Tomes of the Brave | Memoir

This month, all the memoir picks are about being brave, and the many forms that it may take. Even when dealing with heavy subject matter, the authors find light, humor, and meaning in their experiences.
This month, all of the stories are about being brave and the many forms that courage may take. Each title shows how people demonstrate bravery, from ways most quotidian to those most exceptional. These memoirists take on multiple daring acts, whether dealing with serious illness, the death of a parent, a new love, uncharted adventures, an unfamiliar environment, or trying to have a baby. Every experience that demands fortitude reveals a different facet, and each adds something to the picture of boldness. Even though this month’s roster deals with heavy subject matter, the authors find light, humor, and meaning in their various encounters. redstarLeigh, Julia. Avalanche: A Love Story. Norton. Aug. 2016. 160p. ISBN 9780393292763. $23.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393292732. MEMOIR 06.16.Memoir.AvalancheThere seems to be mostly silence around the desire to have a child, infertility, and the lengths one may go to reproduce. (Search your library’s catalog, you probably won’t find any personal accounts—the focus will be on scientific practices and medical ethics.) Australian author Leigh (The Hunter) breaks through that wall of silence and isolation to share her experience. She visits infertility specialists, her husband reverses his vasectomy, and then they divorce. Next, Leigh evaluates suitable sperm donors, freezes her eggs, waits and hopes for viable embryos to develop, and has those embryos implanted, all while undergoing hormone shots. Ultimately, she opts to stop trying, but her work to be at peace with that decision is ongoing. The long-held desire for a biological child emanates from the writing. The strength to realize when to relinquish that want is a form of bravery, and Leigh deserves recognition for talking about such painful and personal matters in such an open and uninhibited way. VERDICT Leigh's short but intense book full of tumult and longing will take readers along with her on a hormonal roller-coaster as she puts her reproductive hopes in the hands of medical science. Notaro, Tig. I'm Just a Person. Ecco: HarperCollins. Jun. 2016. 128p. illus. ISBN 9780062266637. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062266651. MEMOIR If you’ve seen Notaro's standup routine “Good evening. 06.16.Memoir.TigNotaroHello. I have cancer,” then the outline of the story here may be familiar—you may have also heard the author on public radio's This American Life, or watched her show on Netflix, One Mississippi. In this memoir, Notaro takes a close look at the worst year of her life: she becomes deathly ill, her mother suddenly passes away, and she receives a breast cancer diagnosis. It is a time when nothing is funny, and there is nothing to laugh about. That’s a particular challenge, since Notaro makes her living by being funny. Her memoir intersperses memories from her childhood with her recent traumas as an adult. She has lived through extreme hardships, and that is what makes this book so valuable for so many people. We’ve all survived hard things, and we’ve all not known what to say to people dealing with even harder situations. VERDICT In this infinitely relatable title, Notaro shows us that when we live through the hard times, not just in hard times, we often emerge with a more honed, precise understanding of our priorities. [See Prepub Alert, 11/30/15.] Simón, Melanie Bowden. La Americana. Skyhorse. Jul. 2016. 278p. photos. ISBN 9781510702554. $19.99. MEMOIR 06.16.Memoir.AmericanaMany U.S. residents are absolutely fascinated by Cuba—we’ve heard so much about it, and we can’t wait to travel there someday. Journalist and author Simón takes us there as the tourist she once was, traveling with a friend in 2001, several months after her mother’s death. In the midst of this difficult time, she meets and falls in love with taxi-cab driver Luis, who will become her husband. Conflict and tension emerge from the embargo on Cuba, interfering with the couple's attempts at dating. This is a Prince Charming story; the action peaks with the author's wedding at the beautiful Hotel Nacional in Havana (photos are included, so readers have some visuals to help provide context). The remaining pages skim over their lives together in Savannah, GA, in the years since their marriage. There’s a lot of romance here, but more cultural observation and commentary would have added depth, and readers might wish for more details about Havana. VERDICT A marriage plot come to life that also incorporates elements of armchair travel. Sullivan, Jaime Primak with Eve Adamson. The Southern Education of a Jersey Girl: Adventures in Life and Love in the Heart of Dixie. Touchstone. Aug. 2016. 256p. ISBN 9781501115370. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781501115479. MEMOIR Fans of the reality TV show Jersey Belle may already be 06.16.Memoir.JerseyGirlacquainted with the major players in this memoir. As a young PR representative, the author meets an old-fashioned Southern gentleman while on assignment in Birmingham, AL. A native of New Jersey with metropolitan tastes, she is unsettled by the pace and style of Southern courtship. The title takes us through Sullivan's early encounters and developing relationship with Michael, to their marriage and the birth of their children. Sullivan is apprehensive about letting go of her urban lifestyle and her career aspirations, but soon new career opportunities emerge from her shift to Southern living, as well as a deep appreciation and love for her family, friends, and faith. The chapter titles are almost like the briefest synopsis ("The Power of a Great Pair of Jeans," “Honey, He’s Gay," and "It’s a Boy, Or Is It?"). Sullivan is also the star of her own YouTube Channel, #cawfeetalk, and her chapter text resembles YouTube clips—direct and to the point. VERDICT This memoir is chatty, dishy, and open, giving Jersey Belle fans some behind-the-scenes views that may not have made it onscreen.   Royes, Pamela. Temperance Creek. Counterpoint. Jun. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9781619027305. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781619028838. MEMOIR 06.16.Memoir.TempCreekIn the early Seventies, when young people were tuning in and dropping out, Royes tunes in and drops off—the grid, that is. Searching for something other than what can be found in her University of Oregon courses, she spends time with friends in eastern Oregon and meets Skip, a cowboy/sheepherder/nomad extraordinaire, and begins the journey of a lifetime with him. They take several years to backpack through a rugged area in the eastern part of the state and find itinerant work as sheepherders and dude ranch caretakers, all in the expansive Hell’s Canyon wilderness. This memoir is as much about place and physical location as it is natural beauty; the prolonged immersive encounter with nature works boundless changes on Royes and her fellow adventurer. In some aspects, it is a kind of eulogy for a lost way of life. Overgrazing, federal management of public lands, and conservation efforts have transformed the landscape, and Royes does not see these stewardship changes in a positive light. VERDICT Living off the grid is portrayed as equal parts exhilarating and terrifying in this account that will appeal to readers who crave a simpler, less encumbered life.

Other Memoir

Naughton, Lara. The Jaguar Man. Central Recovery. Jul. 2016. 176p. ISBN 9781942094203. pap. $15.95. MEMOIR Documentary playwright and certified compassion 06.16.Memoir.JagMancultivation trainer (Ctr. for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, Stanford Univ. Sch. of Medicine) Naughton is also an experienced global traveler who enjoys solo adventures. While in Belize, she unwinds in balmy temperatures and meets a younger man who just may be The One. In Los Angeles, she recently purchased a bungalow in need of extensive repair, a symbol perhaps of her own life, which will soon be splintered. When a man impersonating a taxi driver abducts and rapes her, Naughton reaches deep into her inner resources to survive. Her creative use of myth as a means to navigate the psychological damage also helps readers traverse this difficult topic. She discovers a measure of compassion for her captor, even as she struggles to make sense of the senseless. This is an exploration of the multifaceted damage of this violent crime that may leave readers feeling both humble and raw. VERDICT In her first book, Naughton delivers a powerful and disturbing message to both men and women on the trauma of rape.—Gloria Drake, Oswego P.L. Dist., IL    

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