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Tag: memoir

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LitStack Recs: The Oysters of Locmariaquer & Relics

The Oysters of Locmariaquer, by Eleanor Clark Late in Eleanor Clark’s extraordinary book, she tells us the oyster needs the same landscape that a plein air painter does: a certain air, light, chemistry. “The explanation,” she writes, “might be quite simple, not esoteric at all—in some common equation of factors and atmospheres.” Only a writer […]

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LitStack Rec: How to Grow Old Disgracefully & Life on Mars

How to Grow Old Disgracefully: An Autobiography, by Hermione Gingold If you’re a fan of classic films, say, Vincente Minnelli’s 1958 musical, Gigi, or classic stagings of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, you already know Hermione Gingold, the earthy actress with the husky voice and wicked sense of irony. Otherwise, Gingold is likely a mystery, […]

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LitStack Rec: Barbarian Days & A Taste of Honey

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan William Finnegan’s 2016 memoir begins with an epigraph from Edward St. Aubyn’s novel Mother’s Milk: He had become so caught up in building sentences  that he had almost forgotten  the barbaric days  when thinking was like a splash of colour landing on a page. It’s a fitting […]

The Places In-Between, by Rory Stewart

In 2002, Rory Stewart made a walk across Afghanistan from Herat to Kabul. A scholar of Afghan history and language, he was wellgrounded the country’s ancient history, and in the grave first years after 9/11, sought to learn “what [Afghanistan] was like now.”  Part memoir, part political and cultural history, Stewart (currently a MP in Britain’s House of Commons—and famously the youngest elected to date), was fluent in the language, and shape shifting enough in his appearance, to pass as Afghani, or as The Guardian phrased it, “travelling in disguise through places famous for killing infidels.”

Stewart’s journey retraced an ancient trek made at the start of the sixteenth century by Barbur, First Emperor of Mughal India. As Stewart writes, Herat was one of the most civilized cities in the Islamic World, and at age twenty-two, Barbur was the prince of a poor kingdom in Uzbekistan. He set out to conquer Kabul, and subsequently “pressed on east to conquer Delhi and found the Mughal Dynasty.” Though in the process of going by foot over passes buried under ten feet of snow, Barbur nearly dies, an eerily resonant detail for Stewart’s contemporary retracing.

Stewart’s walk took place soon after the Taliban takeover of the country—and the American military invasion. Beyond the obvious personal risk is the uncertainty of travel by foot—weather, sufficient food, water, shelter. In the course of the journey, Stewart is put up in huts, palaces and abandoned castles, fed sumptuous meals and some that are questionable. He’s given aid by warlords and village headmen, though his only constant protection is a walking staff with a metal tip. Early on, he comes into possession of giant Mastiff, and names him Barbur. The dog proves to be protection, but mostly a comfort and a complication—given the animal’s changeable attitude about long-distance walks.

Stewart’s account is part rumination and reflection, as here, as the recent war puts him in mind of a more familiar landscape, as he says defined by acts of violence and death: “Places in the Scottish Highlands are also remembered for acts of violence: the spot where Stewart of Ardvorlich shot a MacDonald raider, or where the MacGregors decapitated Ardvorlich’s brother-in-law. Around my house in Scotland the Gaelic place-names record death: ‘Place of Mourning’ or ‘Field of Weeping.’ But here the events recorded were only months old.

In the end, The Places In-Between is a personal story, a chronicle of a worldly exploration whose effect, in the end, is powerfully intimate.

—Lauren Alwan

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Litstack Recs: Green Thoughts & Children of Time

Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden, by Eleanor Perényi If you’re a writer who gardens, Eleanor Perényi writes in her foreword, “sooner or later going to write a book about the subject—I take that as inevitable.” There are some heavy-hitting precedents to Pereyni’s classic of the writer-in-the-garden genre. Charles Dudley Warner’s My Summer in […]

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LitStack Recs: Barbarian Days & Pride’s Spell

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan William Finnegan took his time writing this memoir. An international journalist and staff writer for the New Yorker, wrote the book over fifteen years, Finnegan wrote the book between assignments here and abroad, reporting on the effect of poverty on American teenagers, the drug war in Mexico, […]

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LitStack Rec: Manhood for Amateurs & Redshirts

Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son, essays by Michael Chabon The trope of fatherly wisdom, borne of experience and dispensed with measured calm, is a wonderful thing, but how realistic it? There are some great recent memoirs about fathers. Alysia Abbott’s Fairyland and Will Boast’s Epilogue come to […]

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LitStaff Rec: Blood Will Out & Zombie Baseball Beatdown

Blood Will Out, by Walter Kirn In Preston Sturges’  romantic comedy, “The Palm Beach Story,” Claudette Colbert plays Gerry, reluctant divorcee of husband Tom (Joel McCrea) who’s bankrupted when his dream of building an airport fails. On a train to Palm Beach, Gerry meets eccentric millionaire John D. Hackensacker III, America’s richest man. He’s Sturges’ […]

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Litstack Recs: Blue Nights & Lustlocked

Blue Nights, by Joan Didion Joan Didion’s books have had a titanic effect on me, but when Blue Nights came out in 2011, I couldn’t bring myself to read it. The memoir is a counterpart to Didion’s 2005 memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, which tracks the aftermath of her husband John Gregory Dunne’s unexpected death in 2003. […]