When Carol Wall hired a neighbor’s gardener to improve her long-neglected yard, she never imagined that the Kenyan immigrant would transform her outlook on life as well. In Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening, Wall reflects on what she learned from their special friendship.
This month's Audio column has something for everyone: mystery lovers, readers of inspiring memoirs and seekers of exciting new voices in fiction.
BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, March 2014
Walter Kirn has penned a number of imaginative novels, including Up in the Air and Thumbsucker, which were both made into movies. But nothing in the pages of those books could match the bizarre, real-life experiences Kirn relates in his new memoir, Blood Will Out.
The damp practically floats off the pages in Astoria, the sweeping tale of John Jacob Astor’s attempt to settle the remote Pacific Northwest coast in 1810. Astor’s vast wealth enabled him to send two expeditions: one over land and one by ship. His plan was to set up a fur trade, the first on this particularly harsh stretch of the West Coast. Whoever could settle the area would lay claim to a vast area rich with sea otter and beaver fur, salmon and other seafood.
It’s hard to know whether to call Boyd Varty’s Cathedral of the Wild a memoir, a true adventure story or a self-help book. All I know is that it made me cry with its hard-won truths about human and animal nature, distilled by Varty from his experiences living on Londolozi, the game reserve his family runs in South Africa.
Blake Bailey has written notable biographies of authors John Cheever and Richard Yates, both difficult and brilliant men. While he was sifting through their lives, he was also reflecting on his own. The Splendid Things We Planned is the resulting portrait, a story of mental illness and addiction and the difficult orbits they force upon the healthy. It’s also a tribute to one family’s best efforts and inevitable failings.
Debbie Stier faced a crisis. The oldest of her two children was approaching college age, and she hadn’t saved for tuition. What’s more, Ethan was, in her words: “a boy who was ‘happy getting B’s’ and had gotten an awful lot of them.” He was neither an honors student nor an extracurricular overachiever.
Dreaming of April in Paris? In How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City, astute cultural observer Joan DeJean argues that Paris has been a modern, alluring city far longer than we usually imagine. Although we tend to think of 19th-century Paris as the bustling epitome of “la vie moderne,” the roots of all we know and love about Paris today actually came into being in the 17th century.
In her memoir, The Ogallala Road, Julene Bair chronicles the last days of her family’s Kansas farm, as well as the bittersweet love affair that feeds her hope of saving the place her folks called home. She makes the case that modern farming practices are inexorably eroding the vast resources her ancestors took for granted, and she mourns the unraveling of the tapestry that once bound together her family, their history and the land they shared.
On a humid night in Greenwood, Mississippi, on June 16, 1966, 24-year-old Stokely Carmichael exhorted his audience of 600 to start proclaiming “Black Power.”