BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, May 2014
Robin Roberts took a leave of absence as co-host of “Good Morning America” in 2012 to face a life-threatening battle with a blood disorder, one that likely was caused by the chemotherapy she endured during a bout with breast cancer five years earlier. In Everybody’s Got Something, Roberts manages to “make her mess her message,” as her beloved mother always advised her to do.
Jihad, an Arabic word meaning strife or struggle, has many connotations in our culture, few of them romantic. Yet romance is at the center of Krista Bremer’s moving memoir, My Accidental Jihad, though struggle is a key element as well.
Dee Williams was living the dream—the American Dream. She had a three-bedroom house with a driveway and a mortgage. She had stopped spending weekends in the mountains with her friends, trading that carefree existence for more adult matters such as rewiring the bathroom. She worked full-time and traveled too much. Then one day, she woke up in the emergency room, diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition. Life was never going to be the same, but not in the usual way these stories go.
Nina Stibbe was 20 years old in 1982 when she moved to London to become the live-in nanny for Mary-Kay Wilmers, editor of the London Review of Books, and her sons Sam and Will (whose father is film director Stephen Frears). There was no convenient phone, so Nina began sending quirky, funny letters home to her sister to report on her job.
BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, April 2014
Frances Mayes’ lyrical memoir of growing up Southern was a long time coming. Worried about upsetting her family, she stopped and started Under Magnolia many times over: “Anytime I felt the impulse to start my Southern opus again, I instead headed for a movie or a new Thai restaurant,” she writes. “I’d go jogging or read a novel until the impulse faded.”
When explosions rocked the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, three people were killed and 260 injured, among them Jeff Bauman. Standing with friends to cheer on his girlfriend, who was running in the race, Bauman saw a man whose appearance and demeanor didn’t fit the crowd leave a backpack and walk away. Bauman was about to suggest to his friends that they move farther up the street when the pack exploded, taking both his legs with it. Stronger is Bauman’s account of his injury and recovery, and a tribute to working-class Boston resilience.
Sometimes things happen in life that change one’s perspective. Literally. For Gail Caldwell, hip surgery made her five-eighths of an inch taller. It was a new view, and she wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.
Mohandas K. Gandhi was born and raised in India and is best known for his work there as a world-renowned social reformer, political thinker, religious pluralist and prophet. If his life had followed the traditional path for someone of his family and caste, he would have remained in India, served in a prominent position and been unknown to most of the world. But as the noted scholar Ramachandra Guha demonstrates in his eminently readable and exhaustively researched Gandhi Before India, the 20 years that Gandhi spent in South Africa before his return to his home country in 1914 were fundamental to his success.
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.