There Are No Grown-Ups: A Mid-Life Coming of Age Story
The author of a best-selling book on French parenting, Druckerman’s take on turning 40 is less self-help or advice and more memoir. Which, despite having read most of the book, didn’t do much for me. As an old freak, I keep looking for takes on turning 40/50 with a unique perspective and while Druckerman (an American living in Paris) does have interesting theories and experiences on this issue in terms of France vs America, especially when it comes to things like style, sexual affairs, and body-positivity, ultimately it felt a bit light.
The Paragon Hotel
A gangster’s moll in 1921 Harlem, sporting twin gunshot wounds and dragging a bag containing $50,000 in counterfeit cash, boards a train heading west. And ends up at the only black hotel in Portland, Oregon, one of the whitest towns in America. There she meets a whole cast of characters and finds herself enmeshed in the kidnapping of a young black boy, which becomes a race to find him before the cross-burning KKK do. Dealing with racism, gay and transgender issues, class-ism, gangs, sex work and more, this is a sharp snapshot of a particular time period. Faye’s got the snappy wit bang on, and the dialogue, while often cryptic with references of the day, is just enthralling. Favourite work of fiction so far this year.
The most important part of the memoir/auto-biography genre is what the books don’t tell. Mizrahi spends a lot of time on his childhood; growing up in a Syrian-Jewish family and knowing he was gay at a young age causes just about as much anxiety as would be expected. Many anecdotes as well about his early fashion career, but a lot of stuff gets glossed over as the book heads into his career as an entertainer. Seriously — we all want to know about the Scarlett Johansson boob squeeze! Mizrahi is at his best as a writer when he’s describing clothes, whether his own designs or the great outfits of his mother’s that have inspired him.
The Durrells of Corfu
If you fell in love with the TV series based on Gerald Durrell’s fictional Corfu trilogy, this is the real story of the Durrell family, from their time in India (where they were all born) to their time in Greece and after the war. All the stuff that was left out and that will help the trilogy and the TV series make more sense (Louisa lost a child — born between Larry and Leslie — to diphtheria, and that’s why Leslie was so coddled; she also made a friend of the gin bottle and had a nervous breakdown while in England, prompting the family’s move to Corfu). Find out who was real (Theo, Spiro, Lugaretzia), and who was left out (Larry’s wife Nancy, who was with the family in Greece the whole time, was not included in the books or the series). This filled in a lot of holes for me, and knowing more about the family’s life in colonial India (they had piles of servants, the kids had an ayah) explains much about their often uncomfortable interactions with the people of Corfu.
Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
I’ve been a staunch advocate of getting enough sleep — every night — for a long time and Walker’s research links lack of sleep with lots of bad stuff, most notably dementia. He also explores the differences in the types of sleep and why we need both. If sleep is the last thing on your to-do list, you’ll be prioritizing things differently after reading this.
The Cutting Season
Set in 2009 on an Antebellum-era “living museum” sugar plantation, The Cutting Season maybe tries too hard to be too many things. There’s history and mystery and they weave together, but also race relations, gentrification, a story about family and family history and the interlacing of families. Which is a lot to pull together. Descriptions are beautiful and characters are mostly well-developed but I found there to be too many flashbacks and most readers will have figured out the identity both of “who done it” and “who is it” early in the plot.
Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad and Criminal in 19th Century New York
Blackwell’s Island, now known as Roosevelt Island, was once the place where the undesirables of New York City were sent to be treated, or not. The island housed an asylum (famously documented by journalist Nellie Bly), a almshouse (where aged or disabled people went when they were completely unable to work), a prison, a hospital, and a workhouse (different from the British workhouse model, this was more like a jail where people served short-term sentences). None of these institutions were run properly, and Horn details the various travesties that took place over the course of the 1800s. Terrifyingly, some of the same issues with poor patient treatment continued into the 20th and even 21st centuries.
Daisy Jones and the Six
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Another contender for favourite fiction of the year. Daisy Jones and the Six were the biggest band in the world until they all walked away from fame, mid-tour. Told as an “oral history” of inter-spliced interviews with band members, co-workers, and family, Reid has hit upon something brilliant here. If, like me, you often get frustrated with the “It was a dark and stormy night…” wankery of authors who over-dress their setting, the minimal descriptions in each interview pushes plot, action, and dialogue to the forefront. Reid catches all the fun quirks of oral history, including how characters’ stories don’t line up or even directly contradict each other. Five stars, would read again.
Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir
Detailing Reichl’s time as the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine and how she took it from a fusty old tome for “gastronomes” to a hip and cool publication that helped shaped the current international food scene. The world was devastated to learn that the Conde Nast was pulling the plug on the successful magazine and Reichl explains how none of the staff really saw it coming. Offers great insight into the world of mainstream media, the process for putting together a monthly magazine, and Reichl’s own life at the time. Told in her engaging and informative style, this will just make you want to flip through old copies wishing it was still around.