Wednesday, January 27, 2016

It's Not Dark Yet, But It's Getting There.



Road-Little-DribblingIn preparing this piece, I was struck by the sheer heaviness of the list. I shouldn't have been surprised: I picked much of it myself. But how did I miss it? And make no mistake, this list is heavy. Anyway. Rather than examining my headspace at that particular moment, I'll start with one of the lighter books--which I didn't pick--before moving into the shadows.

Some 20 years ago, Bill Bryson published Notes from a Small Island, a hilarious and loving farewell of sorts to Great Britain, where he had happily lived as an expatriate writer before the siren song of the colonies beckoned him home. His follow-up, The Road to Little Dribbling, finds him back on the isle of Albion, a little bit older but as funny as ever. In his review for Amazon, our Chris Schluep says:

Those who read the first book will enjoy a welcome sense of the familiar—even if Bryson appears to have grown a little more cynical and angry with age. But give the guy a break: the world is changing, even his beloved "cozy and embraceable" island. And as he writes in the book, "I recently realized with dismay that I am even too old for early onset dementia. Any dementia I get will be right on time."

See more of our selections for the Best Biographies & Memoirs of the Month below (as noted above, there's some heavy stuff--the full list is here), or browse all of our picks for January. including your favorite happy categories.


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When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
In her recent piece, Amazon Editorial Director Sara Nelson said, "If you pick it up, you'll likely see right away what all the fuss is about. Granted, it's a very sad story and for whatever reasons, sad stories appeal to readers. But what makes this particular sad story particularly strong is that it's emotional without being sentimental."
 

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The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner
Ruth Wariner's father had 42 children, of which Wariner was Number 39. As an only child, I can't say that I relate, but her strange, gripping, and ultimately triumphant account of growing up in a polygamist cult takes readers as close as they can possibly get.
 

 

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Stories I Tell Myself by Juan F. Thompson
Juan F. is the son of Hunter S., so here is another situation that I can't relate to. And as you might expect, the behavior described in Thompson père's work isn't the stuff of a storybook childhood. But while fils pulls no punches in describing his tumultuous relationship with his father, Stories is ultimately a redemptive tale of a man coming to terms with the man his father was. As they say, you can't choose your parents.
 

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The Gilded Razor by Sam Lansky
As I move through this list, I am starting to sense a bit of darkness. Well, here we have the story of an aspiring prep school student whose life blows up in a mushroom cloud of narcotics and associated bad decisions. It's honest and gut-wrenching and as funny as it can possibly be, and even optimistic in the end.
 


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