I love Nonfiction November. Over the past few years, I have started reading more and more nonfiction, and I have really come to enjoy it. For this blog post, I am focusing on memoirs that I have read and loved.
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Becoming Duchess Goldblatt by Anonymous
Duchess Goldblatt is a Twitter phenomenon who brings light, humor and joy to those who follow her. Becoming Duchess Goldblatt describes the creation of the fictional Duchess Goldblatt and the story behind her: a lonely woman crippled by grief who decided to beget a fictional internet persona to bring laughter, and, inadvertently a sense of community, to the popular social media platform. On her journey, she befriends Lyle Lovett and others including numerous authors, inspires groups to come together in her name, and is there for those who need a helping hand. She sprinkles her tweets throughout the book, frequently providing the backstory for a particular missive and the responses these tweets received. Alternating between heartbreaking, heartwarming, and hilarious, this book will stay with me for a very long time.
Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward by Valerie Jarrett
Valerie Jarret’s new memoir is a fascinating and in-depth roadmap of her life and career in governmental service and a high-level insider’s view of life in the Obama-era White House. Born in Iran and raised in Chicago from elementary school forward, she began her career as a private practice lawyer, but she soon realized that public service was her calling. She worked in various capacities in Chicago’s mayoral administrations for years, and after President Obama was elected, she served as a senior advisor to him and oversaw the Offices of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. Insightful, personal stories abound about Obama and the important issues his administration worked tirelessly to address such as health care and marriage equality balance out her lighter tales as well.
My Remarkable Journey: A Memoir by Katherine Johnson
This memoir of Katherine Johnson’s remarkable life is being published posthumously and is a quick and fascinating read. Her story is now known the world over after the Hidden Figures book and movie celebrated her contributions (along with several other Black women) to NASA’s first manned flights in space, but in My Remarkable Journey she starts at the beginning and tells the incredible tale of her 101 years in her own words. From her early years as a child prodigy in West Virginia to her many years at NASA as a human computer, she threads in her experience as a Black woman and includes the historical backdrop against which her contributions occurred.
Nobody Will Tell You This But Me: A True (as Told to Me) Story by Bess Kalb
Bess and her grandmother Bobby shared a special bond, and when Bobby died at age 90, Bess was shattered. To honor Bobby, she decided to write a memoir from Bobby’s perspective utilizing the many voicemails, texts and emails Bess had saved. Channeling Bobby, Bess relays the advice she received (sometimes hilarious, sometimes critical but always heartfelt) and tales from Bobby’s childhood. I laughed, I cried, and I did not want it to end.
Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause by Ty Seidule
Former head of the West Point History Department, Southerner Ty Seidule’s Robert E. Lee and Me addresses the ways in which the South has perpetuated the “Lost Cause” myth (that Robert E. Lee was the greatest man who ever lived and that the Confederates were honorable underdogs) and seeks to bust this and other myths about the Civil War. He also challenges the notion that confederates should be honored for attempting to preserve slavery and committing treason against the United States and highlights that most of these monuments were erected as rebuttals to Reconstruction. Part memoir, part reflection, Robert E. Lee and Me seeks to explain why the country has not yet come to terms with its past.
A Season with Mom: Love, Loss, and the Ultimate Baseball Adventure by Katie Russell Newland
Newland and her mom loved cheering the Cubs on from their New Orleans home and dreamed of visiting all of the Major League Baseball ballparks one day. When Katie’s mom passes away before they can fulfill this dream, Newland sets out to visit all 30 ballparks in one season to both honor her mother and to reflect on their relationship along the way. Each chapter pairs a visit to a particular ballpark with a relevant story about Katie’s mother and includes beautiful black-and-white photos, with one item highlighted in red, from each stop. Peyton Manning, her childhood neighbor, writes the introduction, and Kaley Cuoco has optioned it for the screen. I highly recommend this one.
The Speckled Beauty: A Dog and His People by Rick Bragg
In The Speckled Beauty: A Dog and His People, Bragg chronicles how his life was forever changed by the arrival of a half-blind and poorly behaved stray dog he eventually names Speck. At age 60, he finds himself recovering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and heart and kidney failure and having to live in his mother’s basement. When Speck arrives, Bragg doesn’t know what to make of him but eventually realizes he has been granted the gift of an unruly and hilariously poor behaved dog that loves him unconditionally. From a chapter about the perfect dog he wanted (“The Dog I Had in Mind”) to one about how the dog kept tripping him up (“Tumbling, Tumbling Down”), Bragg brings to life his adventures with Speck and how the rescuer ultimately becomes the rescued. We can all learn from Speck about how to live a life of unbridled joy and to love with abandon even when life has knocked us down. And thankfully, unlike many dog books, Speck is still alive and terrorizing people (and other animals) in Alabama.
Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog by Jenna Blum
Blum’s Labrador retriever Woodrow was her constant companion; through thick and thin he was always there. Since she lived across from the Commons in Boston, they would venture over to what became his bench daily and greet friends and strangers alike. Once he reached 14, she began to worry about what would happen when he was gone. Woodrow on the Bench pays homage to her sweet companion and the lessons he taught her and others. I loved this book so much and finished it with tears streaming down my face.
The Wrong End of the Table: A Mostly Comic Memoir of a Muslim Arab American Trying to Fit In by Ayser Salman
Every American should read this book. Salman examines growing up in the United States as a female Muslim and always feeling like she is sitting “at the wrong end of the table.” Salman endured culture shock of epic proportions when she moved from Iraq to Columbus as a young girl. Daily American life occasionally placed her in positions that ran contrary to her religious beliefs and following the 9/11 attacks, Salman experienced hostility for simply being Muslim. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and learned a lot about a culture with which I was not very familiar.
If you have read any of these, I would love to hear what you think. Feel free to comment below with your thoughts or your favorite memoir(s).