Monday, April 2, 2012


Really Good Books About Real People: Part One

Also known as memoirs and biographies. Or things that mostly fit into that rubric.

The Last American Man, Liz Gilbert – Okay, so, I randomly have a mutual friend with Liz Gilbert (check ME out, such a hotshot) who was at Liz Gilbert's house, and was all "oh, I have a friend who loves your book," and Liz Gilbert was all (THIS IS A DRAMATIC PARAPHRASE) "yeah, no kidding, there's a movie about it with Julia Goddamn Roberts, and I receive ninety weird letters written in menstrual blood every day" and my friend said, triumphantly: "NO. She loves The Last American Man." And then Liz Gilbert went totally nuts with happiness and yanked a random copy off her bookcase and autographed it, and that's the story of how I have two, equally amazing copies of The Last American Man. Which is ... great. It's just great.

The Black Donnellys, Thomas P. Kelley – This has nothing to do with the hastily cancelled, completely unrelated television show of the same name. This is a wildly-overblown, delicious account of Canada's only exciting family, who terrorized the small town of Lucan in the 19th century until they were brutally slain by a gang of their neighbors. Who, despite being Canadian, just couldn't take it anymore. And the homestead (now a museum) is totally haunted, and I have a concession stand t-shirt to that effect! If you only read one weird thing I recommend, make it The Black Donnellys. Pay no attention to the Amazon reviews, those people are lame. Actually, it looks they're just telling you to read the Orlo Miller or the Ray Fazakas books instead. Can't you do both?

Bunny Bunny: Gilda Radner – A Sort of Love Story, Alan Zweibel – Obviously, Gilda Radner was the greatest person who's ever lived. If I could only reanimate one person, and I knew they wouldn't come back wrong, like the cat from Pet Sematary, it would be Gilda. This beautiful, strange little play/memoir thing is written by her old SNL writing partner, and it's so sweet and funny and lovely.

Cat People, Michael and Margaret Korda – WHAT IS THIS, even, I don't know. Korda was the editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster for about a billion years, and periodically writes odd books about various things. This is, hand-to-God, a book about all the cats he and his wife had/have, and all their various habits and personalities and how they cope with commuting by car, etc. It's...great.

A Way of Life, Like Any Other, Darcy O'Brien – YES YES YES YES. Sort of a male Joan Didion memoir about growing up off-kilter in California, I guess. Something special, I assure you.

Experience, Martin Amis – I have never enjoyed a single one of Amis' novels, and he sounds like a bit of a juicebox (I mean, his dad was a bigger juicebox, but also wrote the greatest comic novel of the 20th century, which we will feature in a future reading list), but this is just a dynamite memoir. A hot mess, admittedly, but in the best possible way.

Let Me Finish, Roger Angell – Angell, a New Yorker stalwart for many, many decades, has written numerous books, mostly about baseball, but this one is about himself, and it's simply gorgeous. I really must insist that you read it.

84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff – I am so excited for you. This is a collection of letters between Hanff, a spunky chainsmoking New York television writer, and Frank Doel, the tweedy bookstore employee in London, who keeps her in antiquarian reading material. The letters span the period of time between 1949 and 1968, and are perfect and wonderful. THE END IS SAD, THOUGH.

Drinking: A Love Story, Caroline Knapp – This book is kind of a kick in the pants, since it's beautifully written, and she's in recovery, and you want her to be happy, and she's a little difficult and odd and endearing, and then BOOM, you look her up, and she died rapidly of cancer after it came out. Why even quit drinking, since the universe is lying in wait for you? And then you're PMS-ing, and you read the memoir her friend wrote about how they walked their dogs together every day, and you get all weepy and despair of human happiness.

Writing Home, Shot in the Heart, Ball Four, Girls Like Us, and all those memoirs about queer ladies have been featured on previous reading lists.

Part Two to follow next week!

135 Comments / Post A Comment


If you really want to have weepy fits while enjoying some good writing, there's also Caroline Knapp's book about her dog, PACK OF TWO.
I can't even look at it on the shelf without needing to go hug my dog, who rolls her eyes ("Dead lady book made you sad again, right?")


@City_Dater I cannot handle books about dogs. Thinking about books about dogs makes me need to hug my dog.


@City_Dater And if you liked Drinking and Pack of Two and STILL have some tears left, well then, you must read "Let's Take the Long Way Home," a memoir about Carolyn Knapp by her bestie Gail Caldwell. Multi-hankies. Great book, too.


Amazing!!! And Congratulations@y


I wish the Seattle Public Library's website would figure out a way to send this list directly to my Holds Requests -- really would make my life a lot more streamlined. GREAT suggestions, Nicole!

p.s. This weekend I flew through "The Secret History." What on EARTH would you suggest reading next? I feel like I need some sort of chaser.

Cat named Virtute

@dahlface Right?! I finished it last week. I've been poking my way through Innocent Blood since then, but it's so slow and wordy compared to TSH. I just want murder and dead languages and culty universities and twincest, jesus.

That said, if you'd like something very similar, if less well executed, Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics is very much like TSH.


@dahlface Lexington Public Library only had a handful of the Good Books About Real Murder from last week but that didn't stop me from getting ALL OF THEM. You're right, an interface between the Pin and library websites everywhere would streamline the process significantly.

Jenny Cox

@dahlface Have you read Leigh Stein's The Fallback Plan yet? (It was featured on the 'pin a few weeks ago.) It's very short, features a post-graduate protagonist, and you'll probably finish it in two sittings. I found it to be a good in-betweener book, and a great book on its own too!


@dahlface Waking the Moon (Elizabeth Hand) and Tam Lin (Pamela Dean). The latter has more classics and the former has more murder but they both have a little of each. & the are both COLLEGE COLLEGE LIBERAL ARTS COLLEGE fantasies like nothing else BUT The Secret History, and each other.


@queenofbithynia Aaah. Dean's Tam Lin is good? I am still mad at her YA trilogy for sucking compared to The Dubious Hills.

Now I am getting The Secret HIstory and The Secret Country jumbled in my head. College cronies in New England vs. children exploring a fantasy-land: huh!


@VolcanoMouse It is great.


@VolcanoMouse SO GOOD. but I have to warn that lots of times, people who love TSH don't love Tam Lin, I think because it has the opposite kind of pretentiousness (opposite like green is opposite of red, not like bad is opposite of good.) & everything sucks compared to The Dubious Hills EXCEPT MAYBE the sequel to it that she is almost finished with, maybe????

but anyway, Tam Lin has a lot of 18-year-olds-talking-like-grad-students wish fulfillment, and a fair amount of yearning after sexually-untouchable beauty, and a lot of conversation about English and Classics, but none of the clammy-handed grasping social climbing anxiety of TSH. It is a great book but for a different kind of person. But I love them both so clearly a single person can be both kinds of people.


@VolcanoMouse I really love Tam Lin, and I'm generally not a fan of Pamela Dean. But I also just love Tam Lin stories, so...


@The Everpresent Wordsnatcher There is a way to kind of streamline that process - instead of Amazon links, Nicole could use links to records in Worldcat, which is a giant library catalogue that includes most public libraries. And then you just set your location so your library pops up first in the locations box and you can click that and it should take you to the record in your library catalogue, then you can put it on hold. (That sounds like a lot of steps, but I swear it's easy. You only have to set your location once and it will remember.)


@VolcanoMouse TAM LIN IS MY FAVORITE BOOK OF ALL TIME. EVER. OF ALL TIME. Secret History is pretty high up there too.


@phlox First I've heard of this and I love it.


@Marika Pea@twitter seconding Special Topics in Calamity Physics!


@dahlface Have you read Lev Grossman's The Magicians? It reminds me of The Secret History crossed with Harry Potter.


@dahlface Read The Likeness by Tana French next! Clearly inspired by The Secret History, set in Ireland, with more of a detective fiction bent. Definitely similar.




@Dancersize SPEAKING OF GILDA. Have you guys ever read "Live From New York"? It's an "oral history" of Saturday Night Live, which basically means it's awesome story after awesome story from the likes of Bill Murray, Lorne Michaels, Tina Fey, etc. I'm not even a huge fan of the show, but something about that book just knocked me out. Anyway, in it, Bill Murray tells this simple-but-sweet-but-sad story about the last time he ever saw Gilda. I won't ruin it. But you should read "Live From New York," if you haven't!

Nicole Cliffe


oh, disaster

@Dancersize Gilda forever!


@Nicole Cliffe If you want to read it again (and I totally had to after posting this), here tis: http://bit.ly/sSR7g5


@Dancersize Randomly: my previous landlady is Gilda Radnor's cousin! And, my dog is named Gilda for unrelated reasons.


@Dancersize Gilda also has a memoir called It's Always Something. Love her.


@fatgirlinohio I read my mother's copy of that way before I actually saw any of Gilda's stuff. Broke my heart when I got to the end and the bits from Gene Wilder about the handwritten stuff he found that was transcribed - the poem and the conversation with herself. Gilda :( :( :(


@anachronistique I saw Gene's biography in a bookstore and turned to the part where he talked about how they met and I couldn't read very far before my heart shredded.

nevernude cutoffs

@dahlface My favorite (because I'm a insane Bill Murray fan) is the "medium talent" part. Classic.

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

@anachronistique I started It's Always Something. I still have not finished it because I'm too close to the end and I know what happens and I just can't. I love Gilda too much.

But I did finish Live From New York, and it's one of my favourite books and you all should read it.

Valley Girl

@fatgirlinohio LOVE It's Always Something. Love Gilda. The end of the book really is heart-wrenching.


84, Charing Cross Road is great! As is its sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. (I have also read and enjoyed some of her other books - Apple of My Eye, Q's Legacy and Letter From New York.)


@Verity Also, other good books that fit into this category!
-Nella Last's War, Nella Last's Peace and Nella Last in the 1950s are the diaries during the 1940s and 1950s kept by Nella Last, a housewife from Barrow-in-Furness, as part of the Mass Observation project. They are so interesting! I love social history and WW2, and her diaries are fascinating.

-Conundrum by Jan Morris. I bought this because I love her book about Oxford so much - so many wonderful stories! - and discovered that she had undergone a sex-change operation in 1972 and begun transitioning in the early 60s, and written a book about this process and her gender identity. Really interesting. (She had the operation in Europe because British doctors wouldn't do it until she divorced her wife, which she refused to do. They did later divorce - but stayed together - and had a civil partnership a few years ago.)

-The Reluctant Bride by Lucy Mangan: her account of the horror of wedding planning. I mentioned this a few days ago, and will do so again because I love her and think she is great. The book is hilarious.


@Verity I work in a bookshop on Bloomsbury st- IS THE SEQUEL ABOUT ME? I MEAN IT IS, RIGHT?


@Verity Did you ever read any of Joan Wyndham's diaries?


@Verity OMG, there was a sequel to 84, Charing Cross Road?????


@Verity OH MAN, i love this book so much i sent a copy to my sister in korea and basically inferred that if she didn't love it as much as i do, she should not return. i LUFF it. so much. she is genius. i love *all* her work and one day when i finally make it to NYC, i shall walk in her footsteps.


@Verity i concur on ALL these books.
additionally, i believe we should mention Lucy Mangan every day. have you read Hopscotch&Handbags (you have, of course!). i cried copious tears of laughter on a bus and had to apologise to the man next to me who thought i was having an epileptic fit.


@Saaoirse Yes, it is absolutely about you! I bet shops will give it to you for free if you tell them this.

@mascarasnake I did not! I'll keep an eye out for them, as they sound great.

@madgemmc Yes, I have! Ha, I like your epileptic fit story (the poor man next to you!); reading funny books on public transport is a risky business.

Jennifer Udden@twitter

@Verity brb going to read all of these


I have not read any of these (though I have added the Roger Angell bio to my wishlist because he is The Greatest), so here are some I am working on/have read recently:

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Martin J. Sherwin and Kai Bird - This is a current read. Very long, very dense, very very good. I'm really more interested in the science than the politics, so the seemingly endless backstory about the American Communist Party and Jean Tatlock and all of that is hard to muddle through. Very informative and it's necessary for context, though, so not too bad.

Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy, Jane Leavy - My favorite sports biography. Leavy weaves a biography and social commentary around an account of Koufax's 1965 perfect game against the Cubs, which took place shortly after the Watts Riots -- a mere hop, skip, and jump from Dodger Stadium. Koufax is a notoriously private person and he let Leavy write the book but didn't want to be involved in it. She still does a lot with the people and material she can access, though. Tighter editing would have been nice, but that's my only criticism of it. I reread it every season.

Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years, Michael Palin - So cute, so funny, so fascinating, like the man himself. I love how a lot of the stories reveal a lot about each of the other Pythons, especially Graham, who is my other favorite. "12.00 midnight whilst soaking in my bath I hear a distant shout. 'I'm going to bed, but I don't necessarily have to go to bed alo-o-one.' It's Dr Chapman in the passage. He repeats the line three times, like someone selling scrap iron and it recedes along the corridor." It's really long but it's a reasonably quick read. And can I tell you how mad I am that I ordered Halfway to Hollywood (the next volume) and never got it? SO MAD.

Special not-memoir bonus because baseball season is just about here and the world needs more good baseball books written by women:

Crazy '08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History, Cait Murphy - OH MY GOD, SO GOOD. Revolves around the 1908 National League pennant race between the Cubs, Giants, and Pirates. She talks a little about the other teams/the American League, but the fourth-place Phillies were 16 games back and the Cubs won the World Series, so most of the interest in the season lies in the pennant race (and the pitching showdown between Ed Walsh and Addie Joss). Her writing style is obnoxious, in a good, humorous, the-designated-hitter-is-an-abomination way, which I loved.


@camanda Yay Michael Palin! Everyone should read his memoirs. Also, anyone who <3s Michael Palin is a-ok in my book*.

*figuratively speaking.


@dale They're so fun! I need to get a(nother) copy of the second volume and indulge for a while.


@camanda This isn't really a baseball book exactly, but I love "Wait Till Next Year" by Doris Kearns Goodwin, about growing up on Long Island and being a Brooklyn Dodgers fan during the '50s. It's lovely. Although I admit I am biased because she grew up two towns over from my dad and went to a church that I've been to for weddings and christenings and stuff, so it gives me lots of nostalgic family feelings too. But it's good!


@anachronistique I've heard it's very good and I should definitely read it. I'm leery of that genre of memoir, though -- I love baseball, but the endless romanticization of it makes me want to puke (this is why I loathe Roger Kahn and have not read The Boys of Summer), and that's sooo easy to do in a baseball-themed memoir. Thomas Oliphant wrote one called Praying for Gil Hodges that was completely and utterly terrible. I hear Goodwin's has more depth, though, which is a relief.


Ahhh, 84, Charing Cross Road is SO SO GOOD. I wish there were more books of letters out there like this, I would read them allllll.

Tacy Kelly

@thebestjasmine I am delurking to comment because I agree with basically everything you ever post! My mom introduced me to 84, Charing Cross Road, and I had no idea there was a sequel but will now have to get it for her.




@thebestjasmine there should indeed be more books of letters. they are fabulous!


But Michael Korda's Horse People book was maybe a 6. Or a 5. I got three copies that Christmas. Yeah, about a 5.

And yay 84 Charing Cross and Experience and all R. Angell. But kind of boo Caroline Knapp. Why do so many people I love love her. Loved.

Nicole Cliffe

@noReally Agreed, re: Horse People. It did not make my upcoming "Really Good Books About Horses" list.


@Nicole Cliffe that is a list I am very much looking forward to reading. Will there be any Marguerite Henry on it?


@heyits I hope so. But I'd prefer to see King of the Wind over any of her other works. I couldn't handle 150 pages of the Bebe family. I felt like they were the type of overly nice family that you eventually just want to punch in the face to see if they CAN get mad.


@The Kendragon Ha! I always thought (well, not always, but on 20th reading, when I had read a whole lot of other stuff) there was probably a particularly dark side to the Beebes. The whole Pony Penning thing is pretty rough, in its unfictionalized version, and given that they were rural West Virginia, without much money, in the horse business, I bet it wasn't as much sweetness and light as M. Henry made it seem, at the Beebe Pony Farm.

And when the Misty thing happened, that would have been pretty much like getting a reality TV show, right?

There could be a fine opportunity here for some derivative fiction. What do they call all this lifting from other books? What's the name (other than ripoff) for all the not-Jane Austen books? Tributes?


@The Kendragon
King of the Wind is just lovely. It was my favorite for a long time, until my mom read me Five O'Clock Charlie. I wonder how many Pinners went through a seriously horsey phase thanks to Marguerite Henry...


Nicole, you are killing me with these lists. The tally of books I have read in the past week= A Dark-Adapted Eye, Child 44, Cries Unheard. Not coincidentally, the number of pages of my dissertation I have written this week=zero.

Nicole Cliffe

@Kristen Ohhhh please take a break and rent "The Muppet Christmas Carol," for the sake of your health!

@Nicole Cliffe Best drinking game ever -- drink every time "A Muppet Christmas Carol" references another of Dickens' novels or another Muppet movie.


@S. Elizabeth Actual best drinking game: never stop drinking and watching "A Muppet Christmas Carol".

Nicole Cliffe

That would make for a wonderful, very odd seasonal Meetup.

@leastimportantperson But a shot of vodka when the little mouse says "please! may I have some cheese?" seems like a really good idea... right??


@Nicole Cliffe Ha! I didn't even think about the dangers to my mental health from reading about murder all day! I was just, you know, having too much fun reading about murder all day to get any work done.


@Kristen I have been doing exactly this - reading about murder compulsively and not writing my dissertation! I do love the Muppet's Christmas Carol devotedly!


@Kristen I have to get involved in this Muppets Christmas Carol discussion. My family is Obsessed, capital O, with this movie and when we were young would do a play on Christmas Eve that was, full title, A Christmas Carol, By Charles Dickens: Based on the Adaptation by the Muppets, By Jim Henson. We re-enacted it this year, all mid-twenties, all after a million drinks. Best Christmas Eve of them all. So yes, for your health, you must watch this movie this moment!

Heat wave! This is an island on the sun, oy oy!


@leastimportantperson If you really want to get themetastic, make some milk punch and drink away.

Reginal T. Squirge

There is no way that Elizabeth Gilbert book is not the worst thing in the history of the world.

Nicole Cliffe

I promise, it's all about his weird pathologies and inability to relate to women and nuttiness.


@ReginalTSquirge@twitter It's not the worst but it is pretty bad. The book would actually be sort of enjoyable if it weren't drenched in Gilbert's undying love for this man. It's as if a 12-year-old girl wrote a book about her biggest crush.

Reginal T. Squirge

@elbow I'm combining the two above comments as a good reason to hate-read this.


@Nicole Cliffe I actually went to a camp he where he taught "living off the land" classes. The year before I started going he actually retrieved a dead deer off the side of the road and showed campers how to tan the hide with the deer's brain. The first year I was there he showed us the sweater he made with his own hair-yarn. So, weird pathologies, yeah. But he was still super awesome to learn from, despite all of his quirks, etc. Love that you posted this book! (And yes, she totes loves the Eustace.)


I'm glad you said that so that I don't waste my time on this book. After I gave up on Eat Pray Love 20 pages in, I was starting to wonder whether she was universally terrible, or if it was just that EPL gave her a platform for her narcissism / first world problems (seriously, if I had a book selling so well that I *had* to go on a busy book tour, I would not be complaining. Boo rich white girl problems.).


@kt_kipper Hmn...a couple of his interns have posted reviews on amazon.com, and have indicted the guy as being an abuser and a charlatan. They have some pretty horrible things to say, beyond some harmless kookiness. From one, "The "farm" is a hot mess and is just a showpiece for the summer camp. I had to help drag a horse carcass out of a field after Eustace left it tethered there for days next to a riverbed and it hung [sic] itself trying to get a drink. The neighbor farms regularly complained of animal neglect." And also: "Livestock routinely die from neglect at TI. I watched one goat and her kid die from a bacterial infection, despite the intern's repeated warnings to Eustace of its condition. A former volunteer told me that he saw 3 other goats die in a similar manner during the previous months."


@ReginalTSquirge@twitter Honestly. I read the summary on Amazon and came very close to doing a spit take.

"To Gilbert, Conway's mythical character challenges all our assumptions about what it is to be a modern man in America; he is a symbol of much we feel how our men should be, but rarely are."



@ReginalTSquirge@twitter What was the exact moment in Eat, Pray, Love when you realized that you hated Elizabeth Gilbert? Because for me it was when she referred to herself as a "flamingo". Obviously I did not finish the book either.


@che I'm seriously considering reading The Last American Man just to confirm your/my suspicion that she is universally terrible.


@ReginalTSquirge@twitter Oh, yes, it's terrible. I read it around the time it came out (2002, I think), which was before Gilbert was famous and, frankly, notorious for her narcissim and acute selfishness. But, even then, this book stood out for several reasons. First, as others have noted, Gilbert lurved Eustace so hard you felt that you should look away out of modesty. Second, Gilbert and Eustace are like female and male versions of the same person. Both are outstanding image-creators and storytellers (mostly stories about themselves, of course) and both are strikingly, shockingly selfish. I didn't really pick up on Gilbert's selfishness until the publication of Eat, Pray, Love and the surrounding press, particularly articles about her former husband. But Eustace is just blazingly selfish and self-important. Near the end, Gilbert describes Eustace's current love interest (a really sweet, beautiful woman who seems ideal for him in Gilbert's eyes/too good for him in this reader's eyes) and explains that Eustace can't really commit to her because this woman has children to another man. Obviously, 'the last American Man' (TM) couldn't possibly be with a woman who'd born the offspring of another man first. Blech.


So glad someone else in the world has read that book.. I read it without really knowing who Gilbert was, and I think the deal is that she is super annoying (and her love for him is annoying in the book) but the guy makes for a pretty amazing story, flaws and all.

Several of my uncles went to the camp that his father ran, which was like a hardcore boy scouts camp, and I finished the book convinced, actually, that there is a significant thing to say about American men (of a certain culture/class - especially semi-rural white dudes who long for a truly rural past, perhaps their own ancestry), not just a "gee this dude is quirky" story.

(to those who have read it: the squirrel heads! remember the squirrel heads??)


@Equestrienne Way to take one for the team! :P

Reginal T. Squirge

@datalass Jumping back in a day later to say that I've never read a Gilbert book because "Eat, Pray, Love" sounded like it was made for the person who is the exact opposite of me and I never read this book for pretty much the same reason.

I mean, just look at that fucking asshole and his stupid fucking hat and neckerchief and that stupid fucking smile. I swear I'm not a violent person but I've never wanted to punch someone more.

Subtitle should be: White Privelege Is A Motherfucker


@Umlauts I know! I don't feel men should be like that! Please do not speak for me, Elizabeth Gilbert.


@D.@twitter Yeah, I headed over to Amazon after I posted my original comment and read those reviews, too. That sounds horrible. I was at a university sponsored camp that he taught at years before he started Turtle Island. It does appear that the "harmless kookiness" turned into something much darker and destructive. My 12 year old self was sad to read those reviews.


In the vein of biographies, I came across this book in the course of my job last week, and now I am really antsing to buy and read it! Awesome lady dentist, daughter of German count and countess, (supposedly) first licensed female dentist in the territory of Alaska, general BAMF, and looked great in a big hat.


Monica Dickens's memoirs from the 1930s and '40s about working as a housemaid One Pair of Hands and as a nurse, One Pair of Feet! She's completely clueless and haphazard, but delightful and witty and energetic.


@Decca Her book about working for a provincial paper(My Turn to Make the Tea?) is good too, though I think the earlier two are funnier.


That was my exact Caroline Knapp experience: "wow that author is incredible I can't wait to see what else she's working on oh oh no, nooooo". See also: Siobhan Dowd.


@dearheart Me third. Read (& loved) the book in 2007, looked her up the internets to see what else she was doing, and immediately said aloud "WTF are you serious?!?!?"


Consider my "to-read" list permanently full now that i've found this column. I can't believe how much you've read- i'm in serious awe.


Two more suggestions!

Roald Dahl's two memoirs (often collected in the same volume) called Boy and Going Solo are both lovely. I loved his books as a kid and dove into reading about his own life as a teenager.

Michael Ondaatje's little memoir called Running in the Family is so, so good. He writes in the most beautiful, lyrical and poetic style, and his forebears were nuts (in a good way). You learn about colonial Ceylon as well!


@3000flowers Yes to Roald Dahl! while i love all of his children's work (especially The Twits), Boy & GS are delightful and wonderful


I love 84, Charing Cross Road, especially the part about Beowulf. I bought it from a sweet old lady at a library book sale and she said "THIS IS SO WONDERFUL." And it was so.

Nicole Cliffe



@Interrobanged The Beowulf part is the best! (I did some Old English at university; they did not, thank god, make us write any compositions in it.)


Just de-lurked to say:
1. This column is awesome!
2. One of my favorite memoirs is Jerry Stahl's Permanent Midnight
3. Library users- go to WorldCat.org, find the nearest copy and fill out an interlibrary loan form at your local library.


@filthyunicorn I can think of SO MANY BETTER USES for a URL called WorldCat.org. WASTE.

/Actually that site looks quite cool but you know. :)


@dahlface I know, I was afraid people might be disappointed by the lack of cats. Couldn't they at least make their logo a picture of cats dressed in traditional hats from around the world??


@filthyunicorn WorldCatHat.org, let's make this happen.


@dahlface genius.


Your Elizabeth Gilbert story is heart whelming


I am a big fan of historical biographies about royal women: Antonia Fraser's Marie Antoinette & Amanda Foreman's Georgiana are the obvious ones but also anything by Alison Weir (like Eleanor of Aquitaine) and Nancy Goldstone's Four Queens.


@romastrega Have you read Bess of Hardwick: Empire Builder by Mary Lovell. I think you would like it!


I have a hard time dissociating Elizabeth Gilbert and this column: http://videogum.com/268222/the-hunt-for-the-worst-movie-of-all-time-eat-pray-love/franchises/the-hunt-for-the-worst-movie-of-all-time/.

Which was just about the most hilarious thing I've ever read. I'm sure she's very nice though.


@Argyle "This movie should be called BARF, BARF, BARF! " AHH, I love it.


I too love The Last American Man ever so much more than that other book Elizabeth Gilbert is way more known for!
And now that I'm writing this I remember I found it because of the review on your blog (which is awesome and hilarious). And it occurs to me that you are kind of my recent excellent books recommendation guru? And these lists are only adding to that - yay good books!


If you think Cat People is weird check out Dancing with Cats or it's less popular sister book Why Cats Paint: The Ethics of Feline Aesthetics.

Also I just finished Caroline Knapp's book and it was wonderful and sad and I went out and bought everything else she ever wrote.


@Charlotte I've actually seen that Why Cats Paint book for the past few months in the window of the used bookstore near my house. The cover makes me laugh every time.


I pretty much owe my sobriety to Caroline Knapp's book. I read it once, and then two weeks later, I read it again, and three weeks later, I quit.

Nicole Cliffe

@drunkennoodle That's incredible. Many, many kudos to you.


Is there going to be a fairy tale/fantasy version of this? Regardless, I think you would enjoy this book Nicole Cliffe!


84, Charing Cross Road was also made into a movie with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins. It is excellent.

The whole Black Donnellys things sounds kinda crazy? I'm reading the wikipedia page now.

Beth Anne Royer

Last American Man is a keeper. So cool you got an autographed copy! I'm not crazy about that re-issues new cover. I liked having Eustace Conway exist in my visual imagination. I also loved E. Gilbert's original short story collection, Pilgrims, too. Was a big fan of hers before Eat, pray, Love (ugh, and committed.) I love Rebecca Solnit's "River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West" about early photography, Yosemite, an uniquely american character, and motion pictures o yea.


For those who liked the Last American Man and other books on this list, you might enjoy this new one about a guy in Utah who stopped using money 10 years ago (full disclosure, by a distant relative of mine).


Ever since I finished Young Men and Fire last week, I've been looking for more compelling non-fiction. What a timely list!


My favorite desert island memoirs are A Girl From Yamhill and My Own Two Feet by Beverly Cleary. I read these constantly as a kid and they are amazing. The first one is her childhood growing up in Oregon and the second is her college years in California. So goood! One day when I go to Oregon I am taking my own Beverly Cleary tour.


Beverly Cleary is so great! I remember when I was in Clackamas for the first time I felt this thrill of remembrance and kind of expected to see Henry Huggins saunter by.

Hello Dolly

Okay, who here is in the Portage County, Ohio area? I looked up '84, Charring Cross Road' in the local library system and it's already checked out & has one hold.


I just finished Jeanette Winterson's new memoir, "Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?" and, love. And tears. Lots of tears.

Nicole Cliffe

@che ME TOO, it's on the next list. I cried so much.


@Nicole Cliffe I can't wait to see the next list then! I am in love with everything JW ever (except Sexing the Cherry, for some reason I didn't love that one), so I am biased. But when she said Elsie from OANTOF was made up, I bawled.

Veronica Lemmons

I just clicked on the link for "Cat People," (yes, that is the book I would most like to read), and Amazon says people who checked out the book also recently bought SNL's Best of Gilda Radner. This can't be a coincidence.


Can I just say that I looooove that The Hairpin has way more regular book columns now? It's fantastic.


@Decca Agreed!


I eagerly await Part 2, because it can only be entirely devoted to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the best book about a real person and science and life and sadness and family and ethics and civil rights and writing and being amazing. HENRIETTA 4 EVER.


"Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder makes you feel a liiiitle bit like a horrible human being (because why aren't YOU opening a hospital for starving Haitian orphans?!), but mostly, it's excellent writing about a heartbreakingly compassionate and slightly insane traveling doctor.


Bunny bunny: A Sort of Love story is one of my favourite books of all time. I was introduced to it by a director years ago. I thought it was out of print?!


My mom keeps trying to get me to watch the movie version of 84 Charing Cross Road. Maybe I can read the book (that I didn't know existed) first!

I want to read The Last American Man but it's not on kindle. Blast!


If you want to be totally humbled and are interested in cold places, you could do a lot worse than 'Cherry' by Sara Williams. I've been a bit obsessed with the Antarctic for a while, and Cherry is the biography of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, one of the guys on Scott's last expedition. OMG these dudes were too tough for words. There's also a biography of Titus Oates, the 'I am just going outside and may be some time' man, but I've not read that yet so can't recommend it really. I finished Cherry yesterday and it was mindblowing, the things this man went through.

Princess Gigglyfart


I wept on the greyhound, and when I got to the end, I went back to the beginning and read it again.

Deb of last year@twitter

If you like Cat People (and Canadians?) then you must (MUST) read Pierre Berton's Cats I Have Known and Loved. It's beyond delightful


Took me time to read all the comments, but I really enjoyed the article. It proved to be Very helpful to me and I am sure to all the commenters here! It’s always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained! bulk sms in nigeria

Post a Comment

You must be logged-in to post a comment.

Login To Your Account