Called Again: A Story of Love and Triumph by Jennifer Pharr Davis
Beaufort Books • $24.95 • ISBN 9780825306938
published June 10, 2013
As a fan of Becoming Odyssa, her memoir of first hiking the AT after college, I was thrilled when I learned that Davis had written a new book, Called Again: A Story of Love and Triumph, about her recent record-breaking experience. Certain to entertain readers—fellow hikers or not—this is a story of perseverance and grit, love, dedication and sacrifice. It’s not so much about being the fastest AT hiker ever, as about taking on a challenge, consistently doing your best and allowing yourself to rely on other people to help you along the way.
Readers feeling unsure of themselves or frustrated by societal pressures regarding what they should look like, act like and/or focus on would benefit from reading Davis’ story, which offers plenty of inspiration for becoming a better "me."
Here are Davis’ thoughts after Anne Riddle Lundblad, an accomplished ultra-runner, tells Jen she’s a role model:
"I mean, how does hiking the Appalachian Trail in a short amount of time positively impact anyone? But Anne made me realize that being a role model isn’t about inspiring other people to be like you; it is about helping them to be the fullest version of themselves. The main legacy of this endeavor would not be to encourage others to set a record on the Appalachian Trail, but to encourage them to be the best form of their truest selves. And it just so happened that my best form was a hiker."
"No one seemed interested in what I'd learned or what the most valuable part of the experience had been. Instead, everyone wanted to talk about how I averaged 46.93 miles per day. . . . Why didn't anyone ask about the notions of living in the present or choosing something purposeful and fulfilling over something fun and easy? Or the idea that persistence and consistency can be more valuable than speed or strength? . . . Why did no one realize that the most miraculous part of the summer was not the record, but how well my husband had loved me?!"
If you’ve read Wild, the best-selling memoir by Cheryl Strayed, you know it is about much more than just hiking. Such is Davis’ story, too. The white blaze and rolling mountains on the cover will pull you in, and by the time you reach the end of the trail atop Springer Mountain, you’ll be wondering how you, too, can find your best self.
Next week, I'll be hiking in the Tetons with my husband, and, having read Called Again, I know that I'll be a "better me" while I'm there. What book(s) have inspired you to become a better version of yourself?
Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie
Random House • $30 • ISBN 9780812992786
In stores September 18, 2012
On February 14, 1989, Salman Rushdie (Midnight's Children) received a call from a BBC reporter telling him that Ayatollah Khomeini put out a fatwa on him for the publication of his 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses. Rushdie's new memoir, Joseph Anton, tells the story of how that moment transformed his life forever, as he was forced underground with an armed police protection team, permanently in fear of the Muslim extremists literally out to kill him.
My reason for starting this book was simple: Rushdie is one of my all-time favorite writers. However, I rarely commit myself to nonfiction—I'm a novel and short story girl by nature—but I inhaled this one. The character of Joseph Anton (Rushdie's alias while in hiding) is written in the third-person he, allowing the present-day Rushdie some distance from his targeted former self, and giving the story a sense of fiction (because how could something like a novelist-directed fatwa be real life?).
The memoir is not limited to Rushdie's experiences living under the threat of murder, as he looks back upon all the elements that led him to write The Satanic Verses in the first place: life with his father, his schoolboy days, his simultaneous fascination and unbelief in God and, more specifically, Islam. There's also a certain juiciness to the whole thing, especially for those in the publishing industry, as Rushdie uses this book to lay bare every opinion he's ever had of anyone, as well as their opinions of him.
Catch a glimpse of Rushdie's consistently fabulous prose in the opener:
Afterwards, when the world was exploding around him and lethal blackbirds were massing on the climbing frame in the school playground, he felt annoyed with himself for forgetting the name of the BBC reporter, a woman, who had told him that his old life was over and a new, darker existence was about to begin. She had called him at home on his private line without explaining how she got the number. "How does it feel," she asked him, "to know that you have just been sentenced to death by the Ayatollah Khomeini?" It was a sunny Tuesday in London but the question shut out the light. This is what he said, without really knowing what he was saying: "It doesn't feel good." This is what he thought: I'm a dead man. He wondered how many days he had left to live and thought the answer was probably a single-digit number. He put down the telephone and ran down the stairs from his workroom at the top of the narrow Islington row house where he lived. The living room windows had wooden shutters and, absurdly, he closed and barred them. Then he locked the front door.
Winter Journal by Paul Auster
Holt • $26 • ISBN 9780805095531
on sale August 21, 2012
Thirty years after his breakthrough debut, the memoir The Invention of Solitude, Paul Auster returns to the medium in Winter Journal.
With the hindsight of Didion, the narrative elegance of Nabokov and the mesmerizing writing for which he himself is known, Auster (now 65) steps into what he calls "the winter of [his] life" by looking back on a lifetime. He shares his memories and the fleeting moments of his body—places it has been, things it has felt (both wonderful and terrible)—through threaded vignettes constructed of languorous sentences that feel much like memory itself. Each fragment careens toward death, a boat against the current.
Auster writes as "you," a device which could feel like an assault were it not for the accomplished writer behind it. At times, the "you" seems removed, peering at his former self in a distant way, as when he recounts the hours immediately following his mother's death: "No tears, no howls of anguish, no grief—just a vague sense of horror growing inside you." At other times, the "you" seems to be surprised and thrilled all over again, such as when he discovers his own penis at age five: ". . . how fitting that you should have a miniature fireman's helmet emblazoned on your person, on the very part of your body, moreover, that looks like and functions as a hose." And always, the "you" is hypnosis to trick you, reader, into remembering a life that isn't your own.
It's a fast read, never waning to nostalgia, that will move you to chew the cud of your own mortality and (somehow) still find time to disappear into your own memories.
You think it will never happen to you, that it cannot happen to you, that you are the only person in the world to whom none of these things will ever happen, and then, one by one, they all begin to happen to you, in the same way they happen to everyone else.
Your bare feet on the cold floor as you climb out of bed and walk to the window. You are six years old. Outside, snow is falling, and the branches of the trees in the backyard are turning white.
Speak now before it is too late, and then hope to go on speaking until there is nothing more to be said. Time is running out, after all. Perhaps it is just as well to put aside your stories for now and try to examine what it has felt like to live inside this body from the first day you can remember being alive until this one. A catalogue of sensory data. What one might call a phenomenology of breathing.
Will you keep an eye out for Auster's new memoir in August?
The Orchard by Theresa Weir
Grand Central • $24.99 • published September 21, 2011
Ever since reading the first paragraph of Kelly Blewett's review of The Orchard, I have wanted to read this memoir. Here's the part that caught my eye:
Theresa Weir, better known as prolific suspense writer Anne Frasier, admits she received a lukewarm reception when she approached her publishing contacts about her latest book idea. “They wanted thrillers, Anne Frasier books,” she explains in the acknowledgements. Instead, Weir offers readers a heartfelt story about her own life. In fact, though the book is categorized as a memoir, the recognizably gothic feel of the descriptions and the suspense-filled plot, as well as the extensive disclaimer in the opening pages, make it clear this finely wrought story portrays a particular, and partly fictionalized, perspective.
"Come live with me."
Had I heard right? I had a buzz going, and maybe the roar in my head had distorted his words.
"There's a house on the farm that's supposed to be for me." He took a drag from his cigarette. The tip glowed, and I could briefly see his face, his eyes squinted against the smoke. "It's tiny. Originally built for apple pickers."
What I had known as my life changed in a matter of seconds. Like finding out you'd put a puzzle together all wrong. I dumped the pieces and began reconstructing, creating a completely new picture.
Did he mean what he was saying, or was it something he wouldn't give any thought to, come morning?
I didn't want him to think this was what I'd been angling for, because it wasn't. "Move in together . . . Wow. I don't know . . ." My response was cautious with a touch of disinterest.
"Not move in together. Get married. We'd have to get married."
If we hadn't been the only two people there, I would have looked over my shoulder to see if he was talking to someone else. Married. We'd barely just met. "You're drunk." I held my breath.
"Not that drunk."
Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert
Grand Central • $27.99 • ISBN 9780446584975
on sale September 13, 2011
Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert has written more than 15 books, worked for the Chicago Sun Times since 1967 and been on television for 40 years. While his memoir Life Itself covers every major moment in Ebert's life, it is more than anything an example of why he has become such a preeminent cultural voice.
On the set of the show, between actually taping segments, we had a rule that there could be no discussion of the movies under review. So we attacked each other with one-liners. Buzz Hannan, our floor director, was our straight man, and the cameramen supplied our audience. For example:
Me: "Don't you think you went a little over the top in that last review?"
Gene: "Spoken like the gifted Haystacks Calhoun tribute artist that you are."
"Haystacks was loved by his fans as a charming country boy."
"Six hundred and forty pounds of rompin' stompin' charm. Oh, Rog? Are those two-tone suedes, or did you step in some chicken shit?"
"You can borrow them whenever you wear your white John Travolta disco suit from Saturday Night Fever."
Buzz: "Yeah, when are you gonna wear it on the show?"
"He wanted to wear it today, but it's still at the tailor shop having the crotch taken in."
Buzz: "Ba-ba-ba-boom !"
Will you be reading Ebert's memoir when it comes out in September?
Nerd Do Well: A Small Boy's Journey to Becoming a Big Kid by Simon Pegg
Gotham • $27.50 • ISBN 9781592406814
on sale June 9, 2011
It was never my intention to write an autobiography. The very notion made me uneasy. You see them congesting the shop shelves at Christmas. Rows of needy smiles, sad clowns and serious eyes, proclaiming faux-modest life stories, with titles such as This Is Me, or Why Me? or Me, Me, Me. I didn't want to do that, it's not really me. And who cares anyway? I don't, and I'm the faux-modest sad clown with the needy smile and serious eyes who has to write the damn thing. . . .
What I wanted to do was write fiction about a suave, handsome superhero and his robotic butler. The story of a tricked-out vigilante, with innumerable gadgets, a silver tongue and deadly fists; like Batman without the costume and a more pointed "gay subtext." Sure, it's not particularly original, but it's far more interesting than my life. I don't even have a robotic butler. Anymore.
The Girl's Guide to Homelessness by Brianna Karp
Harlequin • $16.95 • ISBN 9780373892358
Unable to find work after losing her job during the recession in 2008, Brianna Karp moved into a trailer in a Walmart parking lot. She spent her days applying for jobs thanks to Starbucks' internet connection, figuring out where to shower for free, refilling water jugs and otherwise trying to make a life without an address, electricity, a water hookup or any family support.
Karp's memoir, The Girl's Guide to Homelessness, chronicles this difficult experience. You'll get sucked into this unconventional survival story because Karp has an intimate and direct voice from page one.
In this excerpt, Karp reflects on her own ideas about homelessness—before she joined the ranks of the homeless herself:
I had never much thought about homelessness or homeless people. Sure, there was the occasional "hobo" on the street, perhaps lounging on the sidewalk outside a 7-Eleven, begging for change, ragged, perhaps with a worn ski cap on, maybe missing a few teeth, with scraggly hair and a wizened visage.
"Don't make eye contact with them," my mother would say, jerking me to her side, not even bothering to whisper or even lower her voice. She spoke about them as if they couldn't hear or understand her, or as if they had no feelings to hurt. I never really thought to question that. It was just another stereotype repeated to me, ad nauseam, from infancy . . .
I was ashamed of myself, thinking back on it. In a way, this was my atonement, my penance for being so self-righteous all those years. Serves me right, I realized wildly.
It was Thursday, February 26, 2009. I was homeless.
What are you reading today?
Townie by Andre Dubus III
W.W. Norton • $25.95 • ISBN 9780393064667
February 28, 2011
Set in a depressed Massachusetts town, Andre Dubus III's memoir is tough and poignant and hard to read. This is a world where kids get beat up and stolen from; they attempt suicide, deal drugs and have casual sex, and parents struggle to provide three (even one) meals a day. Though we know the outcome of this story going in—Dubus III eventually writes House of Sand and Fog—you'll read with the same anticipation you might feel while watching a hard-scrabble sports movie (think The Fighter). And it doesn't hurt that Dubus III writes clean, beautiful sentences. Sometimes it is hard to reconcile the iron-pumping, class-skipping kid with the man who becomes a writer.
In Townie, the narrator's dad, short story writer Andre Dubus, moves out after he and his wife divorce. Dubus III and his three siblings live with their mom in a series of small dirty houses in rough neighborhoods while their dad lives in faculty housing at a local college. The book's title comes from a derogatory term used by students at the college:
One morning between classes I cut through the student union building, its pool table and soft chairs, its serving counter where you could order a cheeseburger and coffee or hot chocolate. A group of them were over by the picture window which looked out onto the raked lawn. I heard one of them say, "That's Dubus's son. Look at him. He's such a townie."
I'd heard the word before. They used it for the men they'd see at Ronnie D's bar down in Bradford Square, the place where my father drank with students and his friends. It's where some men from the town drank, too—plumbers and electricians and millworkers, Sheetrock hangers and housepainters and off-duty cops: townies.
What are you reading today?
The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure
Riverhead • $25.95 • ISBN 9781594487804
April 14, 2011
If you can relate, then have I got a book for you. Wendy McClure's charming new memoir is about her obsession with "Laura World," and her search for the truth behind the beloved series.
It's a fascinating read, and it's also quite funny. For example:
And, oh my God: I wanted to live in one room with my whole family and have a pathetic corncob doll all my own. I wanted to wear a calico sunbonnet—or rather, I wanted to not wear a calico sunbonnet, the way Laura did, letting it hang down her back by its ties. I wanted to do chores because of those books. Carry water, churn butter, make headcheese. I wanted dead rabbits brought home for supper. I wanted to go out into the backyard and just, I don't know, grab stuff off trees, or uproot things from the ground, and bring it all inside in a basket and have my parents say, "My land! What a harvest!"
What are you reading today?
This Life Is in Your Hands by Melissa Coleman
Harper • $25.99 • ISBN 9780061958328
April 12, 2011
If you've ever thought about leaving it all for a simpler life, Melissa Coleman's memoir is for you. Her idealistic young parents left academic life to live on a Maine homestead in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Coleman was born during their first year on the property; sisters Heidi and Clare followed. They build a happy life there until toddler Heidi dies accidentally.
In this excerpt, the Colemans are seeing their land for the first time:
From the branches of a tree at the top of the slope they could see out to the ocean surrounding the cape on three sides. They also noticed a knoll where the forest opened up around what turned out to be a beautiful ash with a broad trunk and wide arching branches, a possible site for the house, and upon investigation they found a clear drinking water spring in the woods to the east. Their excitement dipped only when Papa took a spade to the earth to find sand and rock beneath the humus layer of forest floor.
"Poor soil," he muttered. This was not the dream farm he'd had in his mind's eye during the search, lacking as it did cultivated fields and a pond. But none of that mattered; it was their ground on which to stand, unbeholden to a mortgage or a bank, and it was up to them to make it into the dream.
What are you reading today?