There are many reasons to love a good misery memoir: In my case, reading about other people’s dysfunctional childhoods offers a sense of community, a sisterhood of resilient Gen Xers who survived a 1970s childhood. Cea Sunrise Person’s engaging new memoir, North of Normal, evokes both the miserable excesses and occasional beauty of growing up in a counterculture family in the wilderness of the Me Decade.
Brian Benson’s new memoir about the journeys we take and how they shape the people we become is not to be missed. Going Somewhere begins in South America where, as a young college graduate with a liberal arts degree, Brian decides to spend a few months backpacking. He’s stopped in his tracks by Rachel, an American making her living as a singer. He joins her band. They fall in love. And a few months later, they decide to ditch Guatemala in favor of a different adventure: biking from Wisconsin to western Oregon. He’s a lanky, six-foot-tall athlete; she’s a diminutive beauty with a plus-sized wit. They buy matching bikes, and their love seems to be in full bloom. But what happens on the trail?
BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, June 2014
It was on a gray December day that 23-year-old Joanna Rakoff, nestled into her couch rereading Persuasion, received the call that she had gotten the job. Fresh out of grad school and without much of a game plan—aside from a deep-rooted desire to become a poet—Rakoff landed a position at one of the most storied literary agencies in New York City, one that represented such literary legends as F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and Judy Blume.
Ah, WASPs: Those guilt-ridden, uptight, real estate-obsessed traditionalists. In Perfectly Miserable: Guilt, God and Real Estate in a Small Town, Sarah Payne Stuart captures the essence of this distinctive culture, tracing both her own childhood in Concord, Massachusetts, and the lives of some of Concord’s famous residents, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Louisa May Alcott.
Fond looks back at profound dysfunction have become so commonplace, it’s a wonder there’s not a “crazy parenting” section in bookstores to help the next generation of memoirists get a leg up. At this point, crazy itself is not sufficient reason to publish. In Take This Man, Brando Skyhorse, who won a PEN/Hemingway Award for his first novel (The Madonnas of Echo Park), captures the details of his dysfunctional upbringing with note-perfect language and does so in pursuit of the truth about his family.
Young Saroo loves his older brothers, especially Guddu, who at 14 is less and less at home. One night in 1986, Guddu comes back to his family’s poor village in India for about an hour, and 5-year-old Saroo can’t contain his excitement. When Guddu announces that he’s leaving, Saroo declares that he’s going off into the night with his older brother.
In the same soaring voice that has made her one of the world’s most beloved opera singers, Norman delivers an inspiring memoir, Stand Up Straight and Sing!, in which she reveals her deep love for her family and community and the many ways that music is the thread woven through all aspects of her, and our, lives.
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.