“So, really, what’s a nice girl like me doing working at a ghastly ol’ crematory like Westwind?” Caitlin Doughty asks near the beginning of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, her by turns shockingly gruesome, mordantly funny and, ultimately, richly thought-provoking memoir about working in an Oakland, California, mortuary and crematorium.
The voice behind the popular web series “Ask a Mortician” exposes the grisly, hilarious details of working in a crematorium—and argues that everyone needs to be more closely connected to the realities of death.
In the middle of her otherwise fascinating story about reclusive heiress Huguette Clark, Meryl Gordon’s narrative suddenly flattens. The daily details of Clark’s life during this long period of seclusion are assembled from wan notes to almost-lost relatives, bank statements and legal correspondence, and the memories of the few close friends who received cards and phone calls—but never visits—from Mrs. Clark.
Tom Robbins had no intention of writing a memoir. “I was conned into it by the women in my life,” he says with a laugh during a call to his home in the small town of La Conner, Washington.
“They had been pestering me to write down the stories that I’d been telling them—bidden and unbidden—over the years. I wrote 20 pages and showed it to them, thinking that would shut them up. But it had the opposite effect.”
If you want a gut-level understanding of why preservation of the Earth’s biodiversity is vital to the survival of our own species, Edward O. Wilson’s new book, A Window on Eternity, is an excellent place to start.
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.
As 19th-century San Francisco evolved from a rowdy Gold Rush boomtown into the financial center of the American West, its rambunctious poets and writers—especially the self-styled Bohemians—sought to bring a skeptical, caustic, humorous Western voice to American writing that had been long dominated by the relatively staid literary eminences of Boston and New York.
Few writers engage readers in thinking about the meaning of scientific discoveries as well as Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer at The New Yorker. Kolbert’s enviable talents, her wit and intelligence, the clarity of her prose, are on full display in The Sixth Extinction, a fascinating and alarming book that examines mass extinctions of life forms, past and present.
After writing three critically acclaimed novels, Gary Steyngart turned to memoir. Little Failure, published this month, is an unsparing, often funny, account of Steyngart’s anxiety-ridden life from his early childhood in Russia, through his family’s immigration to Queens, New York, and ending with the publication of his first novel. Our reading of the memoir raised some additional questions, which Shteyngart answered via email.
Near the end of his entrancing and unsparing memoir, Gary Shteyngart —author of three exuberant, award-winning novels—writes, “On so many occasions in my novels I have approached a certain truth only to turn away from it, only to point my finger and laugh at it and then scurry back to safety. In this book, I promised myself I would not point the finger. My laughter would be...