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Best Indie Memoirs of 2015

A moving, spiritual account of a search for meaning through meditation.

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    Best Books Of 2015

Dear Prudence

THE STORY BEHIND THE SONG

A woman depicted in one of the Beatles’ most famous songs tells her story.

Bruns played a small but significant part in the history of the Fab Four: she, along with her sister, the actress Mia Farrow, and the Beatles, went to India in 1968 to study meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Her dedicated attention to meditation for long periods inspired John Lennon to write “Dear Prudence,” which appeared on the Beatles’ 1968 self-titled record. However, most people know little else about Bruns, a Transcendental Meditation teacher based in Florida, and this debut memoir attempts to change that. As the daughter of director John Farrow and actress Maureen O’Sullivan, she grew up in a life of privilege, including servants, private schools, and trips abroad. A common thread that runs through her memoir, though, is her search for something spiritual and meaningful, going all the way back to Catholic school. She experienced personal tragedies, including the untimely deaths of her brother and father, and lived through rebellious teenage years, which included drinking and bouts of depression. A harrowing experience with LSD (“it felt as if my body was gone and I was left in hell for all eternity”) led her to practice meditation, and she describes its transformative effects almost poetically: “Although subtle, a priority shift had quietly taken place. Time took on new meaning, suddenly becoming far more precious to me—I couldn’t waste it anymore. I felt compelled to use it much more wisely.” The final chapters center on her meeting the maharishi and her experiences with the members of the Beatles, particularly Lennon and George Harrison. She was more interested in meditation during her stay than being in the musicians’ company, although she found them to be kindred spirits: “I related to George and benefited from his perspective through transference.” What makes this book stand out is the fact that it’s not a typical, dishy celebrity tell-all, although there are some fascinating stories about her Hollywood upbringing and her time with the Beatles (such as when Lennon and Harrison entered her room performing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”). It’s a portrait of a young woman trying to center her life amid personal pain and how she found herself. Overall, it’s a rather life-affirming tale from someone who’s more than just a footnote in pop-music history.

A moving, spiritual account of a search for meaning through meditation.

Pub Date: June 26, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5030-2988-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

Beautifully written, honest, enlightening, hope-giving and valuable—essential for anyone interested in or struggling with...

MY FLUORESCENT GOD

A PSYCHOTHERAPIST CONFRONTS HIS MOST CHALLENGING CASE—HIS OWN

With illuminating clarity, a psychotherapist describes how he suffered a paranoid psychotic mental breakdown as a young man and how he recovered.

In 1979, when Guppy was 23, he returned home to Seattle from a trip to Mexico and went insane. Suddenly, his perceptions underwent terrifying alterations. His family seemed demonic, and the most ordinary things were menacing: A Dire Straits song’s “crackling blue guitar solo cuts through my brain like a wire egg slicer.” At the hospital, he was diagnosed (he discovered later) as suffering psychotic depression with paranoid features. After six months of inpatient treatment, medications and therapies, Joe was ready to move out to a group home and, finally, to take up normal life. In his debut work, Guppy, now a psychotherapist in private practice, writes with astonishing clarity about his mental processes and the perceptual shifts involved both in going mad and in getting better. In paranoia, the misplaced significance that can fester is oddly similar to religious thinking: “God speaks in mysterious ways, in signs to be read by those with eyes to see”—signs like the doorknobs being too high or a staircase taking an extra turn. Guppy is particularly insightful in showing how paranoid delusions can be hard to give up, as when he asks himself whom he’d rather interact with: “An overburdened nurse, annoyed and bored [or a] wily demon?...To the nurse I am one more warehoused loser. To the demon I am a special person, deserving special treatment.” As he progresses, Guppy is able to develop a more nurturing spirituality than the terrifying, punitive Catholicism of his childhood, especially after some deeply touching moments of feeling close to and loved by God. He learns that he can control his thoughts, reactions and interpretations and convincingly shows the limitations of one-size-fits-all therapeutic approaches versus the growth and healing to be found in talk therapy and by connecting with other patients.

Beautifully written, honest, enlightening, hope-giving and valuable—essential for anyone interested in or struggling with mental health issues.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1620154410

Page Count: 202

Publisher: Booktrope Editions

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

Gracefully transports readers on an odyssey that transcends the exotic locale and legacies of war to focus on the power of...

Back To Vietnam

TOURS OF THE HEART

An intimate travel memoir tracing one veteran’s journey from war to reconciliation.

This moving debut, co-authored by a retired career Army officer and his wife, reveals how a trip to confront the ghosts of his Vietnam War experience led to affinity for Vietnamese culture, a humanitarian commitment, annual three-month stays, and deep friendships with many Vietnamese, including former enemies. Logan and Head take turns narrating self-contained vignettes that advance the larger story in an effective contrapuntal style. Logan served two tours, first as a lieutenant in the thick of combat, then as a captain at a beachfront hotel headquarters. His accounts of battles, brotherhood, brothels, bureaucracy and postwar brooding set a fitting opening tone. Head, a retired corporate trainer with a big heart, gentle spirit, and Buddhist leanings, grew up in Canada and married Logan after both were divorced with grown children. She contributes a more dispassionate view of the war as well as helpful insights about her husband. “Vietnam, A Country Not a War,” her introduction to Part 2, epitomizes the book’s message. They share keen observations about the places they’ve been and introspective feelings about the people they meet. Scenes are colorful, chaotic, and full of contrasts, reflecting Vietnam itself—a communist country lacking social services, full of bustling cities with utility outages, agrarian culture facing bulldozers, and tin-roof huts with satellite dishes. Vestiges of war—rusted fuselages, elders missing limbs, and children with Agent Orange–related birth defects—are everywhere; so is hospitality. Logan and Head began as outsiders smuggling toothbrushes and personal care donations. They grew into part-time residents, distributing portable school libraries and providing managerial support for a startup that employs the disabled. In the process, the couple running that enterprise essentially adopted them as family. Historical context helps reshape wartime caricatures as the authors write with a sense of immediacy and attention to detail that fully invoke the moment and setting for each encounter.

Gracefully transports readers on an odyssey that transcends the exotic locale and legacies of war to focus on the power of human connection.

Pub Date: April 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-9917623-0-9

Page Count: 341

Publisher: JOTH Press

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

A touching, heartfelt, and amusing book that provides a wonderful personal perspective on a period of historical and...

THE NEWSPAPER BOY

COMING OF AGE IN BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA DURING THE CIVIL RIGHTS ERA

A white Southerner describes his teenage journey to racial tolerance in this debut coming-of-age autobiography.

Attorney Isom grew up and attended college during the 1950s and ’60s in Birmingham, Alabama—a city that was home to some of the most notorious racism of the civil rights era, peaking in 1963 with Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor’s violent enforcement of segregation and a church bombing that killed four black children. That backdrop makes Isom’s personal story even more remarkable. As a teenager, he was fired up by the racist views of his society, particularly those of famous segregationist and Klansman Asa Carter, after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. However, he was slowly swayed the opposite way by the kindness and “question everything” philosophy of the Millers, two Yankee transplants on his paper route. It’s an iconic, real-life struggle, as Isom made a moral choice between the devil and the angel on his shoulders. His memoir also features an intriguing subplot regarding his father, Hewlett Chervis Isom Sr., a kind man who was once sickened by having to kill a chicken for dinner; he questioned his own prejudice, too, like his son, but he couldn’t quite make the leap that the author did. Some passages will flesh out readers’ understanding of bus segregation by detailing the elder Isom’s experiences as a Greyhound driver. One tends to think that Rosa Parks protested, African-Americans boycotted, and bus segregation ended—but readers soon learn that the reality was more complicated than that. Other childhood memories, unrelated to Isom’s internal struggles, will also keep readers’ attention, such as a time on his paper route when he encountered a customer that would make Blanche DuBois seem like a model subscriber.

A touching, heartfelt, and amusing book that provides a wonderful personal perspective on a period of historical and cultural change.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-940524-03-0

Page Count: 359

Publisher: The Working Writers

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

The touching, unforgettable story of two brave girls fighting a deadly disease and the loving support of the women who gave...

Two Mothers One Prayer

FACING YOUR CHILD'S CANCER WITH HOPE, STRENGTH, AND COURAGE

Shared memoir of two mothers whose daughters are fighting cancer, by artist, writer, and self-help coach Lane (I Am the Wind, 2011) and Nersten, a home-schooling mom.

Two 12-year-old girls battled the same rare form of cancer, virtually simultaneously. Through the Internet—CarePages specifically—their mothers, Lane and Nersten, connected and eventually formed a deep bond, borne of shared experience. While Celeste in Toronto and Hayley in New Jersey dealt with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, their mothers offered each other support and love via email, and the girls grew close via Skype. Despite the fact that the daughters and mothers shared an unusual diagnosis, similar treatment protocol, and strong faith, they are different in many ways. Lane is divorced from Celeste’s father, and her daughter had been living with her father two hours away. During Celeste’s treatment, Lane enjoyed the rare gift of spending hours on end with her daughter, as she and Celeste’s stepmother, Michelle, alternated days in the hospital. Knowing at the outset that one girl will survive—but not which one—makes the story more poignant. Though undeniably sad, the memoir is never maudlin, instead managing to inspire hope and admiration as a young girl chooses how she wishes to spend her final days. Conveyed via prose, email messages, and Facebook posts, the memoir reads quickly, seeming far shorter than its 200-plus pages. Although both women are deeply caring mothers who rely heavily on their faith, their different personalities emerge: Lane is the artist, seeking creative outlets for her feelings, while Nersten is a nurturer, spending her rare time away from Hayley with her other two children and constantly expressing concern for Lane’s custody situation. Although the authors intended their book for parents facing a child’s cancer diagnosis, the memoir serves as an inspirational story of hope for the general reader. Hayley and Celeste were heartbreakingly, unbelievably strong.

The touching, unforgettable story of two brave girls fighting a deadly disease and the loving support of the women who gave them life.

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2015

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Ulukau Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

A real-life Cold War tale filled with nostalgia, exuberance and satirical wit.

HOW NOT TO BECOME A SPY

A MEMOIR OF LOVE AT THE END OF THE COLD WAR

Lifflander’s debut memoir of his time as an aspiring spy in Moscow, where he fell in love with a Russian woman who may have been keeping an eye on him for the KGB.

Lifflander thought his dream of being a spy had come true when, as a recent graduate in 1987, he got a job as a driver/mechanic at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. He was soon assigned to the On-Site Inspection Agency, part of the treaty between the USSR and U.S. to eliminate nuclear missiles; essentially, the American OSIA ensured that the Soviets were implementing the treaty. Sofia was one of the Soviet “escorts,” comprised mostly of young ladies who oversaw the U.S. inspectors while also (covertly) watching for potential intelligence-gathering. Lifflander and Sofia tried to hide their developing romance but quickly realized that hiding a relationship isn’t easy when you’re surrounded by spies. Both the author’s title and foreword hint at the story’s tongue-in-cheek approach: Lifflander refers to the USSR’s alarming shortage of socks as the “sock crisis”; and he notes that a chef at the missile inspection facility graduated from the CIA—the Culinary Institute of America. But Lifflander doesn’t force the humor; it’s derived from the absurdity of countless situations and twisted activities, like the Americans’ intermittently moving a trio of pink flamingos for no other reason than to keep the ever observing Soviets guessing. Lifflander’s predicament became considerably dourer when the KGB suspected he was an intelligence officer, though it was a hilarious misunderstanding: He was digging through basement walls in an American building searching for a bug merely out of boredom. The book’s final act, however, which centers on Lifflander and Sofia’s (and Sofia’s son, Max) trying to make a future together, turns somber and somewhat depressing. The story’s still engaging, though, even without the laughs, thanks to Lifflander, whose refusal to give up on a life with Sofia is something to be admired. Lifflander includes a number of black-and-white photographs to complement the text, but his descriptions are so dynamic and graphic that the pictures aren’t necessary; for instance, when Lifflander and Sofia walk into a cathedral and a “sea of babushkas,” readers will already have the image.

A real-life Cold War tale filled with nostalgia, exuberance and satirical wit.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-0692259948

Page Count: 282

Publisher: Gilbo Shed

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

Unvarnished lens looking at a troubled man’s life—there’s little to nothing like it out there.

THE DIARY OF A SUICIDAL ARTIST

The raw, sinewy memoir of a wild mind at work.

It can be a tough task reviewing someone’s personal diary that they’ve released commercially. This book, for instance, offers no real context up front other than the title. Pfundt only reveals his name randomly in the text, which is made up of photocopied pages from a handwritten journal featuring hand-drawn illustrations. It does not appear to be edited for publication. Inky black drawings feature people, crosses, and, in some cases, just scribbles. “Long Live the Spiral,” one page screams, while another just repeats, “I want to die.” Large sections are blacked-out, words the author has evidently decided against. Sometimes it seems the pages have been partially burned; in one case, it is explained that several smudges were made with the author’s blood. Pfundt starts by talking about how he learned something new about himself: he was trying to be someone else. “Why can I not just be me?” he asks. Readers are privy to the author’s direct, personal thoughts as he recalls trying to become a filmmaker and a video game designer while dealing with sex and love, grappling with his feelings for his family, discussing philosophy, and trying to chase away depression. Words are often misspelled. Drawings are usually fairly primitive. It has the earnest, childlike feel of Daniel Johnston’s work, but anyone who thinks this might be a tongue-in-cheek sendup of artists will be disappointed. It rambles, it’s beautiful and harrowing at turns, but there’s no real narrative cohesion, and it’s unclear to whom the book is directed. Then again, the author notes at one point that life doesn’t necessarily have clear goals, other than staying alive, and his prose follows that philosophy. These are the inner workings of a mind struggling to stay alive and figure out what it’s supposed to be doing. As the author admits, this intensely personal, nontraditional work could appeal most to kindred spirits who might take comfort in and appreciate unfiltered thoughts.

Unvarnished lens looking at a troubled man’s life—there’s little to nothing like it out there.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-1502780812

Page Count: 364

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

A paean to the tomato and a song of natural devotion.

Flutes and Tomatoes

A MEMOIR WITH POEMS

An exploration of love’s loss and life’s recovery from Stevenson (The Color Symphonies, 2014, etc.).

This book, a combination of engaging memoir and unusual poetry, proves that quirkiness doesn’t preclude depth. The twin pole-stars of the work are simple objects—flutes and tomatoes—but its still life also includes a knife, a bottle of wine, and the interior of a small atelier in Paris. Composed in the immediate aftermath of a loved one’s death, this collection reveals the compulsive attention of extreme grief. In it, the author reminisces about a trip he took with his love, wandering the Loire Valley farms one glorious summer. But the only evidence of passion that remains now is a dozen tomatoes stolen from those farms, and the flute that the author’s love played so well. Faced with a sense of inertia, the author believed that grappling on to something solid might help: “The only thing that would make a difference would be if I could find some objective proof of love….if I chose an object of my affection and tried to understand it as no one had understood it before.” The subject was right there on the table, red and ripening: “William Blake said he could see eternity in a grain of sand. Why not in the seed of a tomato?” In Stevenson’s provocative verse, the fruits themselves connote a fleshy voluptuousness: “Tenderly, with blind / Fingers you touch the precious skin / As it swells and dilates / Like some enormous empty heart.” But beyond the author’s rich metaphors, the objective fact of the tomatoes drives the book’s credibility: “I have written so much about the tomatoes / They at last have become the REAL REAL.” In the end, the author penetrates his subject with a knifelike concentration, which grants him acceptance of his own plight; ready for a new start, he writes of going up the steps of his basement apartment into the busy streets of a new life. Readers should take a chance on this work, and not let the unusual focus dissuade them. 

A paean to the tomato and a song of natural devotion.

Pub Date: May 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-60964-221-1

Page Count: 102

Publisher: BlazeVOX

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2015

An authentic firsthand account of troubled times in a tumultuous country.

The Sky Detective

A MEMOIR

A compelling debut memoir by an accomplished geophysical scientist that offers a vivid look at life in Tehran between 1973 and 1982, before and after the Iranian Revolution.

Tabazadeh was just a few days shy of her eighth birthday in 1973 when her beloved uncle Mahmood gave her a present that would profoundly influence her life: a chemistry set. Tabazadeh was a happy, bright child living the privileged life of a daughter of an affluent family. With the shah still in power, Tehran was primarily a secular city, free of the harsh religious restrictions imposed once the ayatollah came to power. Western music and American movies were popular, and clothing styles were modern with colorful Persian accents, all of which the author describes in fluid, engaging prose. It was a place where a young girl could dream of one day becoming a famous chemist. When the author’s family brought an 11-year-old girl named Najmieh into the household to work as a servant, even a very young Tabazadeh began to see for the first time the stark contrasts between the educated upper class and the peasant class that made up the bulk of the population. A budding friendship between the two girls galvanized the author to take part in demonstrations against the shah. What she didn’t anticipate were the violence and authoritarian law that replaced the old regime. Her beautiful city was streaked with blood, and Tabazadeh, then a young teenager, was forced to cover her head with a veil and ultimately to cover her whole body in black robes. As she approached her high school graduation, she realized she no longer had a future in Iran. In gripping detail, she describes her dangerous escape to the West, where she has been able to fulfill her aspirations. The narrative is written in the present tense, giving the child/teenager an unlikely adult voice, though the literary device does create a compelling dynamic immediacy. Filled with details of day-to-day life, this volume offers a unique perspective on a country and a people that remain shrouded in mystery for most Westerners.

An authentic firsthand account of troubled times in a tumultuous country.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-4917-6060-4

Page Count: 246

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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