Category Archives: memoir

‘Tis by Frank McCourt

‘Tis, the sequel to Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, continues his autobiographic fear and self loathing on the oft dreamt about American soil. The US does not welcome him with open arms as he had hoped, and he finds himself not much better off than he’d been back in Ireland. At times humorous, other times heart wrenching, this book was a must read, especially if you read its prequel. Found in COSMOS, it also is a bonus one word title!

Availability: COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: M Denise Brace Lerch ’82
Rating: Must Read
Challenge: Book with a one word title.

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

Angela's Ashes

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt is a must read memoi. It illuminates the hard scrabble childhood the author was subjected to, yet rose above. His alcoholic father kept the family in a level of destitution that impacted the physical and mental health of all. His mother tried her best to carry the family forward on her feeble back, but was thwarted at every step. This was a poignant look at life.

Availability: SMCM, COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Denise Brace
Rating: Must Read
Challenge:Book to film

The Bosnia List by Kenan Trebinčević

cover artThe Bosnia List by Kenan Trebinčević and Susan Shapiro is a hard book to follow, but also hard to put down. My knowledge of the Bosnian conflict and the area itself was shamefully inadequate, and I found I frequently needed to refer to the included map to clarify. The story revolves around an 11 year old athletic, sensitive Muslim boy whose existence is shattered when the war breaks out and former friends and neighbors shun and threaten him. It jumps forward to his 30 something adult persona still angry and hurt, preparing a list of offenders he wishes to confront on a subsequent visit back. Some of the unthinkable acts performed under the auspices of war were hard to read, so I recommend it with reservations.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: M Denise Brace (’82)
Rating: Recommended with Reservations

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

WildWild is at once a story that connects the reader to its time (Hello early 90s!) and our own. Following the personal journey of Cheryl Strayed, the book accounts her backpacking odyssey through the Pacific Crest Trail on a personal search for understanding and enlightenment. Like many people, Strayed heads to the woods to reflect on the life she has lived – with her prior triumphs, personal demons, pain, excesses, and loss at what to do next. Armed only with her over sized pack “monster”, a collection of books for comfort, a sheer sense of determination, and a charming, intelligent sense of self-deprecation, Strayed begins a journey into the wilderness and her own thoughts.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the story is the setting: a time when PCT hiking was neither chic nor widely known about even in the west, and when being a woman alone backpacking was even rarer. This gives us an enlightening look into the time that was and parallels that can be found today. Strayed’s observations on herself and those she meets serve as a fair and keen (not to mention humorous) narration of the journey.

Strayed’s own self-awareness and thoughtful reflections serve her and the reader well, allowing a personal story to become at once empathetic and approachable. Her narration is neither melodramatic, self-defensive, or self-important – rather, it is a humble and honest memoir that allows the reader to connect to the story by their own means. It is not a story mined in search of proclaiming expertise in nature, or personal discovery, or of feminism: yet each of these flows up from the bedrock of the story in happy doses for a reader willing to be packed along in “monster” to see what a path literal or figurative has to offer.

This book is good for people who:

1. Like a strong willed protagonist (especially a woman) who does things their (her) own way
2. Like a balance between self deprecation and self confidence in their narrator
3. Like stories featuring nature, travel, and self reflection

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI, SMCM
Review Submitted by: Nick Huber 2013
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: A book with a one word title; book to film

Prozac Nation By Elizabeth Wurtzel

cover artI really thought I would enjoy this book but I barely got through it. I had read and thoroughly enjoyed Girl Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen, along with Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, both dealing with mental health and to an extent psychopharmacology. But I just could not get on board with Prozac Nation. While there are some enlightening passages, I found the author/narrator to be extremely unlikable. At times she admits how crazy she sounds, how irrational her choices are (she’s struggling with depression), but she is also a fairly privileged, beautiful, young woman living in NYC and attending Harvard. She constantly name drops literary figures (who she’s reading or famous people, like Joni Mitchell, that she’s gotten the opportunity to interview) in such an obnoxious way. It does not come off as witty to me (as some reviewers have said) but as arrogant or conceited.

Most of the people in her life – her friends, her professors, random men – generally fawn all over her and it’s still not enough, yet she takes this as a given – that people should go out of their way to take care of her; even if they are strangers. Towards the end of the book, the author has the idea to go to London to stay with her friend’s ex boyfriend, whom she’s never met, but she had a fling with his younger brother years before. She’s never met this guy but decides: “the thing for me to do is to go stay with Manuel for a couple of months until I get better.” A couple of months. With someone she has never met. But because of her depression, she feels that it is everyone’s responsibility to take of her. Understandably, this guy finds the whole situation pretty weird but he is convinced to do this favor for his ex-girlfriend. When the author shows up in London and she does not get the red carpet treatment, she immediately calls home crying about how awful it is and how mean he’s being to her.

I’m pretty surprised at the rave reviews this book got. One reviewer wrote: “It reads like a mixture of J.D. Salinger and Sylvia Plath, with some Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen thrown in for good measure.” Did we read the same book? I feel bad writing such a critical review when this is a nonfiction book about this woman’s life but it was very hard for me to find a takeaway from this. When it was published, one reviewer (a voice of reason!) in the New York Times wrote: “the reader may well begin riffling the pages of the book in the vain hope that there will be a few complimentary Prozac capsules tucked inside for one’s own relief.” And that the book maybe should have been called Listening to Wurtzel.

It was too long and rambling; maybe I would have enjoyed it better if it was a novella or simply an essay. I do not recommend. If you’re looking for something in this vein, you would be better suited reading The Bell Jar or “Girl Interrupted.”

Availability: USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Kaylie Jasinski
Rating: Not Recommended
Challenge: Book to film

Staff Picks: Summer Reading 2019 Edition

Summer reading is here, which means some tough decisions about prioritizing those books in your TBR (to be read) pile.  Don’t worry about that–let us recommend some reads for you this summer! It’s time for Staff Picks: Summer Reading Edition!


Title:  On A Pale Horse by Piers Anthonypale horse

Where to find:  SMCM print collection

What it’s about:  Death came for Zane, but instead Zane became Death – by accident. Assuming the mantle of the grim reaper in a world where science and magic co-exist, Zane must work with the other incarnations of immortality (Time, Fate, War, and Nature) to save the woman he loves and defeat the earthy machinations of Satan.

Why to read:  This classic sci-fi/fantasy series (8 books total) is one I re-read every few years, finding something new every time. Anthony creates a fascinating world, and weaves an intricate plotline over the entire course of books, with characters and situations referring to each other back and forth, telling the tale from different perspectives and giving the reader new insights. A great summer read!

firemanAmanda VerMeulen

Title:  The Fireman by Joe Hill

Where to find:  USMAI, Lexington Park Library or Southern MD Regional Libraries

What it’s about:  It’s the end of the world as we know it thanks to a mysterious disease causing people to spontaneously combust and it’s up to a fireman, a pregnant nurse, and a kid to work together to stay alive and solve the mystery.

Why to read:  Post-apocalyptic lit with a surprising science connection from horror author and son of Stephen King, Joe Hill.

Justin Foreman

Title:  In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing by Walter Murchblink of an eye

Where to find:  SMCM print collection

What it’s about:  This is a non-fiction book on the art and craft of film editing authored by Walter Murch, a three-time Oscar winning editor and sound designer.

Why to read:  Interested in learning why the “cut” in film works? Walter Murch eloquently discusses fundamental ideas behind film editing in a very accessible way. He also provides an interesting history of editing innovations, from Steenbeck machines to today’s non-linear editing systems, and stories from films he’s worked on (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, to name a few). This is a great read if you’re a film-buff/student, or love “behind-the-scenes” documentaries about your favorite films.


hungerTitle:  Hunger by Roxane Gay

Where to find:  SMCM Overdrive Collection (eAudiobook), USMAI, Lexington Park Library or Southern MD Regional Libraries

What it’s about:  Roxane Gay, known as a writer, academic, and expert Twitter user, is a successful person by virtually any standard.  However, as a woman of color who has been overweight for most of her life, she has heard relentlessly negative messages about her appearance and place in the world.  Gay’s memoir reflects on broad and specific acts of body shaming from others and the greater society, analyzing the forces that have shaped her life.

Why to read:  Gay’s writing is excellent, and she’s a very insightful memoirist, connecting her unique experiences to the intersections of identity as an overweight, bisexual woman of color and child of Haitian-American parents.  Her honesty makes for both a relief and an incredibly heartbreaking read as Gay identifies the ways society has punished her and the ways she has punished herself.

Bonus pick!

Title:  Lake Success by Gary Shteyngartlake-success

Where to find:  USMAI, Lexington Park Library or Southern MD Regional Libraries

What it’s about:  After leaving New York under ambiguous circumstances, hedge fund manager Barry decides it’s the perfect time for a road trip. Under the pretense of finding his long-lost college love, Barry journeys across the States, encountering the citizens of “real” America and condescendingly trying to make their lives better. Meanwhile, he manages to dodge any responsibility for his shortcomings as a professional and as a father.

Why to read:  A fun and satirical road trip novel, this is a good read for a few laughs in the summer. Readers may appreciate the highly relevant commentary on Wall Street delusion and the insightful reflections on family that balance out the book’s sharp humor. A solid choice for those who prefer their humor slightly bitter.

Need more suggestions?  Keep following the summer reading blog to see what books are keeping other participants busy!

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

cover art


This book was based on the blog of the same name, and includes exclusive content as well as some of what was already on the blog (which sadly hasn’t been updated in like five years). There’s not a lot to say about it. It’s really funny, and if you like lengthy, hilarious stories accompanied by badly drawn MS Paint-style portraits (no, really), this is the book for you.

Availability: SMCM, USMAI, COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Hannah Yeager
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: Book written by someone under 30