Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York
Edited by Sari Botton
Seal Press • $16 • ISBN 9781580054942
Published October 8, 2013
The love affair between writers and New York City goes way back. Taking its title from a 1967 Joan Didion essay, Goodbye to All That features musings by a stellar list of 28 women writers sharing their own experiences of NYC—discussing the initial allure, eventual disillusionment (for some) and everything in between.
Ann Hood writes about the magnetic pull she felt toward the city from an early age and how when she finally arrived "it felt as if all my cells settled into place . . . and I became exactly who I was supposed to be." Emma Straub writes about growing up in NYC, "my jungle gym and playmate all at once." And Cheryl Strayed shares how she eventually realized that "much as I loved it, I wasn't truly in love."
Reading these brief, intimate essays feels like you're chatting—commiserating, in my case, since I inhabited NYC for six years—with a friend over coffee. Here's an excerpt from Ann Hood's essay, "Manhattan, Always Out of Reach":
My first apartment was at 228 Sullivan Street, in a former convent painted pink, its Caribbean exterior a sharp contrast to all the grimy black around it. The day I moved in, I boldly left my 300-square-foot studio and walked the maze of Greenwich Village. The guy from 47F was going to show up that night, so the entire day stretched out before me without obligation or purpose. I wandered into Three Lives Bookstore to browse, into Café Reggio for a cappuccino, into the Third Street Bazaar and the Grand Union and every tiny store that sold earrings or posters or fruit or magazines. At some point on that journey, it felt as if all my cells settled into place, as if my body had shifted, rearranged itself, and I became exactly who I was supposed to be.
I will never leave here, I thought that June afternoon. That thought repeated itself almost daily as my first summer moved along. It was a very hot summer, relentlessly so. I would go to the Grand Union supermarket on Bleeker Street and stand in the frozen food section to cool off, or I would ride the Staten Island ferry for a nickel round-trip and stand at the front each way to catch a breeze thick with East River stench. On the Fourth of July, I joined the throngs on the closed FDR Drive to watch fireworks. I will never leave here, I thought as the neon colors exploded over the river.
What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out Goodbye to All That? What are you reading this week?
Cheryl Strayed's memoir Wild, about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail after the death of her mother and the dissolution of her marriage, was one of 2012's biggest and best books. Even Oprah thought so—she made it her first pick when she relaunched her book club. With its clear-eyed portrayal of Strayed's all-consuming sorrow and loneliness, and the incredible story of her (some might say foolhardy) determination to seek answers in an unforgiving landscape, Wild was our readers' #4 book of the year (and #2 on the BookPage editors' own Best of 2012 list).
Strayed's memoir encompasses so many different themes—grief, adventure, the healing power of nature, the journey to forgiveness and growth, discovering a community of like-minded misfits—that each reader takes away something different. If you're longing for something in a similar vein, try one of the following:
Let's Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell
Like Wild, Let's Take the Long Way Home is a heartbreaking but beautifully told memoir of living through loss. When Gail Caldwell met Caroline Knapp, the two formed a quick, deep bond over such shared experiences as the joys and frustrations of writing, long walks with their beloved dogs and their self-destructive, alcoholic pasts. Knapp was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2002 and died a few short months later; Caldwell's grief over the loss of her friend knocked her flat. Her book is a powerful testament to a close friendship and the person she has become in its wake.
Claiming Ground by Laura Bell
Laura Bell's life has taken many unexpected turns. After graduating college in the '70s, she had a hard time figuring out who, or what, she wanted to be. So she turned to what she knew to be real and true—her love of animals and the land—and moved to Wyoming to become a sheepherder. It was not an easy job, especially for a young woman, but she learned to face her failures and celebrate her strengths, all the while reveling in the harsh splendor of the Western landscape. Over the years, she turned to different jobs (forest ranger, masseuse) and different people for companionship, surviving divorce and agonizing loss along the way. Inspiring in the best way, Bell's memoir chronicles a lifetime of learning how to be herself.
Townie by Andre Dubus III
The working-class neighborhoods of Lowell, Massachusetts, are no place for a young boy to admit to any weakness. In such an environment, Andre Dubus III grew up poor and, by age 11, the child of an acrimonious divorce. After years of enduring taunts and violence against his family, he fought back, transforming himself into a strong, vicious boxer and brawler. Eventually, he turned to writing as a way to lift himself out of misery and the dead-end life he was living, and also to untangle his relationship with his father after a serious injury. Light reading it is not, but readers who loved Wild for its unflinching look at Strayed's sad and troubled family will appreciate the portrait of love and loneliness that Dubus paints in Townie.
Fire Season by Philip Connors
Philip Connors has spent many summers as a fire lookout in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico, a job that allows him to attune himself deeply to the natural world around him. Though the work is not as physically demanding as hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, it requires long hours of solitude and the close, thorough observation of the forest. With nothing but the sights and sounds of the woods to distract him, Connors can achieve a sort of meditative peace that lends itself well to the daily practice of writing. When he observes that natural fires (caused by lightning strikes) are often beneficial, even necessary, to the survival of the forest's ecosystem, readers will realize that the truths he uncovers on the mountain may have meaning in their own lives as well.
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
If you're looking for a lighter take on the experience of long-distance hiking, Bill Bryson's modern classic A Walk in the Woods is essential reading. Like Strayed, Bryson is not exactly prepared for the rigors of the journey when he sets out to hike the Appalachian Trail, and his bumbling efforts and dry humor make for an irresistible combination. Along the way, he learns about the history and allure of the AT and meets a number of curious characters—including his traveling companion, a cranky, monosyllabic and somewhat rundown friend from his high school days.
Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs by Heather Lende
Heather Lende, columnist for the Anchorage Daily News, has been compared to writers such as Anne Lamott and Annie Dillard for her gentle but deep-seated spirituality and her love of the natural world—in this case, the mountainous beauty of her Alaska home. In this collection of essays and observations, Lende writes with grace and humor about challenges and triumphs both personal and communal, and captures the spirit of community that infuses her small town. Like Strayed, Lende struggles with big questions, and finds inspiration in the beautiful but unforgiving landscape around her.
Looking for more great book suggestions? Check out the rest of our "what to read next" posts, or share your own recommendations in the comments.
Here at BookPage, we are always in a state of mentally compiling a "best books of the year" list. At this point in the year, I've already got a solid Top 5, although I'm keeping my mouth shut for the moment. Still. I know . . . I just know . . . that one particular book will make it onto my year-end list of personal favorites, and I'm happy to share it now. I can't count how many people I've recommended it to: Wild by Cheryl Strayed, our Top Pick in Nonfiction in April. It's more than a survival story, and more than a grief memoir or coming-of-age tale—although it's all of those things. It's a moving and profound chronicle of one woman's journey across the Pacific Crest Trail. I finished it in a couple of days, then I went back to the beginning and started reading again. Now I want to give it to my sister. It's one of those kind of books. Just read it.
In addition to being a wonderful memoirist, Cheryl Strayed is also the voice behind the "Dear Sugar" column in The Rumpus. (The column was anonymous from March of 2010 until February of this year, when Sugar revealed herself to be Cheryl Strayed.) Sugar gives sassy and wise advice on love, death, jealousy, friendship and everything in between. In my opinion, Sugar is a genius. If you've got some time to spare and want a longer introduction, read this interview on The Great Discontent, or read Sugar's column on the "tiny beautiful things" in life.
Or you could start with Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, released this week from Vintage Books. Though Wild is currently going strong at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, I hope Strayed's other new release gets plenty of attention. Know any grads who need some good advice? Direct them to Sugar.
What advice books do you love?
According to our most recent Reader Survey, memoirs are one of the Top 5 favorite genres of BookPage readers. Thankfully, there have been a slew of outstanding memoirs this year. To date, we have recommended 29 memoirs in 2012. The writers' stories are about fatherhood, aging, exercise, cooking, friendship, loss, love—and so much more.
Keep reading to learn more about this must-read collection of memoirs. Which is your favorite? What will you read next? What memoir should we add to our list?
MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche
Ballantine, $15, 384 pages
Rachel Bertsche is a 20-something freelance writer and editor who, after following her husband to Chicago, found herself in need of a new best friend.
No Cheating, No Dying by Elizabeth Weil
Scribner, $25, 192 pages
After nearly 10 years of marriage to her husband Dan, Elizabeth Weil still felt “proud, nearly giddy” about being his wife. She also worried: “Because just as I believed that marriages formed slowly over time, I also believed they broke that way.” Read more>>
Gypsy Boy by Mikey Walsh
Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's, $24.99, 288 pages
“Somehow, this time, I would make it work.” That’s the quiet plea of 12-year-old Mikey Walsh, desperate to fit in with his Romany Gypsy family. Read more>>
Immortal Bird by Doron Weber
Simon & Schuster, $25, 368 pages
Weber’s Immortal Bird is a love letter to his son, an account of Damon’s determination to fight a series of medical setbacks while fighting for his life. Read more>>
The Great Northern Express by Howard Frank Mosher
Crown, $25, 256 pages
As a young boy, Howard Frank Mosher would sit at the knee of his honorary uncle, Reg Bennett, and beg him to tell stories. Bennett promised that when Mosher turned 21, the two would embark on a road trip starting in Robert Frost’s New England. Read more>>
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
by Jeanette Winterson
Grove, $25, 224 pages
With Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Winterson pulls back the veil on her life as she really lived it and shows us that truth is not only stranger than fiction, but more painful and more beautiful as well. Read more>>
Burn Down the Ground by Kambri Crews
Villard, $25, 352 pages
As a PR booker for comedy clubs, Kambri Crews developed the slogan “Life’s Tough. Laugh More.” In her new memoir, Burn Down the Ground, Crews reveals the source of this motto in her hardscrabble childhood in rural Texas with deaf parents.
King Peggy by Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman
Doubleday, $25.95, 352 pages
Today, no one raises an eyebrow at seeing a female doctor, police officer or CEO. But a female king? Yet that is exactly what Peggielene Bartels, for more than 30 years a secretary at the Embassy of Ghana in Washington, D.C., is asked to become by the elders of Otuam, a small Ghanaian village. Read more>>
Mad Women by Jane Maas
St. Martin's, $24.99, 272 pages
The Lucky Strike-puffing, martini-fueled “mad men” of the glamorous heyday of advertising are sexy again, thanks to the hit TV show. But “mad women” were also making their mark in the testosterone-dominated advertising industry of the 1960s and ’70s. Read more>>
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Knopf Doubleday, $25.95, 336 pages
A profound and moving pilgrimage through the wilderness of grief, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild is one of the best American memoirs to emerge in years.
The Fourth Fisherman by Joe Kissack
Waterbrook, $19.99, 240 pages
The Fourth Fisherman, by Joe Kissack, is a story about men lost at sea—one lost in the sea of worldly success and excess, and the others lost in the actual vast waters of the Pacific Ocean. Read more>>
The Other Side of Suffering by John Ramsey
FaithWords, $24.99, 272 pages
The worst fate most parents can imagine is to live through the loss of a child—especially a child lost to murder. Read more>>
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
Random House, $26, 208 pages
In the sublime Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, Quindlen, 59, clearly is embracing middle age (with just the tiniest bit of help from the dermatologist). Read more>>
Some Assembly Required by Anne Lamott
Riverhead, $26.95, 288 pages
Anyone who read Operating Instructions, Anne Lamott’s seminal book on the trials and tribulations of motherhood, will be flabbergasted to learn that her infant son, Sam, is now a 19-year-old father. Read more>>
Making Babies by Anne Enright
Norton, $24.95, 208 pages
The subtitle of Making Babies, Anne Enright’s marvelously irreverent look at having children later in life, is “Stumbling into Motherhood,” and that is just what the Irish writer did when she and her husband had their first child after 18 years of marriage. Read more>>
Up: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure by Patricia Ellis
Broadway, $14, 256 pages
I was bracing to be slightly annoyed by the ambitious mother and her overachieving mountain-climbing daughter in Up: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure. But Patricia Ellis Herr is no tiger mom, pushing her daughter Alex to the brink. Read more>>
Bloom by Kelle Hampton
Morrow, $24.99, 288 pages
As soon as the doctor laid the baby in her arms, Kelle Hampton knew her daughter had Down syndrome. “I will never forget my daughter in my arms, opening her eyes over and over . . . she locked eyes with mine and stared . . . bore holes into my soul. Love me. Love me. I’m not what you expected, but oh please love me.” Read more>>
My Story, My Song by Lucimarian Roberts
Upper Room, $28, 144 pages
My Story, My Song is the slim but lyrical memoir of Lucimarian Roberts, the mother of “Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts. Read more>>
A Wedding in Haiti by Julia Alvarez
Algonquin, $22.95, 304 pages
In her humorous and poignant memoir of a wedding and an earthquake in the Dominican Republic, novelist Julia Alvarez (How the García Girls Lost Their Accents) attempts to answer this question as she tells the tale of a young worker on her coffee plantation, Piti, and his efforts to make a life by traveling from his home in Haiti to work in the neighboring country. Read more>>
Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
HMH, $22, 304 pages
Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir about her mother is not, immediately, a memoir about her mother. Or at any rate, it’s not only that.
Let's Pretend This Never Happened
by Jenny Lawson
Amy Einhorn, $25.95, 336 pages
This is the kind of book where, once you’ve got the lay of the land, a sentence like “[My neighbor] seemed more concerned this time, possibly because I was belting out Bonnie Tyler and crying while swinging a machete over a partially disturbed grave” makes total sense. Read more>>
Paris, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down
by Rosencrans Baldwin
FSG, $26, 304 pages
When Rosecrans Baldwin, author of the critically acclaimed novel You Lost Me There, landed a gig with a French ad agency, his longtime dream to live in Paris came true. Though his French was iffy—and his wife Rachel’s was nonexistent—they packed up and traded Brooklyn for the third arrondissement. Read more>>
How to Cook Like a Man by Daniel Duane
Bloomsbury, $24, 224 pages
It’s hard to imagine cooking as an extreme sport, but that’s what we find in Daniel Duane’s How to Cook Like a Man: A Memoir of Cookbook Obsession. Read more>>
Dan Gets a Minivan by Dan Zevin
Scribner, $24, 240 pages
Humorist Dan Zevin, a 40-something father of two, finds himself totally digging his new wheels in Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad. Read more>>
Full Body Burden by Kristen Iversen
Crown, $25, 432 pages
On its surface, Kristen Iversen’s childhood in suburban Denver was idyllic. She and her three younger siblings had horses to ride, a local lake and a neighborhood filled with kids. But just under the surface lurked dangers that Iversen doesn’t fully understand until she is much older. Read more>>
The Cost of Hope by Amanda Bennett
Random House, $26, 240 pages
While on assignment in China, journalist Amanda Bennett met and fell in love with a complicated man. They married, moved back to the U.S., created a family, and had their reality turned on its ear when her husband, Terence Foley, was diagnosed with kidney cancer.
Coming to My Senses by Alyssa Harad
Viking, $25.95, 272 pages
Woodsy and seductive, with a hint of spice, Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride offers a luscious immersion in the world of perfume obsession. Read more>>
Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson
Random House, $27, 336 pages
Marcus Samuelsson made his name as one of the youngest executive chefs in Manhattan and a familiar face on the Food Network. What might be less familiar is Samuelsson’s fascinating personal history, which he lays bare in Yes, Chef. Read more>>
Our April Top Pick in Nonfiction is Wild, the magnificent memoir by Cheryl Strayed. After the death of her mother, Strayed decided to hike 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. She starts her journey alone, grieving and misguided (her pack weighs more than 70 pounds) but discovers "a visionary state of solitude" while battling blisters and the elements. Writes our reviewer:
Wild is never simply a survival memoir. . . It is also a guidebook for living in the world, introducing a vibrant new American voice with a deceptively simple message: Go outside and take a hike.
Is this a memoir you will check out?