Westerly Sun Column | Memoirs Serve as a Good Change of Pace

April 29, 2024

Memoirs and biographies are invariably one of the more popular areas of the library, and certainly of the nonfiction section. They are a great “in-between” for people who tend to exclusively read either nonfiction or fiction, as they tell true stories, but often read like novels. In our culture, the latest celebrity memoirs generally get the most widespread attention, but there have been quite a few fabulous memoirs that have flown relatively under the radar in the last year. If you’re looking for another book (or five) to add to your “to-read” pile, check some of these titles out.

“The Last Fire Season: A Personal and Pyronatural History” by Manjula Martin was a highly anticipated memoir that was finally published in January of this year. Described as “‘H Is for Hawk’ meets Joan Didion in the Pyrocene,” the book chronicles Martin’s experience in Northern California in 2020, when a series of dry-lightning storms ignited hundreds of wildfires across the area. While Martin has the attention to detail of a journalist, her writing can almost read like prose, making this book about the devastation of climate change even more powerful and affecting.

“Where Rivers Part: A Story of My Mother’s Life” is a memoir that Kao Kalia Yang wrote from her Hmong mother’s perspective, recounting her experience fleeing her home country of Laos in 1961, and the long, painful journey that eventually led her to the United States. It’s a great one for mothers, for historical fiction fans, and for anyone interested in learning more about the experiences of refugees and immigrants. If you like it, Yang has also written “The Late Homecomer,” detailing her family’s escape from war in Laos, and “The Song Poet,” a memoir about her father.

While they can be hit-or-miss, I personally like books that are a bit experimental … unless I don’t, of course. Let’s just say, I like the idea of them. Sheila Heti’s new “Alphabetical Diaries” is one that is worth taking a look at. In it, Heti rearranges the sentences from 10 years’ worth of journal entries in alphabetical order. Ultimately, it’s one to read in bits and pieces, rather than straight through, but Heti’s beautiful prose shines through in each fragmented vignette, and with little context for many of the thoughts, the reader is left to fill in the gaps on their own, taking part in the story. If nothing else, I find the concept of rearranging sentences by alphabetical order greatly appealing, but that could certainly just be me!

If you do lean toward celebrity memoirs (no judgment here!), “Bits and Pieces: My Mother, My Brother, and Me” by Whoopi Goldberg and “You Never Know” by Tom Selleck both come out May 7, and should be very interesting reads. If you’re a cookbook fan, set an alert for Oct. 24, when Ina Garten’s long-awaited memoir “Be Ready When the Luck Happens” will be released. It’s sounds so far in the future, but it’ll be here before you know it!

by Cassie Skobrak, Adult Services Librarian

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