—Valerie Hamra

redstarForhan, Chris. My Father Before Me. Scribner. Jun. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9781501131264. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501131325. MEMOIR

myfatherbeforeme-jpg93016Poet and professor (English, Butler Univ.) Forhan was 14 when his father killed himself. His memoir does an extraordinary job of delving deep into his Irish American Catholic family, and his parents’ own dysfunctional pasts. Forhan is particularly brilliant when delineating the ways in which we carry on our family histories, no matter how we try not to, and that we can learn from our upbringings, which is essential if we are to make our own lives, and those of our children, not only different but better. VERDICT Essential reading for all parents and children, that is, all people. [See Memoir, 7/18/16;]—Derek Sanderson (DS)

redstarGarner, Helen. Everywhere I Look. Text. Sept. 2016. 228p. ISBN 9781925355369. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781922253644. MEMOIR

Australian novelist and journalist Garner’s (The Monkey Grip) latest collection of short pieces addresses the invisibility of aging women to an analysis of the antipodean phenomenon that is ­Russell Crowe. Her unsentimental, but not heartless, accounts demonstrate her range and capacity for emotional accuracy in the face of difficulty. Garner uses her powers of observation to confront unpleasant truths. Her graceful prose will challenge readers to look at the world around them. VERDICT Garner approaches core questions about leading a meaningful life, providing baby boomers in particular with examples of how to live thoughtfully and observantly. [See Memoir, 7/18/16;]—Thérèse Purcell Nielsen

redstarMcBride, Regina. Ghost Songs. Tin House. Oct. 2016. 312p. ISBN 9781941040430. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781941040447. MEMOIR

Novelist McBride’s memoir contains tragedy, alienation from family, a hospital stay, escape, even ghostly hallucinations. But the rapid back-and-forth between the teenager clawing her way forward after the deaths of her parents and childhood memories of her troubled family pull readers into her anguish. ­McBride resists a linear narrative. She does not speculate expansively on her parents’ inner lives, or ascribe meaning to others’ actions. Her memories stand alone, giving the book an epistolary quality. VERDICT Compelling, beautifully told, and likely to stay with readers for a long time. Book groups will have much to discuss. (LJ 6/15/16)—Kate Sheehan

redstarSlouka, Mark. Nobody’s Son. Norton. Oct. 2016. 304p. illus. ISBN 9780393292305. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393292312. MEMOIR

Slouka (Brewster) faces the legacy of his Czechoslovakian refugee parents, particularly his mother. An incredible figure, she is at times deeply caring and compassionate, and at other times astonishingly callous, obsessive, and even despicable in her treatment of her son and husband. In what seems to be a growing trend in recent memoirs, the author explores the nature of memory and how we shape and are shaped by it. VERDICT This astounding work is bound to be a classic of the genre. [See Memoir, 9/13/16;]—DS

redstarTynan, Tracy. Wear and Tear: The Threads of My Life. Scribner. Jul. 2016. 320p. illus. ISBN 9781501123689. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781501123702. MEMOIR

Clothing plays an integral role in this work by writer and film costume designer Tynan (Great Balls of Fire). The child of renowned theater critic Kenneth Tynan and novelist Elaine Dundy, the author’s young world was populated with scores of notable family friends (Laurence Olivier, Mary ­Martin, Katharine Hepburn) in London, New York, and beyond. Both her parents were celebrated for their talents, distinctive dress, and, regrettably, innumerable personal problems. Tynan honestly relates these earliest years, beginning in the 1950s through adulthood, underlining her growing affinity for fashion, a passion that eventually led to a career. VERDICT Tynan presents universal insight and wit in this striking volume that will have a wide ­appeal. [See Memoir, 4/15/16;]—Carol J. Binkowski

Carol Binkowski has been an LJ reviewer for more than 20 years; she is a 2011 Nonfiction Reviewer of the Year. Valerie Hamra is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer. Thérèse Purcell Nielsen is Department Head, Adult & Reference Services, Huntington P.L., NY. LJ Memoir columnist Derek Sanderson is Assistant Librarian, Instruction Services, Mount Saint Mary College, Newburgh, NY. Kate Sheehan is Systems & Technical Services Librarian, C.H. Booth Library, Newtown, CT

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