Safekeeping: Some True Stories from a Life


Abigail Thomas - 2000
    Setting aside a straightforward narrative in favor of brief passages of vivid prose, Abigail Thomas revisits the pivotal moments and the tiny incidents that have shaped her life: pregnancy at 18; single motherhood (of three!) by the age of 26; the joys and frustrations of three marriages; and the death of her second husband, who was her best friend. The stories made of these incidents are startling in their clarity and reassuring in their wisdom.This is a book in which silence speaks as eloquently as what is revealed. Openhearted and effortlessly funny, these brilliantly selected glimpses of the arc of a life are, in an age of excessive confession and recrimination, a welcome tonic.

Keys to the City: Tales of a New York City Locksmith


Joel Kostman - 1997
    As Kostman quietly lets them into their apartments, cars, or safes, they let down their guard and let him into their lives. Here we meet a ninety-two-year-old cousin of Eddie Cantor who urges Kostman to try on one of the singer's jackets; a doctor who was Bugsy Siegel's personal physician; a very sexy Jersey girl; and five naked old men listening to Mozart in a steaming apartment, while a 35-degree-below-zero wind blows outside. In vignettes reminiscent of Isaac Bashevis Singer, "Keys to the City" is an unforgettable collection of fourteen encounters with New Yorkers locked out, locked in--and a few not far from being locked up.

I'll Fly Away: Further Testimonies from the Women of York Prison


Wally Lamb - 2007
    Writing, Lamb discovered, was a way for these women to confront painful memories, face their fears and their failures, and begin to imagine better lives. The New York Times described the book as "Gut-tearing tales . . . the unvarnished truth." The Los Angeles Times said of it, "Lying next to and rising out of despair, hope permeates this book."Now Lamb returns with I'll Fly Away, a new volume of intimate, searching pieces from the York workshop. Here, twenty women—eighteen inmates and two of Lamb's cofacilitators—share the experiences that shaped them from childhood and that haunt and inspire them to this day. These portraits, vignettes, and stories depict with soul-baring honesty how and why women land in prison—and what happens once they get there. The stories are as varied as the individuals who wrote them, but each testifies to the same core truth: the universal value of knowing oneself and changing one's life through the power of the written word.

The Baltimore Book of the Dead


Marion Winik - 2018
    Winik begins with a portrait of her mother, the Alpha, introducing locales and language around which other stories will orbit: the power of family, home, and love; the pain of loss and the tenderness of nostalgia; the backdrop of nature and public events. From there, she goes on to create a highly personal panorama of the last half century of American life. Joining the Alpha are the Man Who Could Take Off His Thumb, the Babydaddy, the Warrior Poetess, El Suegro, and the Thin White Duke, not to mention a miniature toy poodle and a goldfish.

Making it Up


Penelope Lively - 2005
    Hailed by critics as a benchmark in a career full of award-winning achievements, Making It Up is Penelope Lively's answer to the oft-asked question, "How much of what you write comes from your own life?" What if Lively hadn't escaped from Egypt, her birthplace, at the outbreak of World War II? What would her life have been like if she'd married someone else? From a hillside in Italy to an archaeological dig, the author explores the stories that could have been hers, fashioning a sublime dance between reality and imagination that confirms her reputation as a singular talent.

Something to Declare


Julia Alvarez - 1998
    In the first section, "Customs," Alvarez relates how she and her family fled the Dominican Republic and its oppressive dictator, Rafael Trujillo, settling in New York City in the 1960s. Here Julia begins a love affair with the English language under the tutelage of the aptly named Sister Maria Generosa. Part Two--"Declarations"--celebrates Alvarez's enduring passion for the writing life. From the valentine to mythic storyteller Scheherazade that is "First Muse," to a description of Alvarez's itinerant life as a struggling poet, teacher, and writer in "Have Typewriter, Will Travel," to the sage and witty advice of "Ten of My Writing Commandments," Alvarez generously shares her influences and inspirations with aspiring writers everywhere.

Letters to a Friend


Diana Athill - 2011
    The renowned editor of V. S. Naipaul, Jean Rhys, and many others, she is also a celebrated memoirist whose Somewhere Towards the End was a New York Times bestseller and a National Book Critics Circle Award winner. For thirty years, Athill corresponded with the American poet Edward Field, freely sharing jokes, pleasures, and pains with her old friend. Letters to a Friend is an epistolary memoir that describes a warm, decades-long friendship. Written with intimacy and spontaneity, candor and grace, it is perhaps more revealing than any of her celebrated books.Edited, selected, and introduced by Athill, and annotated with her own delightful notes, this collection—rich with Athill’s characteristic wit, humor, elegance, and honesty—reveals a sharply intelligent woman with a keen eye for the absurd, a brilliant turn of phrase, and a wicked sense of humor. Covering her career as an editor, the adventure of her retirement, her immersion in her own writing, and her reactions to becoming unexpectedly famous in her old age—including gossip about legendary authors and mutual friends, sharp pen-portraits, and uninhibited accounts of her relationships—Letters to a Friend describes a flourishing friendship and offers a portrait of a woman growing older without ever losing her zest for life.

This Is Major: Notes on Diana Ross, Dark Girls, and Being Dope


Shayla Lawson - 2020
    You don’t know who she is. Yet. But that’s okay. She is on a mission to move black girls like herself from best supporting actress to a starring role in the major narrative. Whether she’s taking on workplace microaggressions or upending racist stereotypes about her home state of Kentucky, she looks for the side of the story that isn’t always told, the places where the voices of black girls haven’t been heard.The essays in This is Major ask questions like: Why are black women invisible to AI? What is “black girl magic”? Or: Am I one viral tweet away from becoming Twitter famous? And: How much magic does it take to land a Tinder date?With a unique mix of personal stories, pop culture observations, and insights into politics and history, Lawson sheds light on these questions, as well as the many ways black women and girls have influenced mainstream culture—from their style, to their language, and even their art—and how “major” they really are.Timely, enlightening, and wickedly sharp, This Is Major places black women at the center—no longer silenced, no longer the minority.

True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness: A Feminist Coming of Age


Christine Lahti - 2018
    Now, in True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness, this acclaimed performer channels her creativity inward to share her own story for the first time on the page.In this poignant essay collection, Lahti focuses on three major periods of her life: her childhood, her early journey as an actress and activist, and the realities of her life as a middle-aged woman in Hollywood today. Lahti’s comical and self-deprecating voice shines through in stories such as "Kidnapped" and "Shit Happens," and she takes a boldly honest look at the painful fissures in her family in pieces such as "Mama Mia" and "Running on Empty." Taken together, the collection illuminates watershed moments in Lahti’s life, revealing her struggle to maintain integrity, fight her need for perfection, and remain true to her feminist inclinations.Lahti’s wisdom and candid insights are reminiscent of Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck and Joan Rivers’s I Hate Everyone—and yet her experiences are not exclusive to one generation. The soul of her writing can be seen as a spiritual mother to feminist actresses and comedic voices whose works are inspiring today’s young women, including Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, Amy Poehler, Caitlin Moran, and Jenny Lawson. Her stories reveal a stumbling journey toward agency and empowerment as a woman—a journey that’s still very much a work in progress.True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness is about the power of storytelling to affirm and reframe the bedrock of who we are, revealing that we’re all unreliable eyewitnesses when it comes to our deeply personal memories. Told in a wildly fresh, unique voice, and with the unshakable ability to laugh at herself time and again, this is Christine Lahti’s best performance yet.

Shelf Life: Romance, Mystery, Drama, and Other Page-Turning Adventures from a Year in a Bookstore


Suzanne Strempek Shea - 2004
    In the course of her ten-year career, she's done a good bit of touring, including readings and drop-ins at literally hundreds of bookstores. She never visited one that wasn't memorable.Two years ago, while recovering from radiation therapy, Shea heard from a friend who was looking for help at her bookstore. Shea volunteered, seeing it as nothing more than a way to get out of her pajamas and back into the world. But over next twelve months, from St. Patrick's Day through Poetry Month, graduation/Father's Day/summer reading/Christmas and back again to those shamrock displays, Shea lived and breathed books in a place she says sells'ideas, stories, encouragement, answers, solace, validation, the basic ammunition for daily life.' Her work was briefly interrupted by an author tour that took her to other great bookstores. Descriptions of these and her memories of book-lined rooms reaching all the way back to childhood visits to the Bookmobile are scattered throughout this charming, humorous, and engrossing account of reading and rejuvenation.For anyone who loves books, and especially for anyone who has fallen under the spell of a special bookstore, Shelf Life will be required reading.

Report from the Interior


Paul Auster - 2013
    The smallest objects were endowed with beating hearts . . .Having recalled his life through the story of his physical self in Winter Journal, internationally acclaimed novelist Paul Auster now remembers the experience of his development from within through the encounters of his interior self with the outer world in Report from the Interior.From his baby's-eye view of the man in the moon, to his childhood worship of the movie cowboy Buster Crabbe, to the composition of his first poem at the age of nine, to his dawning awareness of the injustices of American life, Report from the Interior charts Auster's moral, political, and intellectual journey as he inches his way toward adulthood through the postwar 1950s and into the turbulent 1960s. Auster evokes the sounds, smells, and tactile sensations that marked his early life—and the many images that came at him, including moving images (he adored cartoons, he was in love with films), until, at its unique climax, the book breaks away from prose into pure imagery: The final section of Report from the Interior recapitulates the first three parts, told in an album of pictures. At once a story of the times—which makes it everyone's story—and the story of the emerging consciousness of a renowned literary artist, this four-part work answers the challenge of autobiography in ways rarely, if ever, seen before. A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of 2013

Retablos: Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border


Octavio Solis - 2018
    Southwest. Humble ex-votos, retablos are usually painted on repurposed metal, and in one small tableau they tell the story of a crisis, and offer thanks for its successful resolution.In this uniquely framed memoir, playwright Octavio Solis channels his youth in El Paso, Texas. Like traditional retablos, the rituals of childhood and rites of passage are remembered as singular, dramatic events, self-contained episodes with life-changing reverberations.Living in a home just a mile from the Rio Grande, Octavio is a skinny brown kid on the border, growing up among those who live there, and those passing through on their way North. From the first terrible self-awareness of racism to inspired afternoons playing air trumpet with Herb Alpert, from an innocent game of hide-and-seek to the discovery of a Mexican girl hiding in the cotton fields, Solis reflects on the moments of trauma and transformation that shaped him into a man.Praise for Octavio Solis's Retablos "Unpretentiously and with an unerring accuracy of tone and rhythm, Solis slowly builds what amounts to a storybook cathedral. We inhabit a border world rich in characters, lush with details, playful and poignant, a border that refutes the stereotypes and divisions smaller minds create. Solis reminds us that sometimes the most profound truths are best told with crafted fictions--and he is a master at it."--Julia Alvarez is the author of How the Garc�a Girls Lost Their Accents, /p>"The murky flow of the Rio Grande River, the border patrol we call la migra, demons, a petty crime of stolen candy, street urchins, family squabbles, eccentric neighbors, and bike rides in which dust envelops a skinny kid named Octavio Solis. When he stops peddling years later, he'll spank the dust from his clothes, but not all of it. Some of it clings to his very soul, and will cling to us, the reader, in this tender and perceptive memoir. This is American and Mexican literature a stone's throw from the always hustling El Paso border."--Gary Soto, author of The Elements of San Joaquin "Octavio Solis isn't a painter, but he ought to be. He's not a poet, but he could be. His isn't fiction or memoir but, like dreams, might be either. His vision of El Paso and the border is as though through an undulating haze of desert heat."--Dagoberto Gilb, author of Before the End, After the Beginning: Stories"Solis has written beautifully about his youth on the border, never flinching from his childish blunders, nor failing to find soul in the frailties of others. These stories soar and shimmer with poetry and a playwright's gift for dramatic compression, comedy and pathos running through them arm in arm. Retablos is deeply moving, and a joy."--Elizabeth McKenzie, author of The Portable Veblen: A Novel "To enter into this book is like walking into a shrine, walls lined with beautiful paintings, each one colorful and visceral, depicting memories, life on the border, death and sadness and joy. This is one of the most memorable books written about the borderlands in years"--Daniel Chac�n, author of Hotel Ju�rez: Stories, Rooms and Loops"The short-short format is often called flash fiction these days, but Octavio Solis' stories are more like slow fiction: a moment unfolds, revealing a life, a way of life, generations. He explores the borderlands, not just the streets of El Paso where he grew up, just across the Rio Grande from Mexico, but also those liminal zones between fiction and nonfiction, childhood and adulthood, and magic and melancholy. Small but mighty, these stories will stay with you long after the moment has passed."--Frances Lefkowitz, author of To Have Not: A Memoir"A retablo is a devotional painting, playwright Octavio Solis tells us. In this poignantly written, heart-warming coming-of-age memoir, Solis pays tribute to those cornerstone moments in his life, negotiating borders at once personal and cultural, with such color that the reader is left spellbound. Astonishing, what more can I say?"--Greg Sarris, author of How a Mountain was Made: Stories

Cassette From My Ex: Stories and Soundtracks of Lost Loves


Jason Bitner - 2009
    Today, when the iPod and playlists reign supreme, the cassette has been rendered obsolete, and the art of crafting these sonic calling cards has been relegated to back-of-the-closet, thirty-something nostalgia. Now, thanks to Jason Bitner, we can relive our lost youth and lost loves. In Cassette from My Ex, sixty noted writers and musicians wax poetic about their own experiences with these charming artifacts and the relationships that inspired them. Contributors include:Maxim editor Joe Levy Author Rick Moody Former Rolling Stone writer and MTV2 veejay Jancee Dunn The Magnetic Fields’ Claudia GonsonStories range from the irreverently sweet, such as the doomed love affair between a Deadhead and a Goth, to the touching, such as the heartbreaking discovery of a former love passing away. Everyone will find a story or a song to relate to. Just hit play.

I'll Tell You in Person


Chloe Caldwell - 2016
    Caldwell has an unsparing knack for looking within and reporting back what's really there, rather than what she'd like you to see.

A Day at the Beach


Geoffrey Wolff - 1992
    He shows us his wildly dysfunctional childhood Christmases—presided over by his con-man father—then shifts to his brash, short-lived teaching career in Istanbul. With dazzling literary agility, Wolff guides us through the surprising, invaluable turns that shaped his path: his victory over the chaos of drink, his open-heart surgery, his life-affirming surrender to the slopes of the Matterhorn, and his transcendent love of family. Long considered a classic, now expanded and back in print after two decades, A Day at the Beach shares Wolff's spirited, elegant, and deeply felt observations on an extraordinary life.