Claire’s Top 5 Picks of 2015

The Familiar, Volume 1 by Mark Danielewski

The Familiar is an 880-word first volume to a 27 book series in which Danielewski challenges the capital N Novel and our minds (and puny nerd arms) with this insane and ambitious project. The Familiar: Volume 1, chronicles nine lives, each speaking in very different voices (and fonts). At the center of these is a twelve-year-old girl named Xanther who, on one rainy day in May, sets out to get a therapy dog for her epilepsy, and comes back with a kitten (her familiar? Too soon to tell, we still have 26 more 800-page books). This book is intentionally introductory (like the pilot to a great TV show), but if you loved House of Leaves, this is for you—Danielewski has created another beautiful and tactile object, with color illustrations and prose that incorporates margins, keystrokes, and words like paint on the page.” – Claire

Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

Credited with sparking the current memoir explosion, Mary Karr’s The Liars Club spent more than a year at the top of the New York Times list. She followed with two other smash bestsellers: Cherry and Lit, which were critical hits as well. For thirty years Karr has also taught the form, winning teaching prizes at Syracuse.

Anchored by excerpts from her favorite memoirs and anecdotes from fellow writers experience, The Art of Memoir lays bare Karr’s own process. As she breaks down the key elements of great literary memoir, she breaks open our concepts of memory and identity, and illuminates the cathartic power of reflecting on the past; anybody with an inner life or complicated history, whether writer or reader, will relate.

Slade House by David Mitchell

“How have I gone this long without reading any David Mitchell? I read the first half of this book in one sitting, it was so good—I could have gone on, but my lunch break was over. This book is terrifying and hilarious at the same time. It chronicles a haunted house that only appears once every nine years, and which can only be found by going down a certain alley and opening a small iron door. The characters felt like people I knew, and nothing in the plot or format was anything I could anticipate. It felt a lot like Danielewski’s House of Leaves, only funny. I might be sleeping with the lights on for a while, but I’ll definitely be reading more David Mitchell.” -Claire

On The Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks

When Oliver Sacks was twelve years old, a perceptive schoolmaster wrote in his report: Sacks will go far, if he does not go too far. It is now abundantly clear that Sacks has never stopped going. From its opening pages on his youthful obsession with motorcycles and speed, On the Move is infused with his restless energy. As he recounts his experiences as a young neurologist in the early 1960s, first in California, where he struggled with drug addiction, and then in New York, where he discovered a long-forgotten illness in the back wards of a chronic hospital, we see how his engagement with patients comes to define his life.

With unbridled honesty and humor, Sacks shows us that the same energy that drives his physical passions weight lifting and swimming also drives his cerebral passions. He writes about his love affairs, both romantic and intellectual; his guilt over leaving his family to come to America; his bond with his schizophrenic brother; and the writers and scientists Thom Gunn, A. R. Luria, W. H. Auden, Gerald M. Edelman, Francis Crick who influenced him. On the Move is the story of a brilliantly unconventional physician and writer and of the man who has illuminated the many ways that the brain makes us human

Screeing Room: Family Pictures by Alan Lightman

Alan Lightman’s grandfather M.A. Lightman was the family’s undisputed patriarch: it was his movie theater empire that catapulted the Lightmans to prominence in the South, his fearless success that both galvanized and paralyzed his children and grandchildren. In this moving, impressionistic memoir, the author chronicles his return to Memphis in an attempt to understand the origins he so eagerly left behind forty years earlier. As aging uncles and aunts begin telling family stories, Lightman rediscovers his southern roots and slowly recognizes the errors in his perceptions of both his grandfather and his father, who was himself crushed by M.A. The result is an unforgettable family saga that extends from 1880 to the present, set against a throbbing century of Memphis–the rhythm and blues, the barbecue and pecan pie, the segregated society–and including personal encounters with Elvis, Martin Luther King Jr., and E. H. “Boss” Crump. At the heart of it all is a family haunted by the memory of its domineering patriarch and the author’s struggle to understand his conflicted loyalties.

“Never in one year have I read three memoirs! But they were great!” -Claire

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