From the time she was 5 years old, Deborah Voigt was singing with all her heart, joyously belting out hymns like "His Eye is on the Sparrow" in church. In this sanctuary of spiritual sweetness, she discovered her tremendous vocal gift, as well as her love of performing for an attentive crowd. By the time she was a teenager, music possessed Voigt; she was immersed in piano lessons, singing Broadway tunes and eventually discovering and tuning into the pop music of Bobby Sherman and Donny Osmond. It was the voice of Karen Carpenter, however, who helped her realize she could have a career in music, and the voice of God, who told her, "you are here to sing" one morning and propelled her on the path to becoming an acclaimed operatic soprano.
Annoyance can be a powerful prod to action. And so after being annoyed for years by the praise much of the world lavishes on the supposedly enlightened Scandinavians, British writer Michael Booth has bestirred himself to take a closer, more jaundiced look at the people, customs, institutions and landscapes of Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and his adopted homeland of Denmark. Are these five nations the political incarnation of human happiness? Well, maybe.
Alexandra Fuller’s hardscrabble African lyricism returns in her third memoir, which focuses on the push-pull of her marriage to American adventurer Charlie Ross. Although much of Leaving Before the Rains Come is set in Wyoming, where Fuller settles uncomfortably into American domesticity, her war-torn childhood in colonial Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and the drunken pragmatism of her parents continue to shape her worldview.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder has become a joke in our culture. We label ourselves OCD if we prefer our socks folded a certain way or our desktop arranged just so. In The Man Who Couldn’t Stop: OCD and the True Story of a Life Lost in Thought, David Adam exposes the insensitivity of these casual mentions by sharing his own struggle with this crippling mental illness. His book puts the OCD diagnosis in historical context, but he combines this broader frame of reference with his personal story, which adds humor, pathos and authority.
Grandparents who love their only grandchild fiercely, but haven’t spoken since their divorce 50 years ago, incite her urgent question: What happened? As she writes in A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War, and a Ruined House in France, Miranda Richmond Mouillot hopes to recreate a fairy tale of love found, and somehow lost, amid the turmoil of World War II. But her grandparents, Armand and Anna, are growing frail and their memories of fleeing Nazi-occupied France are painful.
In 1971, 10-year-old Allen Kurzweil arrived at a Swiss boarding school called Aiglon. He was a Jewish boy from New York; his father had died, and his mother was “test-driving her third husband.” Kurzweil was happy to be back in the Alps—his Viennese father had brought him there for winter holidays and imbued him with a love of alpine hiking and skiing.
The civil rights laws and social programs initiated by President Lyndon B. Johnson in the mid-1960s transformed U.S. society. Although they were highly controversial at the time, laws establishing Medicare and Medicaid, public broadcasting, help to those in poverty, consumer and environmental protection, the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities and many other programs remain in place today. Though President John F. Kennedy introduced civil rights legislation shortly before his death, it was his successor, Johnson, who was able to get the legislation passed and move on to other aspects of what became known as the Great Society.
If Elena Gorokhova’s splendid second memoir merely conveyed to readers a vivid, almost visceral understanding of the sometimes paralyzing sense of dislocation she experienced arriving in the United States in 1980 from the Soviet Union, that alone would be reason enough to read it. On her first day in the U.S., for instance, she visits the air-conditioned Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum with the American husband she barely knows, and wonders, “Why are there no smells? Russia assaults you in your nostrils: milk always on the verge of turning sour, the wet wool of winter coats we wear everyday for five months, rubber phone booth tiles buckled with urine. . . .”
One day Claude Knobler and his wife read a newspaper article that would change their lives. Written by award-winning journalist Melissa Fay Greene, it chronicled the plight of Ethiopian children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic.
Patton Oswalt’s career has ranged from earnest stand-up comedy to material that requires an encyclopedic knowledge of popular culture to simply follow along. In Silver Screen Fiend: Learning about Life from an Addiction to Film, he describes how a lifelong love of cinema led him from hubris to humility and back on more than one occasion.