Following the Western Wind to East - A Memoir
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It has taken me 30 years to understand how much of them I understood. That fearlessness suffuses this book; she stares unflinchingly at all that is hidden, difficult, strange, unresolvable in herself and others — at loneliness, sexual malice and the devouring, claustral closeness of mothers and daughters. I love this book — even during those moments when I want to scream at Gornick, which are the times when she becomes the hypercritical, constantly disappointed woman that her mother, through her words and example, taught the author to be.
The American-born daughter of Chinese immigrants, Kingston navigates a bewildering journey between worlds, each one stifling yet perforated by inconsistencies. The narrative undulates, shifting between ghost world, real world and family lore. It can be deadpan and funny, too. The young Kingston resolves to become a lumberjack and a newspaper reporter. He was a distant man who devoted himself to the refurbishment of his sprawling Victorian home — and to a hidden erotic life involving young men. The book deserves its reputation.
As a girl, Karr was a serious settler of scores, willing to bite anyone who had wronged her or to climb a tree with a BB gun to take aim at an entire family. She was married seven times, and was subject to psychotic episodes. This is one of the best books ever written about growing up in America. Karr evokes the contours of her preadolescent mind — the fears, fights and petty jealousies — with extraordinary and often comic vividness. This memoir, packed with eccentrics, is beautifully eccentric in its own right. For generations my ancestors had been strapping skillets onto their oxen and walking west.
Any movement at all was taken for progress in my family. This high-spirited memoir traces the life and times of this inimitable public intellectual, who is much missed, from his childhood in Portsmouth, England, where his father was a navy man, through boarding school, his studies at Oxford and his subsequent career as a writer both in England and the United States.
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Christopher Hitchens was a man of the left but unpredictable and sometimes inscrutable politically. This is a vibrant book about friendships, and it will make you want to take your own more seriously. There is a lot of wit here, and bawdy wordplay, and accounts of long nights spent drinking and smoking. Hitchens decided to become a student of history and politics, he writes, after the Cuban missile crisis. Read the critics discuss the process of putting together the list.
These men were devoured by her hometown, DeLisle, Miss.
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Ward tells their stories with tenderness and reverence; they live again in these pages. Their fates twine with her own — her dislocation and anguish, and later, the complicated story of her own survival, and isolation, as she is recruited to elite all-white schools.
She is a writer who has metabolized the Greeks and Faulkner — their themes course through her work — and the stories of the deaths of these men join larger national narratives about rural poverty and racism. But Ward never allows her subjects to become symbolic. This work of great grief and beauty renders them individual and irreplaceable. It was a rangy life — one that took him into the military, politics, Hollywood, Broadway — and he depicts it with the silky urbanity you expect. Vidal had a lifelong companion but remained passionately compelled by a beautiful classmate, his first paramour, Jimmie, who died at 19, shot and bayoneted while sleeping in a foxhole on Iwo Jima.
Our great luck, too. As a poor Catholic girl growing up in the north of England, Hilary Mantel was an exuberant child of improbable ambition, deciding early on that she was destined to become a knight errant and would change into a boy when she turned 4. Her mesmerizing memoir reads like an attempt to recover the girl she once was, before others began to dictate her story for her.
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At the age of 7, looking about the garden, she saw an apparition, perhaps the Devil. She thought it was her fault, for allowing her greedy gaze to wander. Her stepfather was bullying, judgmental, condescending; anything Mantel did seemed to anger him. As a young woman, she started to get headaches, vision problems, pains that coursed through her body, bleeding that no longer confined itself to that time of the month.
The doctors told her she was insane.
Years of misdiagnoses culminated in the removal of her reproductive organs, barnacled by scar tissue caused by endometriosis. Her body changed from very thin to very fat. I used to think that autobiography was a form of weakness, and perhaps I still do. Harry Crews grew up in southern Georgia, not far from the Okefenokee Swamp. His father, a tenant farmer, died of a heart attack before Crews was 2. His stepfather was a violent drunk.
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When Crews was 5, he fell into a boiler of water that was being used to scald pigs. He was told, incorrectly, that he would never walk again. Crews sought solace in the Sears, Roebuck catalog, the only book in his house besides the Bible. He began his career as a writer by making up stories about the people he saw there. His father was from Kenya; his mother from Kansas. Obama himself was born in Hawaii, lived in Indonesia for a time, and was largely raised by his mother and maternal grandparents, after his father left for Harvard when Obama was 2.
This is a book about the uses of disenchantment; the revelations are all the more astonishing for being modest and hard-won. He never stopped. In this book, Roth offers a moving tribute to the man but also a portrait almost breathtaking in its honesty and lack of sentimentalism, so truthful and exact that it is as much a portrait of living as dying, son as father.
Someone suggested he speak with Shaw, whose real name was Ned Cobb. Reading it, you will learn more about wheat, guano, farm implements, bugs, cattle killing and mule handling than you would think possible. This is also a dense catalog of the ways that whites tricked and mistreated blacks in the first half of the 20th century. You begin this memoir thinking it will be about one thing, and it turns into something else altogether — a book at once more ordinary and more extraordinary than any first impressions might allow.
His sentences are clean, never showy; he writes about himself through others in a way that feels both necessarily generous and candidly — which is to say appropriately — narcissistic. The only child of European Jews who settled in the Promised Land, Oz grew up alongside the new state of Israel, initially enamored of a fierce nationalism before becoming furiously and in one memorable scene, rather hilariously disillusioned. As a lonely boy, Oz felt unseen by his awkward father and confounded by his brilliant and deeply unhappy mother.
She taught him that people were a constant source of betrayal and disappointment. Books, though, would never let him down. His prose lights up the experience of growing up in America during this era.
Rachel Cusk writes about new motherhood with an honesty and clarity that makes this memoir feel almost illicit. Sleepless nights, yes; colic, yes; but also a raw, frantic love for her firstborn daughter that she depicts and dissects with both rigor and amazement. The childless writer who could compartmentalize with ease and take boundaries for granted has to learn an entirely new way of being.
None of the chipper, treacly stuff here; motherhood deserves more respect than that. The Nobel Prize-winning J. Coetzee, in other words, is taciturn in the extreme. Out in the world, he lived in constant fear of violence and humiliation; at home he was cosseted by his mother and presided like a king. The memoir is told in the third-person present tense, which lends it a peculiar immediacy. Coetzee is free to observe the boy he once was without the interpretive intrusions that come with age; he can remain true to what he felt then, rather than what he knows now.
We are carried from her childhood, in the lap of a family militantly opposed to conformity, to her long career as a reporter in England and Egypt. It is thrilling to watch her arrive at an understanding of a sense of self and language that is her own, bespoke. I did not query my condition, or seek reasons for it. I knew very well that it was an irrational conviction — I was in no way psychotic, and perhaps not much more neurotic than most of us; but there it was, I knew it to be true, and if it was impossible then the definition of possibility was inadequate.