In The Longest Road one of America’s most respected writers takes an epic journey across America, Airstream in tow, and asks everyday Americans what unites and divides a country as endlessly diverse as it is large.
Standing on a wind-scoured island off the Alaskan coast, Philip Caputo marveled that its Inupiat Eskimo schoolchildren pledge allegiance to the same flag as the children of Cuban immigrants in Key West, six thousand miles away. A question began to take shape: How does the United States, peopled by every race on earth, remain united? Caputo resolved that one day he’d drive from the nation’s southernmost point to the northernmost point reachable by road, talking to everyday Americans about their lives and asking how they would answer his question. So it was that in 2011 Caputo, his wife and their two English setters made their way in a truck and classic trailer (hereafter known as “Fred” and “Ethel”) from Key West, Florida, to Deadhorse, Alaska, covering 16,000 miles. He spoke to everyone from a West Virginia couple saving souls to a Native American shaman and taco entrepreneur. What he found is a story that will entertain and inspire readers as much as it informs them about the state of today’s United States, the glue that holds us all together, and the conflicts that could cause us to pull apart. (description from publisher)
Lucy Knisley is an illustrator who loves food. Raised by foodies before they would have been called foodies, Knisley writes and draws about her life through the lens of the meals that she ate. Foie Gras, Kraft Mac and Cheese, apricot jam filled croissants, sushi, fresh tamales, and cherry tomatoes right off the vine all bring back significant memories in Knisley’s life and pepper Relish: My Life in the Kitchen with funny stories and delicious recollections.
I had read Knisley’s previous foray into food themed graphic novel memoirs French Milk, about her trip to Paris with her mother following her graduation from college, and I wasn’t particularly impressed. But after reading positive reviews of Relish, I decided to give Knisley another chance. I am so glad that I did. She seems to have found her voice (and a better editor) for this book, and has included delightful illustrated recipes at the end of each chapter. It left me wishing that she would write a full graphic novel cookbook. Each of these recipes calls back to a specific memory in Knisley’s life, from childhood to the present, shaping the person she has become. Knisley’s passion is infectious, and this would be a great read for anyone with a lost young adult in their life.
Cartoonist Ellen Forney’s Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me is an honest, funny graphic memoir that explores her life following her diagnosis with bi-polar disorder. As an artist, Forney had mixed emotions about her diagnosis, ranging from excitement over joining what she called “Club Van Gogh” (the idea that creativity and great art come from mania) to frustration over the long road to recovery and finding the most effective drug cocktail. Forney never holds back in both words and illustrations, letting the reader join her in her head and get an idea of what it is to be an artist with bi-polar disorder.
Forney uses a combination of new illustrations and samples of the sketches that came from different times during her journey to recovery. The illustrations from her lowest depressive times are detailed, darker, and incredibly different than the cheery, simple cartoon illustrations that populate the rest of the book. While the book can come off as a tad self-indulgent and Forney’s journey is obviously her own, this is an excellent read for anyone that is looking for insight into what the recovery journey may look like for a person diagnosed as having manic depression. Even if it is just to help you feel like you’re a part of Club Van Gogh and no longer alone. When you’ve finished Marbles, I would suggest picking up the beautifully illustrated graphic memoir, Stitches: A Memoir by David Small or the unsettling account of a high school relationship with Jeffery Dahmer, My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf.
These true tales range from the funny and flippant to the gritty and gruesome. Give nonfiction audio a try! You may find that nonfiction (which doesn’t always have a strong narrative thread you need to follow) is ideal for listening in stops and starts.
- Devil in the White City by Erik Larson; this gripping tale of a serial killer at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago is so spellbinding, you’ll want to extend your commute to hear more!
- Bossypants by Tina Fey, read by the author: this book is shriekingly funny. Truly one of the best audio books around – Fey is witty and direct, never sappy, and always gut-bustingly hilarious.
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot; a universally praised book that mixes science with history and family drama.
- Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling Lexie reviewed the book, and I agree with her: this book is FUNNY. You’ll want to be best friends with Mindy by the end.
- I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron: Ephron’s candid observations on life and getting older are enjoyable and crisply humorous.
- Zeitoun by Dave Eggers: The gritty true story of the tribulations of Abduhlraman Zeitoun and his family in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
- At Home by Bill Bryson, read by the author: see my review for a longer rant on the excellence of this very excellent book.
- The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell, read by the author: You know Sarah Vowell’s voice already – she vocalized for Violet in Pixar’s The Incredibles. You’ll also recognize the many luminaries/musicians/comedians/TV personalities who make cameos in her delectable book – Conan O’Brien and Stephen Colbert, for example. Oh, and it’s full of intelligent and interesting essays about history and American culture, too.
Roger Ebert is the best-known film critic of our time. He has been reviewing films for the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967, and was the first film critic ever to win a Pulitzer Prize. He has appeared on television for four decades, including twenty-three years as co-host of Siskel & Ebert at the Movies. In 2006, complications from thyroid cancer treatment resulted in the loss of his ability to eat, drink, or speak. But with the loss of his voice, Ebert has only become a more prolific and influential writer. And now, for the first time, he tells the full, dramatic story of his life and career in Life Itself.
Roger Ebert’s journalism carried him on a path far from his nearly idyllic childhood in Urbana, Illinois. It is a journey that began as a reporter for his local daily, and took him to Chicago, where he was unexpectedly given the job of film critic for the Sun-Times, launching a lifetime’s adventures. In this candid, personal history, Ebert chronicles it all: his loves, losses, and obsessions; his struggle and recovery from alcoholism; his marriage; his politics; and his spiritual beliefs. He writes about his years at the Sun-Times, his colorful newspaper friends, and his life-changing collaboration with Gene Siskel. He remembers his friendships with Studs Terkel, Mike Royko, Oprah Winfrey, and Russ Meyer (for whom he wrote Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and an ill-fated Sex Pistols movie). He shares his insights into movie stars and directors like John Wayne, Werner Herzog, and Martin Scorsese. This is a story that only Roger Ebert could tell. Filled with the same deep insight, dry wit, and sharp observations that his readers have long cherished, this is more than a memoir – it is a singular, warm-hearted, inspiring look at life itself. (description from publisher)
Christina Haag, childhood friend and later longtime girlfriend of John F. Kennedy, Jr. has written a moving and beautiful memoir of her years with him, Come to the Edge, which chronicles their lives from the 1970s to the early 1990s.
After meeting him as a young girl as one member of a large circle of friends in New York City, Christina Haag becomes a close friend and confidant of John throughout their high school and later college days. After high school they both attend Brown University and learn that they share a love of theater both at Brown and later in New York City, where they return after graduation. After starring together in an off-Broadway play, he confesses his love for her and they embark on a five year romance. Her memoir tells of the human and personal side of their relationship that was far removed from the prying eye of the public.
She tells of their group dinners while roommates in college, trips to Cumberland Island in Georgia, their near death experience kayaking in Jamaica and of their normal, everyday life in New York. Her recollection of a man who lived his life on the edge is poignant and reflective. This is both a completely satisfying and heartbreaking memoir that tells the tale of love, loss and what could have been.
Columbian-born politician Ingrid Betancourt left the comfort of her Parisian life to run for political office in her home country with the hopes of ending government corruption. In 2002, while running as a candidate in the newly formed ”Oxygen Green Party,” she and her campaign manager were kidnapped by a terrorist organization in Columbia, the FARC. She was held in the remote jungles of the country for nearly 6 1/2 years and, while a prisoner, Betancourt attempted numerous time to escape from her captors – just to be discovered and quickly recaptured.
Even Silence Has an End tells the harrowing struggle of her life during her years in captivity as well as her interactions with the countless other prisoners she encountered daily. In the summer of 2008 while being moved from one location in the jungle to another, Betancourt and a small group of prisoners were loaded onto a helicopter and once airborn, they were told that they had been freed in a miraculous plan orchestrated by the Columbian government. Her story of survival is inspirational!
So much has been written about Anne Frank and her two years hidden in the Secret Annex during World War II, but little has been written about the woman who hid the family, Miep Gies. Anne Frank Remembered, by Miep Gies and Alison Leslie Gold, tells the story of the woman who not only helped the family to survive in hiding, but was also the person who discovered Anne’s diary after the family was arrested.
The book begins with Miep’s own desperate childhood in Vienna during World War I and how she was sent to the Netherlands with many other Viennesse children in order to live with families who could temporarily take care of them. Years later, Miep decides to stay in Amsterdam after accepting a secretarial job with a company who produced kits so women could make jellies and jams from the comfort of their home – her new boss was a man named Otto Frank. Her recollections of meeting his family, especially Anne, are charming and the long friendship she shared with the Frank family is vividly recalled.
The book follows the progression of World War II and the eventual occupation of the Netherlands. Even though this story is one that has been written about frequently, Miep’s first hand account of the lives of the Frank’s and their friends is an invaluable historical story. The co-author, Alison Leslie Gold, wanted to capture Ms. Gies and her husband’s own thoughts and remembrances - the first edition of the book was published when Ms. Gies was nearly 80 years old. She died this past January at the age of 100.
With the recent record-breaking amount paid for a single painting – a portrait by Pablo Picasso painted during a single day in March 1932 – which sold for a staggering $106.5 million in early May in New York, it reminded me of one of my favorite books on the artist, Life with Picasso, written by Francoise Gilot. Gilot, who lived with Pablo Picasso for nearly a decade, is the mother of two of his children, Paloma (the fashion and jewelry designer) and Claude and she continues to have a successful art career.
Gilot initially published this memoir of their life together, which spans the years 1944 until 1953, in 1964 after their relationship ended. The two met in Paris during World War II when she was a 21 year old art student and he was 62 years old and was already a world famous artist. Gilot found inspiration working next to Picasso while creating her own artwork. The book is a fascinating read into the process of how Picasso created his paintings, sculptures and prints as well as how he dealt with those who were around him and part of his inner circle.
This is highly recommended not only for fans of the artist but for those who enjoy a glimpse into the biography of an legendary and talented individual told from the viewpoint of someone who was living her life next to his for many years.