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.
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. . . .”
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.
Andie Mitchell had been overweight for as long as she could remember. But cutely plump as a school-age kid became morbidly obese at age 20, when she weighed nearly 300 pounds. Growing up with a depressed, alcoholic father and a mother who worked round the clock to pay the bills, Mitchell grew to view food—any food—as her friend and companion.
Even before reading the first words of Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness, it’s obvious that this is no ordinary memoir. First there’s the cover, with author Jessie Close in the embrace of her sister, actress Glenn Close. Then there are the photos inside, with captions like, “My dad on the porch of our house in the -paracommando camp in Zaire.”
In his bestseller The Other Wes Moore, Rhodes Scholar, combat veteran and White House fellow Wes Moore pondered how his youth propelled him to the pinnacle of success while another Baltimore man with the same name sank into poverty and crime. Moore’s inspiring new book, The Work: My Search for a Life That Matters, could be considered a sequel, as Moore describes what happened when he became an adult. More than a travelogue of adventures, however, this memoir shares his quest to understand how people find their true calling.
For women of a certain age, Brooke Shields was our more perfect sister. In 1980, I didn’t understand what “nothing comes between me and my Calvins” meant any more than Brooke herself did. But I knew I needed a pair of those jeans.
Sarah Wildman knew her grandfather, Karl, escaped from Vienna on the eve of the Nazi occupation. One day after his death, however, she discovered a box of letters and photographs hinting that there might be another, truer version of his story, one that included a girl nicknamed "Valy."
Val Wang, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., wondering about her place in the world. "I didn't feel as though I belonged there," she wrote, "or anywhere yet, and I itched to travel to exotic places far away to look for what was missing in my life."
A few years ago, I taught Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild in a college freshman writing class. I thought the story of Chris McCandless, who turned his back on civilization to hike into the Alaskan wilderness, would resonate with undergraduates. Chris’ tragic journey may have ended with his death, but his quest for purity and adventure was inspirational. Or so I thought.