BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, April 2014
Frances Mayes’ lyrical memoir of growing up Southern was a long time coming. Worried about upsetting her family, she stopped and started Under Magnolia many times over: “Anytime I felt the impulse to start my Southern opus again, I instead headed for a movie or a new Thai restaurant,” she writes. “I’d go jogging or read a novel until the impulse faded.”
When explosions rocked the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, three people were killed and 260 injured, among them Jeff Bauman. Standing with friends to cheer on his girlfriend, who was running in the race, Bauman saw a man whose appearance and demeanor didn’t fit the crowd leave a backpack and walk away. Bauman was about to suggest to his friends that they move farther up the street when the pack exploded, taking both his legs with it. Stronger is Bauman’s account of his injury and recovery, and a tribute to working-class Boston resilience.
Barbara Ehrenreich and her younger sister are very close. But her sister really, really does not like the title of Ehrenreich’s new memoir, Living with a Wild God.
“She thinks I’m being too soft on theism in this book. She’s like, how can you write a book with God in the title! It was hardcore, the atheism we came from,” Ehrenreich says with a bemused laugh during a call to her home in Alexandria, Virginia, where she moved some years ago to be near her daughter and grandchildren.
There are certain years that trigger immediate associations in any baseball fan’s mind. 1903: the first World Series. 1927: Murderer’s Row. 1961: Mantle and Maris. 1994: the players’ strike. Whether 2014 will produce such a season is yet to be written, but a tremendous crop of baseball books guarantees this year to be one for the publishing annals.
Sometimes things happen in life that change one’s perspective. Literally. For Gail Caldwell, hip surgery made her five-eighths of an inch taller. It was a new view, and she wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.
Mohandas K. Gandhi was born and raised in India and is best known for his work there as a world-renowned social reformer, political thinker, religious pluralist and prophet. If his life had followed the traditional path for someone of his family and caste, he would have remained in India, served in a prominent position and been unknown to most of the world. But as the noted scholar Ramachandra Guha demonstrates in his eminently readable and exhaustively researched Gandhi Before India, the 20 years that Gandhi spent in South Africa before his return to his home country in 1914 were fundamental to his success.
Excellent books from Charles Finch, Lachlan Smith and former secretary of defense Robert Gates make for great listening.
In a frank and richly evocative memoir, the author of Under the Tuscan Sun recalls growing up in the Deep South.
Why did you feel now was the right time to write a memoir of your coming-of-age?
Moving from California (where I lived and worked for decades) back to the South reconnected me on many levels with the land I came from originally. Some of the connections were simple and primitive—the fecund and flowery smells, the cheerful sounds of the tree frogs, the grating drama of cicadas, the grand sunsets and the intense humidity.
Was John Updike one of America’s great writers or merely, as Harold Bloom famously said, “a minor novelist with a major style”? In Updike, his meticulously detailed and highly readable new biography—the first full-fledged life of the writer, who died in 2009—Adam Begley makes a convincing case for the former view while providing a rich account of the events that shaped Updike’s fiction.
When Carol Wall hired a neighbor’s gardener to improve her long-neglected yard, she never imagined that the Kenyan immigrant would transform her outlook on life as well. In Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening, Wall reflects on what she learned from their special friendship.