Friday, January 08, 2016

Nonfiction of 2015: Memoir and Poetry

Most of my reading each year is nonfiction, so I'm splitting the long list into two parts. Since I seemed to read quite a bit of poetry and memoir this year, I've collected those in today's post and will review the rest of the nonfiction later this week.

My favorite in this category was Amber Haines' debut, Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire and Finding the Broken Way Home. Runners-up would be Lauren Winner's Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis and Preemptive Love, Jeremy Courtney's book about humanitarian work and peacemaking in Iraq.

My rating system:
***** Loved it, would definitely read again
**** Liked it, would recommend
*** It was OK
** Didn't like it
* Hated it

Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire and Finding the Broken Way Home - Amber Haines*****
Exquisite. This one earned endless underlining and dog-earing and a permanent place on my shelves. Amber's story is so very far from my own, and yet she tells my story. It pierced me and it settled my restless soul. Wise and beautiful words of hope and light and life and home. 

Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis - Lauren F. Winner****
I'd forgotten how much I love Lauren Winner. I hadn't read any of her books in years, but fifty pages into this one, I had dog-eared four spots (yes, I am that kind of sinner). At the last lines of one chapter, I whispered a relieved "Oh. Yes." Winner writes beautifully and while her theology/philosophy is in some ways very different from mine, her words resonated a lot nonetheless. She is also the kind of writer who stirs up the writer in me, for which I'm always grateful.

Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time - Jeremy Courtney****
Courtney's account of moving to Iraq and pursuing life-saving, peacemaking work with his family there is powerful and timely. My only real complaints are that the chronology was confusing, and that he alluded several times to significant struggles in his marriage, the way his work caused pain to his wife or produced tension in his family, but never explained or resolved any of these references. Otherwise--a beautiful and compelling story. It made me realize how very, very little I know about Iraq and made me very interested to follow Preemptive Love and learn more. I'd probably give it 3.5 stars, but I'm rounding up because I really would recommend it. [Note: if you are local to Nashville, I saw several cheap copies of this at McKay in December!]

Every Bitter Thing is Sweet - Sara Hagerty****
Sara's story challenged and inspired me. I deeply appreciated it, yet I also struggled with parts of it. I did underline a lot of powerful, poignant lines and paragraphs. 

The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion***(*)
This was on the syllabus for the creative nonfiction writing class I took in college, and I can see why. Didion's memoir opens with the death of her husband and explores her experience of grief during the first year without him. Her spare prose--so unembellished and understated--made the bare facts more haunting. It was raw, fractured, even disorienting, but in a skillful way.

Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater - Frank Bruni***(*)
This memoir from a former NYTimes food critic was fascinating and sad, funny and disturbing. In between the mouthwatering descriptions of Italian food and the amusing anecdotes about his family's cooking, he made some profound and poignant observations about food, overeating, and the jacked-up way so many of us misuse and abuse food. It really is impressive that someone who struggled with bulimia and being overweight most of his life was able to settle into moderation and achieve a healthy weight when he was a professional eater, taking on extravagant dinners in restaurants 7+ nights a week.

Found: A Story of Questions, Grace & Everyday Prayer - Micha Boyett***(*)
was only recently introduced to Micha Boyett's lovely writing when a friend shared her post introducing her son, born last month with Down syndrome. I got the free Kindle sample of her memoir and after trying to underline stuff twice, decided I definitely wanted to read the rest. I kept waffling on my opinion of it. It really wasn't the most spectacular memoir, but much of it was lovely and thought-provoking, and although I often felt unimpressed, it ultimately really resonated with me and my spiritual journey.

My First New York: Early Adventures in the Big City - New York Magazine***
A fun little bathroom book. (Is that TMI?) My favorite kind of bathroom book, too: short, stand-alone chapters/stories. Inaccessible and nonsensical to anyone who is not, like me, a hopeless New York romantic. Also not particularly helpful for cultivating contentment if you are 33, married to someone who inexplicably hates the world's most wonderful city, and yet unable to accept in your heart with authoritative finality the reality you will never, ever be a New Yorker. :) Otherwise, a somewhat enjoyable light read. 

A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny - Amy Julia Becker***
I always hate to give someone's personal story a negative review. But I felt pretty "meh" about this one. Neither the writing nor the story itself were particularly striking.

Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story - Ken & Joni Eareckson Tada**(*)
This was just OK. I admire Joni so much and she certainly testifies to the beauty and glory of Christ in powerful ways. But this book's style/voice struck me as kind of cheesy. I also didn't like the way it was organized--jumping all over the place in time, from their dating years to the early 2000s back to the 1980s.

This is Just to Say: A Collection by Mary Brown's Students
Full review/explanation (including my contribution) here.

Jagged with Love - Susanna Childress
Susanna graduated from IWU a couple of years ahead of me, and she was an incredibly talented standout--hence her being selected by no less than Billy Collins to have her first manuscript published under the Brittingham Prize for Poetry. I was so in the mood to read more poetry when the Mary Brown tribute was being compiled, and after it came out, I was so blown away by Susanna's fantastic submission that I finally bought her first poetry book. She is clearly very good, and very sophisticated--to be honest, I felt dumb as many of the poems went over my head. Even her vocabulary was beyond me at points, and I think I have a relatively impressive vocabulary! Still, there were definitely poems and lines of poems that I loved and appreciated, and I could appreciate that she *is* talented even as I struggled to understand them on a deeper level.

Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth - Walter Bruggemann
I didn't find this as deeply moving and helpful as The Valley of Vision, but it does have a lot of beautiful and inspiring poem-prayers. 

I hope to read more poetry in 2016. Do you have any favorites to recommend?

1 comment:

Danielle said...

Glad to hear about "Wild in the Hollow." Definitely going to be my next non-fiction. Also glad to hear your review of Winner's book. I've read all of hers except her last two. I have Preemptive Love on my stack too. Was wondering about it, not sure what to expect. Also had been curious about "Every Bitter Thing is Sweet." Keep seeing reviews calling it whiny though, which I can't take, so wasn't sure about that one.