This installment: a kid’s graphic novel about the guy who revived Yiddish (J-gn); brilliant short obituaries create a memoir (nf); Houston on her ranch and her critters (nf); a doomed cruise (f); behind the #1 podcast (nf); and growing up rough between Puerto Rico and Miami (nf).rico and Miami (nf).
The Book Rescuer by Sue Macy
Subtitled How A Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come. Aaron Lansky is one of my heroes. I first met him through his memoir, Outwitting History. But now his story is presented for kids, magnificently. The illustrations by Stacy Innerst reference Chagall, the text drops in choice Yiddish words (with a glossary at the end) and the book is a prime example of an inspiring collaboration for kids and adults alike.
The Baltimore Book of the Dead by Marion Winik
Here are very short obituaries of people who meant a lot in her life. These range from a not-born child to her parents to bad actors to inspirational folks—memorialized here with a deft, compressed intensity. Calling them obituaries sounds too formal; they’re rich remembrances often encapsulated as dynamic little stories. Beautifully edited so I got just what I needed from page to page in terms of mood. Some might be famous but there are no names here. A tour de force!
Deep Creek by Pam Houston
Subtitled finding Hope in the High Country. In 1993 Houston bought a 120 acre ranch in the Rockies. With almost no money and a peripatetic lifestyle by necessity, it seemed crazy, especially populated with all those animals. But it was essential for her to finally put down roots and somehow she makes it work. Ranch almanac vignettes like chasing her mini-donkeys are scattered throughout. Houston has a complicated history which I’ve gotten to know through her previous books (childhood abuse, taking lots of risks) and we get to see how these play out in such a challenging environment. Great storytelling.
The Last Cruise by Kate Christensen
Queen Isabella is a vintage ship, not in the best of shape. The mean, rich guy who owns it decides she should have one last voyage, loaded with nostalgia. We track various passengers and staff as it all goes spectacularly awry. A string quartet has been hired to play the owner’s wife’s work; they’re also vintage. A Hungarian chef thinks this might be a ticket to the big time until most of the staff revolts and goes on strike; their future contracts have been summarily cancelled. Then there’s the fire: no power, no light, no cooking, no flushing—you get the picture. Doesn’t end well and weirdly entertaining along the way. Ahh, schadenfreude—so satisfying.
Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark
It’s a dual memoir by the creators of the #1 hit podcast of the same name which I discovered through my family. (We often listen on road trips.) This duo is very funny, enthusiastic, and irreverent. Their banter punctuates their grisly material. But below the charming surface is considerable smarts, insight, and vulnerability. (They bonded in part over Bren Brown’s work.) So here’s the back story, with addiction struggles, that makes for a rich reading experience whether or not you’re a listener.
Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Díaz
From Puerto Rico to Miami Beach, the author describes her rough growing up. A schizophrenic mother, often violent environs, and lots of acting out. (I’m always so amazed by how such imperiled girls can survive.) She made an early marriage, joined the army (neither ended well but served her when she needed them), and here she is, giving us a very powerful book! Peppered with Spanish so either you know the words or you guess.
Back next week.