When Breath Becomes Air, A Really Good Day, Battleworn, The Liar’s Club, Hillbilly Elegy- With few exceptions, the memoir genre has always struck me as self-serving and redemptive, especially when written by someone in the prime of life. Here are some of the exceptions that are worth your time....by Susan Gerhart
An End-of-the-Year List
By Susan Gerhart
Read in Ned Jan. 8, 2017
“Picking five favorite books is like picking the
five body parts you’d most like not to lose.” –Neil Gaiman
It’s the end of the year, and all the major book reviewers are issuing their “best of 2016” lists. The New York Times, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kirkus all have their favorites. Here are my top five.
Pulitzer Prize winner (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, 2012) Michael Chabon has long been one of my favorite authors. He does not disappoint in his latest, Moonglow. Advertised as a memoir but shelved as fiction, Moonglow is the story of the three weeks Chabon spent helping to care for his dying grandfather. With his tongue loosened by painkillers, the normally taciturn Grandfather reveals family secrets and experiences unheard before by his grandson, many of which explain the numerous oddities of Mike’s childhood. For the reader, it’s a journey through the 20th century from the Jewish ghettos of Philadelphia, through World War II, and the dawn of the Space Age. Chabon fills in the gaps with his own research, which leads to a harsh discovery. This is a moving book about family and truth.
Latino literature has been one of my favorite genres since I first read Jorge Luis Borges a very long time ago. Sadly, many of the best authors in this genre are dead. I’ve found a new one worth reading, however: Javier Marias. Marias follows in the footsteps of those other stellar Latino authors like Roberto Bolaño and Gabriel Garcia-Marquez with languid reveals and a good dose of magical realism. His latest, Thus Bad Begins, is a tale of deception and cruelty. Madrid, 1980: young Juan De Vere takes a job as an assistant to formerly famous film director Eduardo Muriel. De Vere immediately notices the hostility Muriel has toward his long-time wife Beatriz whom De Vere finds very desirable. When Muriel asks him to investigate rumors about Beatriz and an old family friend, De Vere learns more than he ever wanted to know about love, betrayal, loyalty and trust.
Another favorite author, Stephen King, concludes the Bill Hodges trilogy (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers) with End of Watch. Anyone familiar with police work will recognize the phrase. The perpetrator of the Mercedes massacre, Brady Hartsfield, lies comatose in a long-term care facility, and from outward appearances, he is in a persistent vegetative state. But Brady is still in there, and he’s driving people to suicide with his thoughts alone. Retired policeman Bill Hodges and his assistant must put the pieces together and stop Hartsfield before he creates more mayhem. It’s King, and it’s good.
More fully reviewed in a previous column, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize, is a powerful book about the Vietnam War told from the point of view of a Vietnamese. This is a must read.
White Trash (also reviewed in an earlier column) by Nancy Isenberg was not an easy read for me. Her well-documented history of an American subculture at times offended and angered me, but it made me think. Her conclusions may be suspect, but her alternate interpretation of US history may explain what is happening now.
Happy reading in the New Year.
See you around the stacks.