In a 32-foot sloop named the Gypsy Moon, attorney Hurley sails solo from Annapolis to Nassau in this memoir.
After losing his job and going through a nasty divorce, Hurley finds himself in a gloomy mid-life crisis. He decides to fulfill one of his personal dreams—“to sail a small boat over the open ocean, bound for no destination but the horizon.” As he prepares for the journey, Hurley looks back at his life; he confesses his unfaithfulness to his wife and his subsequent feelings of regret and guilt. This retrospective interlude, along with others throughout the tale, deftly integrates the reader into the story, giving Hurley’s background in an intimate, confessional way, clarifying the author’s humanity. Like most people, he’s made mistakes and regrets some of his choices, yet he’s honest enough to share them, believing, or hoping, that his readers will sympathize. Once he sets forth, Hurley likens sailing to life, noting that no matter how well one plans ahead, unforeseen circumstances still occur; equipment fails, storms arise, uninformed choices are made and sometimes just plain old bad luck gets in the way. While he ruminates on life and sailing, Hurley throws in his thoughts on love, marriage and even religion. He describes his foray into online dating and his personal beliefs about God and the afterlife. His philosophy about successful marriages—that they focus on the husband and wife and not the children—flies in the face of the contemporary world’s viewpoint, a viewpoint that, according to Hurley, explains many of society’s current neuroses. Hurley’s philosophical ruminations strike a chord because of a common peculiarity—faith. Hurley has faith in someone bigger than himself, someone vaster than the ocean. As his voyage proceeds, Hurley grounds his boat, battles 10-foot waves and struggles against powerful ocean currents. Fear is his constant companion, yet he conquers his fear, coming out stronger than he was. Not only does he rediscover his zest for life, he finds happiness with a woman named Susan, who lives in North Carolina. Hurley’s prose nicely fits his subject matter; his story is poignant without being maudlin and spiritual without being sanctimonious. Imagine a nautical, male version of Annie Dillard amalgamated with Kathleen Norris, who, discerning the sacred in the mundane, explains it in such a way that his readers feel blessed, too.
A striking memoir of personal discovery.
First-time memoirist Monroe takes everyday topics and elevates them into thoughtful, often emotional essays illustrating the joys and pitfalls of a woman struggling with work, marriage and motherhood.
As a mother of four, Monroe looks back upon her life with clear eyes. She has suffered through dozens of emergency-room visits, household catastrophes and sibling squabbles. As a result, toddler tantrums don’t faze her, a traveling husband becomes a chance to develop her independence and sullen teenagers provide comic relief in an otherwise staid household. These essays visit common themes—a burned dinner, a strange noise coming from the dishwasher, that always-missing sock from the laundry—yet Monroe’s insights into being a modern woman ring true. Any stay-at-home mother seeking employment can relate to the author’s observations, especially when she notes how employers downplay the skills she gained as a household engineer. “In spite of your having juggled roles and tasks as a mother of four, prospective employers will be convinced that your mind had mildewed in your absence from the workforce,” she notes. There are gems like this throughout, especially in chapters about George, Monroe’s idea of the perfect laundry robot, and “Life Changers,” which outlines how inventions like nonstick pans and self-defrosting freezers have revolutionized domestic life. The chapter “I Don’t Volunteer” is full of chuckles, especially when Monroe describes how she chastises a particularly petulant child during a Thanksgiving pageant. “ ‘If you don’t behave, I’ll march you straight down the aisle to your parents,’ I hissed. Then I sedately led him back to the altar. God forgives volunteers.” Anyone who has raised her own brood will appreciate Monroe’s wit, affection for her faults and appreciation for how much happiness her family has brought her over the years.
This candid look at running a household mixes Erma Bombeck-worthy insight with warmth and humor.
Vincent L D’Aleo recounts his life in his entertaining and often hilarious memoir.
From childhood to college to falling in love to having kids and everything in between, D’Aleo writes of the standout moments from his life. He chronicles the summer Roger Maris hit 61 home runs and he himself caught two long shots playing baseball in the sandlot. He reminisces about his father, a master mason, who as a kid reminded him of Moses coming down the mountain with the Ten Commandments. He traces his relationship with his son and daughter; the terror he felt when his son was born; how parenting soon became natural to him; and the patience he had to have with his daughter, who, as a teenager, was thoroughly embarrassed by him. The strength of D’Aleo’s memoir lies in the balance between the funny retellings of major and minor moments in his life and the insight he has gained from those experiences. But D’Aleo’s memoir isn’t all heartfelt family stories. In the latter half, he expounds on the serendipity of the Louisiana Purchase and how the universe can converge to create good luck, as well as his utter confusion at the popularity of tofu. In the namesake chapter, D’Aleo tells of how a friend who was diagnosed with cancer decided to run a marathon. Knowing no one person could push his wheelchair the whole way, he had every person push him just 50 steps. D’Aleo reminds us that little things can make all the difference in the world. And in the end, a life of little stories and moments and experiences can add up to create something more amazing and special than its individual pieces.
Inspired and comic rendering of the extraordinary in the everyday.
In a beautifully written memoir looking back after years spent in Brazil, a woman explores both her own coming of age and the ecology of the rain forest.
Levy, a relatively sheltered 21-year-old, leaves her studies at Yale for a Rotary Club fellowship in Bahia, in northern Brazil, although she intends to spend as little time there as possible before heading for the Amazon. Further isolated by her less-than-stellar Portuguese, she finds herself spending months in the city of Salvador, where trouble greets her: In one of several melodramatic episodes that occasionally mar an otherwise polished narrative, she’s robbed and then poisoned. Eventually, she meets three women who will be her closest friends: Barbara, a sophisticated American who introduces her to capoeira, a Brazilian martial art; and Isa and Nelci, roommates who illustrate what it means to be a true Bahian. Finally reaching the Amazon, Levy tags along with and attempts to please the researchers she originally hoped to work with; she’d soon like to have a project of her own. Amid flashes forward to the person she eventually becomes, she looks back in disdain at her younger self, although the self-loathing is at last eased when she accepts herself as an intelligent, forthright lesbian who has much more to offer than she ever thought possible. Levy’s time in the rain forest covers only about a third of the book, and her 15 “Amazon Snapshots” will be of particular importance for anyone interested in the work of the National Institute for Amazonian Research. However, readers searching for the love story of the subtitle may be less satisfied. Levy seems too wrapped up in worrying about doing the right thing and being the right person to truly love someone or anything. Yet her self-involvement makes for a compelling feminist narrative about personal exploration, especially since she’s such a talented writer.
Waldron’s account of life as a gay dad in Arizona.
The author’s engaging debut memoir opens with a protest rally against illegal immigrants in Phoenix. Seeing a young Hispanic boy on his father’s shoulders, Waldron reflects on his journey as a single, gay parent. When he fell in love with the charming smile of a 3-year-old boy, he had little understanding of the child’s intense anger simmering below the surface. After helplessly witnessing one memorable tantrum, Waldron sought a series of nannies to care for his child and teach him Spanish, as well as give himself some much-needed breathing room in his suddenly hectic life. Beginning with fun-loving Paulina, several Mexican women not only cared for his son (and later second child), but also showed Waldron how to appreciate the smaller, day-to-day triumphs of parenting. The women’s undocumented status and their ties to family in Mexico meant that their connections to his young family, while strong, were sometimes short-lived. While the women are idealized in their portrayals and treated like family (a far cry from The Help), the narrator is forthright about his own shortcomings and fears. Parents, especially single parents or those of adopted children, will relate to his worried comparisons to wealthier parents, his fears that his son might be taken away, his frantic juggling of work responsibilities and his musings about the lasting effects of his son’s difficult pre-adoption years. Early on, he confronts his own prejudices about the women he comes to depend upon who live in modest, sometimes sketchy, neighborhoods. He’s also quick to defend them from the unfounded accusations of his neighbors or his father’s concerns about strangers raising his grandchildren. A natural storyteller, Waldron offers a universal tale. He occasionally touches on issues specific to being a gay parent, including being advised to lie about his orientation or being offered harder-to-place children. More personal than political, this memoir’s conversational style, with its short chapters, lively bits of dialogue, candid observations and steady action, makes for enjoyable reading.
A timely, compelling story that challenges the traditional definition of family.
A comedic memoir for the 20-something college student looking to laugh off embarrassing and awkward situations.
Miller, 22-years-old, shares kooky stories from her time as an undergraduate at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. Tales range from using a blow-dryer in an unsuccessful attempt to defrost a 13-pound turkey before a dinner party, suffering from a poorly timed bout of food poisoning during class, and learning how to embrace the dreaded b-word: budget. Some of the stories are amusing, especially those that adopt the revealing style of sharp-tongued comic Chelsea Handler. A passage about the importance of refraining from bringing credit cards to bars and late-night binges at Taco Bell is reminiscent of Handler’s stories. However, other stories fall flat thanks to unfunny punch lines. Miller uses part of her book to offer advice to young readers about how to survive college-dorm life. These golden tidbits include never shop on an empty stomach, don’t leave expensive jewelry in your suitcase and learn how to read road maps in case your GPS is on the fritz. Many of the tips, namely, don’t share personal info on the Internet, are obvious to most people. Miller’s work will not appeal to everyone. Those over age 30 will likely find the book to be a bit self-indulgent. But that doesn’t mean that the author can’t find an audience. The book’s amusing stories may attract college students who can relate to the shenanigans or teenagers looking for a preview of university life.
A lighthearted primer for college freshmen out on their own for the first time.
Trang’s debut memoir relates her four years at Yale Divinity School, where she examined the sacraments, sacrifice and sex within the tenets of Christianity.
Writing from “the perspective of someone sitting in the classroom,” Trang intends her story for not only religious scholars and pastors behind the pulpit, but for lay and nonreligious readers as well. With effortless grace and delicious humor, the book traces the author’s course load and the exchanges she has with her professors, whom she affectionately renames after desserts—Professors PoundCake, BakedAlaska, GingerSnap, RhubarbCrumble, etc. But Trang is ever serious and respectful in her desire “to learn to think..., to pray..., to live like these people.” Trang enters Yale with big questions about the efficacy of a priest committing himself to a life of celibacy and the outrageousness of a sacrament where a priest stands for Christ at the altar and says, “This is my body..., This is my blood....” And then there is the “indwelling of the Holy Spirit problem,” a space of being “in-between” the “already and the not yet”—not unlike that of the sexual act and the bearing of a child. As Trang enthusiastically yet steadily works her way through the catechism of the Catholic Church, Holy Scripture and Aristotle’s Poetics under the guidance of Professors SnickerDoodle, PeachCobbler, KeyLimePie and others, her knowledge organically coalesces, unravels, reassembles, expands and contracts. Struggling with the tedious, vast and complex puzzle of faith and often finding God dwelling in her fellow humans, Trang’s spirit never wavers while investigating the curiosities and delights of her faith.
A refreshingly rebellious exploration of Christianity that is well-written, thoughtful and totally unpretentious.
A veteran New York teacher delivers her first memoir.
Ehrlich is the kind of English teacher most kids would love. The author offers a detailed account of her nearly 34 years teaching in the rough-and-tumble New York public school system. Wry and no-nonsense, Ehrlich recalls incidents and encounters with her many students, fellow faculty members and administrative personnel. Her bemused attitude allows her to survive kids who neither work nor attend class, teachers who have stopped caring about students, and an administration that seems at best removed, and at worst hostile, ignorant and out of touch. The memoir is inhabited by characters such as Roger Roam Da Hall who “roamed da halls and right out da door never to be seen again”; the officious administrator Bea Z, Belle of the Hall, “who could be both callous and sympathetic in the same breath”; and Ehrlich’s irrepressible student Frankie, who is a “classic Italian-American wise guy wannabe.” This is a narrative that will appear familiar to those readers who have explored Bel Kaufman’s 1960s account, Up the Down Staircase, an incisive critique of the New York education system that shocked people at the time. Indeed, Ehrlich acknowledges Kaufman’s influence as a mentor. It’s not Ehrlich’s mission to offer the reader a revealing social critique, however. Rather, she handles her subject with a light touch to amuse rather than provoke. The most revealing portraits, Ehrlich saves for a special chapter devoted to students that she could not erase from her memory. This material might perhaps have been richer had it been worked into the entire book to offer more thematic context for her narrative. Addressed to both new teachers and veterans, Ehrlich’s book provides some amusing reading for those interested in the challenges of teaching.
A somewhat overlong account that offers amusing anecdotes about teaching.
In this intimate memoir of a doctor who faces a serious medical condition, Castellino shares how his tragedy transformed his own life and helped others.
Late one night, Castellino experienced all the symptoms of an impending heart attack. The ambulance took him to the hospital where his tests showed nothing. When his symptoms persisted, he called on a doctor friend. The next round of tests revealed that Castellino had been right all along—a massive heart event was occurring. As he was rushed to the cardiac unit of another hospital, Castellino passed out and awoke from a coma nearly a week later to find that his health was severely compromised. During his coma, Castellino experienced a vision that haunted and transformed him as his life began to spiral out of control. Aside from physical and emotional fatigue, Castellino faced a reduced work schedule, financial anxieties, several personal tragedies and the constant setbacks of his condition. During his recovery, the author reached many conclusions about illness and recuperation that helped him become a better doctor and more compassionate person, namely that mental wellness and spiritual growth are essential to the difficult transition back to good health. In candid and approachable prose, Castellino criticizes his initial care and misdiagnosis. But he doesn’t spend a large portion of the book critiquing the medical system. He primarily recounts his own experience, commending those he felt helped bring him back to center. Although a great deal of his post-heart attack attitude seems to be influenced by his new way of envisioning the world, he never shares this vision or his feelings about it with his family or closest friends—an odd choice considering his own endorsement of talking and sharing after just such a life-altering event. Although Castellino tackles an incredibly personal topic, that of his own near-death experience, he gives it universal application.
A doctor successfully turns his own experience of a heart attack and subsequent spiritual awakening into a guide to help others understand and cope with their own health issues.
DeSilver’s memoir recounts the adolescent and young-adult experiences that shaped his writing and artistic endeavors as an acclaimed poet.
Growing up in the upper-middle-class–Connecticut suburbs during the 1970s and ’80s, DeSilver used alcohol at an early age to dull the emotional aches and pains he was too young to process. A sensitive observer even as a young child, he first experienced deep anxiety and loneliness after his parents hired an austere, often violent German governess to care for him and his two sisters. His fascinating parents (especially his feisty mother with her hilarious one-liners and anecdotes) struggled with addiction, too, although they are portrayed as loving yet detached from their children’s emotional needs. DeSilver leaves for college and, pursuing photography and art, slowly begins dealing with his demons. After a series of damaging meltdowns and relationships, he finds a path to sobriety and self-awareness through therapy, meditation and nature, which help him transcend his battle with alcoholism. DeSilver details this pursuit of inner peace via his talent for painting rich imagery with words, while his keen ability to gracefully and openly express his vulnerability brightens and enriches the memoir. He writes honestly of the times in his life when he produced tiresome art amid a plethora of self-centered decisions. With eloquent metaphors, lyrical prose and subtle humor, DeSilver engagingly expresses his determination to examine his life’s purpose. Told clearly but not chronologically, his path to sobriety leads to a life about much more than addiction.
A beautifully written memoir of awakening and self-acceptance.
Lutwick recounts being 22 years old and finding love while based at a Fijian outpost of the Peace Corps.
It was 1968, and Lutwick had graduated from the University of Michigan with an MBA. Unable to find work in corporate America, the author stumbled into the Peace Corps. He was sent to Fiji, where he faced an unlikely battle of his own: a taboo love affair. At that time in the Fiji Islands, an Indian woman caught having sexual relations with a non-Indian man, or any man other than her husband, could face death at the hands of her own people. Despite the risks, Lutwick fell in love with Rani, an Indian woman who worked in the same office. They carried on an illicit affair, beating the odds of social convention. In his beautifully written memoir, Lutwick interweaves hilarious childhood anecdotes with sadder commentaries of his life. His parents died within two years of each other, leaving him orphaned at the age of 10. Jewish, he also endured anti-Semitic bullying until he fought back one day, hurling his offender across a classroom and into the blackboard. He relays these memories with neither bitterness nor self-serving pity—just a good dose of humor and intelligence. The author balances these reflections with those of an older self navigating first love within the confines of unwritten, but strict, cultural decrees. Meanwhile, he shares thoughtful insight into Fiji’s exotic history and society, as seen by an ineffectual, scrappy Peace Corps volunteer with a lot to learn. Lutwick is also not shy about detailing his hedonistic mindset as a 22-year-old. The ridiculous lengths that he and his friend go to get high—ingesting huge amounts of nutmeg, for example—are off-the-charts hysterical.
An unabashed, candid memoir that continually entertains and educates.
Money doesn’t buy happiness for a woman struggling with low self-esteem, a loveless marriage and China’s sexist mores in this anguished memoir and self-help saga.
Zhu’s narrative of her life with a never-named billionaire makes for a classic rags-to-riches story in new China, as the two build a successful real estate development company from scratch and ascend to a world of jet-setting luxury. Unfortunately for her, the dream becomes a nightmare. Endless work leaves the couple no time for family life—Zhu is heartbroken when her husband insists on sending their 5-year-old son to a boarding school so they can devote more hours to the business—and the high-wire financial gambles make her sick with anxiety. Worst of all, in keeping with Chinese conceptions of female inferiority, her aloof husband treats her as a servant and underling whose only function is to carry out his orders. The result, she writes, is an empty life replete with possessions but devoid of satisfaction in which her eyes became “lifeless like empty shells…fallen to the bottom of the sea.” Helped by translator and co-author Lee’s deft prose, Zhu’s interesting if melodramatic memoir illuminates many aspects of China’s transition to modernity, sounding themes reminiscent of an Edith Wharton novel. Zhu’s transformation from factory worker to woman of wealth, managing servants and negotiating the intricate rituals of business etiquette, is complex and absorbing. In poignant contrast, her desire for romantic companionship clashes with older notions of marriage as a prosaic, hierarchical domestic enterprise. We see a shy, uncertain, self-effacing woman reaching toward personal fulfillment as she tears free from Confucian–Communist ideals of dutiful self-sacrifice. Her journey of self-discovery, sparked by an Australian self-help seminar, can sometimes take the book into anodyne therapy-speak: “You need only be yourself for your natural vitality to rise.” Still, Zhu’s story is thoughtful, conflicted and honest enough to make her newfound wisdom feel earned.
A vivid, intimate account of the vast changes roiling the lives of Chinese women.