Final Four: Autumn Memoir Picks

This is the last of 2017’s quarterly roundups (after “Four To Explore,” LJ 6/15/17) to highlight starred reviews in the online-only Memoir column and other reviews of note. Memoir columnist Derek Sanderson’s reviews explore love, wine, and philosophy, co-columnist Rachael Dreyer praises the micromemoirs of a poet. Reviewer Kate Sheehan delves into a popular writer’s upbringing.

redstarFadiman, Anne. The Wine Lover’s Daughter. Farrar. Nov. 2017. 272p. photos. notes. ISBN 9780374228088. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780374711764. MEMOIR

Essayist (At Large and at Small; Ex Libris) and author (The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down) Fadiman’s wonderful memoir examines herself, her father, her relationship with her father, wine, books, family, and much more. Clifton ­Fadiman had a long and distinguished career as a radio and TV host and book reviewer. But his main passion, besides books, was wine. Those familiar with the author’s essays will recognize her polymath mind and tangential style, and those unfamiliar will find it delightful to encounter for the first time. How she manages to fit her own life, her father’s life, her marriage, a primer on wine, the scientific study of taste, and many other subjects into such a slim volume is mind-boggling, something this reviewer is still trying to comprehend. ­VERDICT A fascinating book with something to interest anyone; a pure reading pleasure. [See “Reconciling Histories, Unraveling Mysteries”].—Derek Sanderson, Mount Saint Mary Coll., Newburgh, NY

redstarFennelly, Beth Ann. Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs. Norton. Oct. 2017. 128p. ISBN 9780393609479. $22.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393609486. MEMOIR

The subtitle of Mississippi poet laureate Fennelly’s memoir provides readers all the explanation they need. Each of the “52 micro-memoirs” range in length from a sentence to several pages, as the author covers motherhood, marriage, childhood, family, writing, her parents, the death of a beloved sister, the quirks of neighbors and friends, aging, her husband, and a multitude of other observations. It may seem incongruous, but Fennelly packs a lot into each short piece, with some lighter in subject matter and others with a sudden punch-in-the-gut feel, weighted with existential exploration. ­VERDICT Potent despite their brevity, many of Fennelly’s micromemoirs bring hefty topics to the surface; the lack of excessive text allows readers to fill in the gaps. Readers who enjoyed Anne Lamott’s memoirs (Bird by Bird; Hallelujah Anyway) will delight in these pieces. [See “Summering Down”]—Rachael Dreyer, Eberly Family Special Collections Lib., Pennsylvania State Univ.

redstarPerry, Michael. Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy. Harper. Nov. 2017. 240p. bibliog. ISBN 9780062230560. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062230584. MEMOIR

This warm and humorous memoir by New York Times writer Perry gives us a crash course in the life and ideas of Renaissance philosopher ­Michel de ­Montaigne (1533–92). ­Montaigne’s thinking was famously flexible, and he seemingly wrote about everything. Here, Perry takes us through Montaigne’s, and his own, thoughts on sex, marriage, forgetfulness, kidney stones, religion, and a number of other matters. The author shares with his subject a congenital humility, combined with an openness to new ideas and ways of thinking. Readers will laugh out loud frequently while taking in this very funny memoir, as this reviewer did, yet it’s a profound laughter, the kind that gets you thinking. VERDICT One couldn’t hope for a better introduction to the work of Perry or Montaigne. [See “Families & Addiction, Philosophers, Two Debuts, & Joyce Maynard”]—DS

Tan, Amy. Where the Past Begins. Harper. Oct. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780062319296. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062319302. MEMOIR

Novelist (The Joy Luck Club; The Kitchen God’s Wife) Tan’s second memoir (after 2001’s The Opposite of Fate) is a nonlinear exploration of her life, her family’s history, and her attempts to understand them as a writer, musician, linguist, and daughter. Each lens she applies to her mother’s complexity, her father’s turmoil, and her grandmother’s actions offers a different way of understanding the past and how that resonates today for Tan. Her family’s history is dramatic and captivating, and readers will likely find themselves reflecting on the weight of their own family legends through Tan’s thoughtful musings. The email exchanges between Tan and her editor highlight both the writerly discussion about character and plot and the less-glamorous frustrations with formatting in Word that we’re all maddeningly familiar with. Tan’s tenacity and creativity in trying to understand her parents and their stories is both relatable and remarkable. VERDICT Readers of Tan’s novels will enjoy learning about the inspiration behind many of her stories. Book clubs and those who enjoy writers’ memoirs, stories about difficult families, or children-of-immigrants narratives will also find much to savor. [See Prepub Alert, 4/24/17.]—Kate Sheehan, C.H. Booth Lib., Newtown, CT

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