Category Archives: memoir

The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch

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In The Chronology of Water, Lidia Yuknavitch bluntly and unapologetically lays her life on the page, describing years of abuse, self-destruction, loss, and her long, ongoing path to healing. Her writing style and voice are reminiscent of her own beat-era teachers, and folks will probably enjoy, or at least respect her story if they also like books by Kesey or Burroughs. If you don’t like that stuff, you should at least read the chapter entitled “Metaphor,” particularly if you also like rocks.

Availability: USMAI
Review Submitted by:  Izzy Lott
Rating: Recommended

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

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This book is a memoir about Doughty’s beginnings working in a crematory in Oakland, California, fresh out of college and full of morbid curiosity. The author does an excellent job of demystifying the death industry and what happens when we die in today’s society. The book is funny, candid and occasionally does not pull back on the details so it may not be for people who are more squeamish. In the audiobook version, Doughty herself narrates which makes the book feel more personal.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Jo Hoppe
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge:
Audiobook

They Called Us Enemy by Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, George Takei

they called us enemy

They Called Us Enemy by Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, George Takei with Harmony Becker (Illustrator) is a graphic novel using George Takei’s own words to tell the story of the years of his childhood spent in Japanese internment camps. While it’s difficult to discuss the complexity of having joyous childhood memories in a horrible period of American history, Takei and his team walk this line very well. The art style reminds me of a children’s storybook which adds to the sense of childhood innocence. I recommend this book for people who are looking to start learning the basics of the history of Japanese internment told from a very personal perspective.

Availability:  COSMOS, SMCM
Review Submitted by: Jo Hoppe
Rating:  Must Read
Challenge:  Graphic novel with diverse characters

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar

book cover“If you don’t laugh you’ll cry” I found myself thinking with each turn of the page of You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism. These first person accounts of racism – stories that took place over the course of a woman’s life – bring to light the everyday racism people of color encounter from the overtly hostile to the laughably ignorant. Some of the stories I read and thought “yes, I can believe that happened” while others blew me away and left me thinking “I can’t believe that happened”. I think that was the author’s intent – to alert even racism-aware readers of the extent to which POC encounter these incidents on a day to day basis, as well as validate those people who have experienced similar incidents.

The book is written in a humorous fashion but don’t think that dilutes its message. It does not pull any punches when it comes to the actual stories. It is a good read for those wishing to understand more fully the extent of racism in this country. For those who do not believe racism exists, this might be a good book to introduce the subject. It is factual but not accusatory, humorous without being silly. A good conversation starter for those who need to be brought into the conversation.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Stephanie Marsich
Rating:  Must Read
Challenge: Published in 2021

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar

book coverYou’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism was a fast but difficult read. I kinda go into a downward spiral every time I think about it. I mean the US has a huge problem, but this isn’t just a US problem. Racist parties and leaders are getting voted in left and right the world over. Hungary just revoked the human rights they’d given LGBT people. I’ve heard more stories about Alexei Navalny’s health during imprisonment than Aung San Suu Kyi’s. There’s vaccine nationalism left and right and us-first politics when we all know that if we don’t stop the pandemic everywhere then it ends nowhere.

Throughout the book Amber and Lacey reassure the reader that they’re okay, they have happy lives. I’m glad they do but none of what they relate is okay and much of it is downright traumatizing. I knew that this kind of stuff went on, hell I was there when my husband got “randomly” checked five (!) times at O’Hare airport during our layover, causing us to miss our flight to DC. He told me how he’d had to stand in line with the other people of color and listen to TSA make racist jokes while waiting for all the “random” checks to be completed. I was there when they finally “randomly” checked his luggage before we got on another flight but not mine, despite the fact we were traveling together. But man I am still so naive as to how ubiquitous this is.

Read this or a similar book and do better.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Emily Nelson Ringholm, ’07
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2201

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

book coverI found this to be a heartbreaking look into how our justice system treats people of color. In this book Stevenson, a lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, takes the reader through his legal journey to free Walter McMillian, a man sentenced to die for a murder he didn’t commit. Throughout the book Stevenson details his own encounters with racism as well as other cases in which people of color were wrongly accused of crimes. If you are looking to inform yourself on how the justice system can unfairly persecute people of color, this is a good book to start with.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI, SMCM
Review Submitted by:  Stephanie Marsich
Rating:  Highly Recommended

 

I Beat the Odds by Michael Oher

book coverI Beat the Odds: From Homelessness, to the Blind Side, and Beyond

Earlier this year I read The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis. I found the descriptions of football and strategies used in the game to be incredibly boring. I was also left wanting to learn more about Michael Oher, whose story was written in the second half. So, I was pleased when I discovered Oher wrote an autobiography.

This was everything that the movie the Blind Side should’ve been. As Oher stated himself in the book, Lewis had taken several creative liberties when describing how Oher was a dumb kid who needed to be taught how to play football. In reality, he was incredibly bright and worked hard to make the right decisions so he didn’t wind up like his mom. He also had played football, and other sports, his whole life.

Oher also dedicated an entire chapter at the end to giving advice to at-risk children on how to work towards the life they want, find good role models, and use their talents to achieve their goals. Even for those adults who’ve “made it”, he lists youth organizations all over the country at which one could volunteer their time as a mentor. Even after his success, Oher was still trying to give back to the community.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Marissa Christensen
Rating:   Recommended

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Formatted as a letter to his son, Between the World and Me is a deeply personal account of what it is like to live as a black person in the United States. The text flows very naturally, almost like a conversation and is easy to sink into. This book is eye opening, emotional and an absolute must read for those trying to better understand what African Americans go through in this country.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI, SMCM
Review Submitted by:  Joanne Hoppe
Rating:  Must Read

Mad Women by Jane Maas

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Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the ’60s and Beyond, is a short retelling of some of Jane Maas experience as an Ad woman during the 1960s through the 1980s. Previous books and memoirs Maas wrote were written while she was still trying to make business, and so they were watered down and written to draw in clients and generate success for her at work. This book, written by Maas in her seventies at the height of Mad Men’s triumphant run (Published around season 5), gave Maas an opportunity to discuss some of the juicier and troubling aspects of the job that made the show so popular.

The book is a lighting read. It is mostly broken up by subject matter rather than in a chronological order. It covers subjects including ad life and history, being a working woman and mother, sex, drinking and drugs, changing technology, and changing culture. Maas is full of humor and keen self-reflection, a fun tour guide through her world. I found the book to be strongest when she was diving into her own experiences and life (The chapter covering a single day in her life on Madison Ave may be the best).

She compares aspects of the show to her own experiences, structured around the most common questions of “Was there really so much ___?” during her time in Advertising based on the show (Granted, quite a few of her stories do not take place during the Mad Men era). Maas is so interesting as a storyteller, that I was fascinated by all of her stories. The strength of the book is that while it draws you in comparing her life to Mad Men, there are many more ways in which her life as a career woman in the 1960’s serves as an interesting lens to think about our current times and how they compare.

This Book Is Recommended for Those Who:
1. Enjoy Mad Men, particularly the lives of Junior to Upper Management women in Advertising
2. Want a brief introduction to life as a career woman who chose to work rather than stay home during the 1950s-1980s
3. Enjoy quick, snappy memoirs of interesting people who were highly successful in their field.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Nick Huber 2013
Rating:  Recommended

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The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

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The Princess Diarist is Carrie Fisher’s memoir about her time filming the first Star Wars film, A New Hope. The audiobook is read by Carrie herself and the journal entries are read by her daughter which gives the book a very personal feel when listening to it.

Availability:  COSMOS,
Review Submitted by:  Joanne Hoppe
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: Audiobook

Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman

book coverDeborah Feldman will take you on the journey of her inner reactions to life’s events. Shedding light on difficult topics of family values and cutting binding ties to our close communities; Unorthodox is a beautifully written story filled with educational moments drawn by conflicting family affairs. Shortly following the release of the novel, was a Netflix series that has become very popular. I watched the first episode and a half and was immediately unimpressed. I felt that the TV series did an injustice to the respectful way that Deborah Feldman discussed the Haisidic community. Despite all of her differing views, she always spoke of her family and their community with the utmost respect; and while the television series did not disrespect the culture in any way, the music and display of certain events in the Jewish Orthodox community gave off an unnecessary eerie vibe. If you are to watch the show, I highly recommend reading the book prior, as you will get a more organic feel for Deborah Feldman’s story.

Unorthodox leaves the reader with the important message: we do not have to stand with the beliefs of those who raised us. However, if we choose to follow our own path, we should do so with respect and gratitude to those whom we disagree with.

Availability:  COSMOS, SMCM, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Sarah Gleason
Rating:  Recommended
Challenge: Book to TV ; one word title

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Wild Wild is the inspiring story of 26 year old Cheryl Strayed who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail following a recent divorce and downward spiral after her mother dies. Strayed hikes the trail alone on a mission to find answers to questions she has been asking herself for years. The reader follows her transformation as she follows the 2,000+ mile trail through California, Oregon, and Washington. The book is an absolute page turner filled with fantastic imagery of deserts, mountains, and weird injuries only familiar to those who backpack great distances.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI, SMCM
Review Submitted by: Madeleine Beller
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: A book with a one word title; book to film