Posts tagged: memoirs

The Wet-plate process, Dukes and the Iodine State

By , December 24, 2015


2015 has been a generous year for those who love southern writing. Sally Mann surprised us with her lovely authentic memoir, Hold StillSure, she could have used a stricter editor, but if you ever wandered the backroads below the Mason Dixon line, you enjoyed this ride. And it was her appreciation of her Daddy, after all, that went on too long. So, all is forgiven.

Then The Southerner’s Cookbook reminded us that you can never, ever, ever say enough about southern food. Any cookbook that begins with a “Southern larder” section that includes Duke’s mayonnaise is all right by me. This book was produced by the editors of “Garden & Gun” and includes writing by John T. Edge, Rick Bragg and Roy Blount, Jr. The only bar-b-que sauce recipe you’ll ever need (Eastern North Carolina style vinegar-pepper sauce) is on page 234.

Finally, the most spellbinding longing, languid gift of southern writing this year came from Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free. The magic is that the writing is intimate, and yet it turned out that the whole music world was listening. I’ve got a drawer of snapshots he’s never seen that illustrate this turn through the south. Edited perfectly, it left audiences waiting for more.

“As anyone who grew up on the food can attest, life without a little South in your mouth at least once in a while is a bland and dreary prospect” John Egerton





Best Books of 2015

By , December 7, 2015

My top 3:

Single, Carefree, MellowSingle, Carefree, Mellow: Stories
by Katherine Heiny

I haven’t been this excited about a short story collection since Courtney Eldridge’s Unkempt.





The Folded ClockThe Folded Clock: A Diary
by Heidi Julavits

I kept reading this and saying happily to myself, “I totally agree!” Not to be hokey, but it was almost like making a new friend.





A Manual for Cleaning WomenA Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories
by Lucia Berlin

This is my #1 pick for this year. Like Jean Stafford, whose Collected Stories won the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (available through ILL), Berlin takes details from her own life and turns them into amazing art.

Some of my favorites were Point of ViewHer First DetoxTiger BitesEmergency Room Notebook, 1977Unmanageable, and Fool to Cry, as well as Carmen and Mijito, which were gut-wrenching but beautiful.

This also has a great introduction by Lydia Davis, who really gives you an appreciation of the collection before you even get started.

Stunning! Also recommended for fans of Mary Karr.





Book review: Home Is Burning

By , October 5, 2015

Home Is Burning

Home Is Burning: A Memoir
by Dan Marshall

This is the most irreverent book I have ever read, and I mean that as a compliment. In it, Dan Marshall tells about the year in his twenties when he moved home to care for his parents as they were both struggling with life-threatening illnesses—his mom with cancer and his dad with ALS.  It will be way too crass and caustic for most people, but for the right audience going through a similar crisis, it could be a lifesaver.

Besides David Sedaris, it also has shades of Patton Oswalt, Sean Wilsey’s Oh the Glory of It All, and The Silver Linings Playbook.

Salon@615: The Bloggess

By , September 7, 2015

Furiously Happy

I first heard of Jenny Lawson, a.k.a. the Bloggess, through her metal chicken Beyoncé back in 2011. Since then, she’s written two memoirs, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and Furiously Happy, both of which have the sustained hilarity of a good stand-up comedy routine while also addressing mental health issues with truth and sympathy. In addition, you might want to prepare yourself for a lot of taxidermied animals.

Lawson will be here on September 30 at 6:15 p.m., so put on your best red dress and get to the Main Library! Advance tickets available September 16. More information at

Warning: Lawson’s books are best enjoyed with wine slushies and a mild anxiety disorder.



Book review: If You Liked…

By , March 2, 2015

This post is straight recommendations, no commentary.  You’ll just have to trust me!

If you liked The Goldfinch, try Unbecoming, by Rebecca Scherm:










If you like big sprawling books about families and friendships and class issues, like Middlesex or The Fortress of Solitudetry A Dual Inheritance, by Joanna Hershon:

A Dual Inheritance









If you liked the memoirs The Glass Castle or This Boy’s Life, try With or Without You, by Domenica Ruta:

With or Without You









If you liked Olive Kitteridge, try Florence Gordon, by Brian Morton:

Florence Gordon

Cheryl Strayed – Wild

By , September 27, 2014

Cheryl Strayed discusses her book, Wild :  from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail.  This author talk was recorded April 18, 2013. Cheryl Strayed appeared as part of the continuing Salon@615 author series.

Various staff members have written about Strayed in the past. Check out our reviews of Wild via the Popmatic Podcast, Wild via Off the Shelf, as well as Strayed’s advice book, Tiny Beautiful Things

See upcoming author visits, including Kristen Gillibrand and Carl Hiaasen, and learn more at

Listen to the Archived Recording

Download MP3 audio

Subscribe to Salon@615 podcast (iTunes)

Book review: Chanel Bonfire

By , February 3, 2013

Chanel Bonfire
by Wendy Lawless

It has not been that long ago that some children grew up in some households with unstable, un-medicated mothers. Historically, this situation has provided the fertile soil that cultivated many a memorable upbringing, rich fodder for family reunions and subsequent stage adaptations.

Today thanks to modern pharmaceuticals known as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (Paxil, Zoloft, Lexapro…) and the modern belief in better living through chemistry, everyone is medicated. We may someday miss the madness in millennial memoirs.

Wendy Lawless chronicles her mother’s un-medicated mental instability in Chanel Bonfire.  The memoir leads readers through the 1970′s around the mine/mind fields left by the author’s mother. Wendy and her younger sister are dragged cross country, across the Atlantic and back again as their mother ping pongs from husband to husband (some hers, some belonging to others).

Take one beautiful, mentally unstable mother, add alcohol, money and the opportunities beauty brings and you have the makings of a romantic memoir. Take away a  grasp on reality, the money and the willing men and you have a roller coaster ride of Hollywood/Hazelden proportions.

If you grew up with the “dark bedroom, curtains drawn” type of mom, buckle your seatbelts, take a few deep breaths and hang on for dear life. You are about to take a drive down the gravel road of memory lane.  If you grew up with a “sunny porch, ice tea in hand” kind of mom, be brave take a peek through the curtains and thank your lucky stars.


“Mothers are all slightly insane.” – J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Book review: Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail

By , June 17, 2012

Wild : from lost to found on the Pacific Crest TrailWild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed

In the heart of the Canyon, by Elizabeth Hyde.

On this side of the Mississippi it is not unusual to know of someone who has trekked the Appalachian Trail. If you haven’t had the chance to enjoy a day hike on the trail, you’ve probably seen plenty of badges of honor – AT stickers – on the back of SUVs. While stuck in city traffic waiting for the light to turn green you may have daydreamed of walking sticks and cool streams and an AT escape yourself.

Across the Mississippi folks are drawn to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. This 2,650 mile trail takes most thru-hikers 5 to 6 months to complete. That means hiking about 20 plus miles daily…for months on end….ascending, descending, across gravely paths, under the shade of ponderosa pines, navigating snow slides, enduring 100+ degree temperatures, sharing the trail with rattlesnakes, elk, lizards, bears and the occasional llama.

Not many folks would attempt an eleven hundred mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Fewer still would admit to not preparing physically for the hike. The author Cheryl Strayed did just that. She made plenty of trips to her local REI to prepare her backpack, “Monster,” but she neglected to prepare for the physical endurance needed to meet the trail. In her words, she was “profoundly unprepared.” Her feet paid a heavy price for this lack of preparation and suffered mightly before she was named Queen of the Pacific Trail by fellow hikers.

In Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Coast Trail, Strayed recounts the physical toll off hiking the trail and how the journey reset the course of her life. Find a shady hammock, cue up Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Jerry and Joni, open a bottle of chilled Snapple Lemonade and enjoy the adventure of her lifetime.

Also check out the author’s fiction title, Torch. For a contemporary whitewater trail adventure, try the 2009 fiction title, In the heart of the Canyon, by Elizabeth Hyde.

- Laurie

Book review: The Tender Hour of Twilight

By , March 21, 2012

The Tender Hour of Twilight: Paris in the ’50s, New York in the ‘60s: A Memoir of Publishing’s Golden Age
by Richard Seaver

I am mystified that this memoir is not a major spring hit.  If you’re interested in book publishing, French literature, expat life, or censorship issues, please give this a shot. It’s like a fantastic time machine to mid-century Paris and New York.  I’d even go so far as to recommend it to literary fans of Mad Menit’s set in the same time period, but focused on the world of publishing rather than advertising.



Best of 2011: Memoirs

By , December 21, 2011

I was a bit obsessed with memoirs this year.  Here are my top six:

Chinaberry Sidewalks
by Rodney Crowell

Try this if you like Rick Bragg‘s work–no prior knowledge of Rodney Crowell required.


Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses
by Claire Dederer

I could not resist this book’s charm. I thought it was funny and insightful and touching and smart.


This Boy’s Life with the movie The Fighter.


Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness
by Alexandra Fuller

Another evocative account of life in Africa from the author of Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight.


Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.



Fiction Ruined My Family
by Jeanne Darst

Darst’s memoir describes how alcoholism and her father’s tortured pursuit of “the writer’s life” impacted her family.  The result is honest, surprisingly funny, and never bitter.  For fans of Dead End Gene Pool.


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