March is for memoirs, good late winter reading. Sometimes memoirs are controversial, sometimes they’re not at all, which can create its own controversy, and sometimes they’re so well told, we readers feel spellbound. Those are the books I’m going to suggest to you here, the ones that will have you hooked, that no matter the kind of memoir, the writing will transport you like all good books do.
If you read the books and you like them—and if you don’t—get in touch! I’d love to hear from you. Warmly, Lisa Lepore, BIA Library Director
The Yellow House by Sara Broom
The journalist Sara Broom and her 11 older siblings were raised in New Orleans in a small yellow house rough and unfinished, that sheltered them until Hurricane Katrina knocked it down. Broom documents her siblings’ experience of that home, of their family, in that uniquely American city. Broom looks at family dynamics, race, class, the critical moments that change our lives. The memoir feels at times like the slow unfurling of a mural or vivid scenes from a journalist’s notepad, and like a love letter, as Broom is careful to let others tell their own story, to hold their own memories.
BR 23880 in process
What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance by Carolyn Forche
A poet, Forche has used language frequently to describe injustice, to understand ways out of a brutal world. In this powerful memoir What You Have Heard Is True, she writes, “I had known since childhood that human suffering demanded a response, everywhere and always.” From mentors, priests and nuns, labor organizers, and fellow travelers, she documents the work of justice, the work of peace making, and how she as a poet and a citizen of the world tries to make a difference.
The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick is a day in the life of a New Yorker. Droll, clear-eyed, stimulating as a walk in the city can be, Gornick talks about the bit conversations and interactions that make up her days, her life. After a near accident on the sidewalk where she is rescued by a stranger, she writes, “Two hours later I am home, having dinner at my table, looking out at the city. My mind flashes on all who crossed my path today. I hear their voices, I see their gestures, I start filling in lives for them. Soon they are company, great company. I think to myself, I’d rather be here with you tonight than with anyone else I know.”
Daniel Mendelsohn’s The Odyssey is a juxtaposition of the classic work and the classic struggle between a son and his father. Mendelsohn who is a professor of classics at Bard College, and his father, a cerebral mathematician, get to know each other in a new way when his father audits his son’s undergraduate seminar on The Odyssey. This book is a terrific read, absorbing, moving, and, often, fun.
Finally, I’m going to suggest that you also take a look at Emily Wilson’s translation of Homer’s (et al) The Odyssey. She’s the first woman to translate the poem into English. She restricts the number of lines to those in the original poem, and eschews flowery language for specifics, for simpler explanations. Wilson wants readers to “respond more actively with the text.” As a woman, she interprets the poem differently than the many men who came before her. She says, while the poem defends “a male dominant society, a defense of its own hero and his triumph over everybody else, it also seems to provide these avenues for realizing what’s so horrible about this narrative, what’s missing about this narrative.” In the time we’re in, it seems to me a fitting read.