4 Family Stories, 1 Autism Experience | Memoir

This month, I cover three memoirs about three very different families (surprise! I like family memoirs) and a memoir about autism. Two of these works succeed, while the other two don’t do quite as good a job. But, to paraphrase Meatloaf, two out of four ain’t bad! [A review of Kelly Grey Carlisle’s We Are All Shipwrecks adds another title to the family memoir count.—Ed.]

starred review starBussola, Matteo. Sleepless Nights and Kisses for Breakfast: Reflections on Fatherhood. TarcherPerigee. May 2017. 288p. tr. from Italian by Jamie Richards. illus. ISBN 9780143131373. $18; ebk. ISBN 9781524705107. MEMOIR
Based on his popular Facebook posts, Italian illustrator and stay-at-home dad Bussola’s debut memoir is a charming and humorous take on fatherhood. Most chapters are only a few pages long and consist of musings on the small moments—his three young daughters’ questions about life, a trip to the grocery store, taking the dog out late at night. The book is arranged by seasons, starting with winter, and readers can dip in anywhere and find something engrossing, insightful, and fun. Richards’s translation reads well, as neither American nor British English but as Italian English, if there is such a thing. VERDICT A perfect summer read that will allow parents, dads especially, to reflect upon their own experiences raising children.

Cove, Lou. Man of the Year. Flatiron: Macmillan. May 2017. 320p. photos. ISBN 9781250123961. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250123978. MEMOIR
On the surface, this book has all the trappings of a gonzo memoir—Playgirl magazine, porn stars, a flamboyantly gay tenant. Yet, Cove’s debut offers a profound narrative of one family’s undoing. Handsome and confident Howie Gordon, a college friend of the author’s father, comes to visit the Coves in the fall of 1978. He’s intent on a showbiz career, and his first goal is to win Playgirl‘s Man of the Year Award. Howie’s carefree and genuine personality contrasts sharply with that of Cove’s father. But as a 12-year-old, the author takes immediately to Howie and they become pals. Cove’s mother also appreciates Howie’s attention. The writing here builds just enough suspense and adds detail to detail to keep readers intrigued and engaged. The memoirist’s handling of the many characters and characterization in general is also to be noted. VERDICT A very fine family memoir that proves, in a variety of ways, that things are not always what they seem.

Higashida, Naoki. Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8: A Young Man’s Voice from the Silence of Autism. Random. Jul. 2017. 240p. tr. from Japanese by KA Yoshida & David Mitchell. illus. ISBN 9780812997392. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780812997408. MEMOIR
As in his previous memoir, The Reason I Jump, Higashida, a “severely autistic” young Japanese man, spends a good deal of time speculating about what autism is, or why it is. He proposes that people with autism were “brought into being” because of some sort of “imbalance in this world.” There is tremendous variance in the manifestation of symptoms of this disorder. Thus, some people, like Higashida, are almost completely nonverbal, while others have logorrhea (excessive talking), to give just one example of two extremes. At times, Higashida seems to presume he can speak for all people with autism, which is foolish and misleading. That said, this book, like his earlier work, provides many moments of genuine insight into his own experience. VERDICT Recommended with reservations for readers who enjoyed The Reason I Jump or those seeking deeper insight into one man’s distinctive struggle. [See Prepub Alert, 2/16/17.]

Taranto, Tim. Ars Botanica: A Field Guide. Curbside Splendor. Jul. 2017. 224p. illus. ISBN 9781940430980. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781945883033. MEMOIR
Taranto’s debut memoir is sometimes painful to read, focusing mostly on events surrounding the abortion of his then-partner’s child. Along with drawings, mostly of the natural world, Taranto gives us letters to his child and a narrative of his life with the child’s mother. The loss, first of the baby and then of his relationship in the wake of the abortion, is devastating for Taranto, and this book is his attempt to write his way out of grief. Unfortunately, at times he leans too heavily on the use of profanities to express extreme emotions. Much of this book, intentionally or not, ends up being an argument against abortion, simply by presenting the toll it takes on two individuals. VERDICT This singular account will make readers wish that Taranto was a more polished writer and thinker.

Other Memoir

starred review starCarlisle, Kelly Grey. We Are All Shipwrecks. Sourcebooks. Sept. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781492645207. $24.99. MEMOIR
The theme that the past influences the present is apparent throughout this striking memoir. At first, the author believed that her mother and father died in a car accident when she was an infant. When she’s older, she learns that her mother was murdered. As an adult, she discovers more about her father and the circumstances surrounding her mother’s death. This book is divided into segments, with descriptions of Carlisle’s childhood with her plucky, often volatile grandfather and his wife, Marilyn, constituting the largest portion. The family lived on a houseboat and operated an adult video store. Her grandfather is portrayed as a liar but also generous and caring. Carlisle’s investigation into her mother’s murder and the whereabouts of her father are by far the smallest sections. Overall, it is clear that the author’s tragic and unusual upbringing has not left her broken, and that despite the chaos of her childhood, her early life was full of love. As she begins her own family, she has the opportunity to share the complete story with her daughter. VERDICT Moving and complex, this is an exquisitely written tale of perseverance and unconditional love. A worthwhile addition to any collection.—Kaitlin Malixi, Bucks Cty. Free Lib., Doylestown, PA



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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.


  1. Maggie says:

    Well, use of profanities can be an art form too.

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