I almost didn’t read Grammy award winning singer Brandi Carlile’s memoir, thinking it was another celebrity tell-all. But so many people raved about it that I thought I should see for myself. I’m glad I did. Carlile was born to very young parents--her father was also an alcoholic—and lived as a child with poverty, instability, and questions about how to reconcile her Christianity with her sexual identity. Then there’s her singing career, which began when she was a child and evolved through numerous ups and downs as a teenager and young adult. These topics alone could carry the book; Carlile’s charm, candor, and irrepressible curiosity make an already fascinating story even more engaging. By the end, the reader understands how Carlile grew into a famous star without relinquishing her sense of self or the lessons of her humble roots. Bonus: the book includes some of her favorite songs.
Michelle Zauner, founder of the band Japanese Breakfast, begins her book grieving over her mother’s death and seeking refuge in the aisles of H Mart, the Asian grocery store filled with foods she associates with her mother’s cooking. Growing up Korean-American in Eugene, Oregon, food was central to Zauner’s family life. But coming of age, food was not enough to transcend tricky cultural and generational divides with her mother. Zauner left for college to chart her path as a creative artist and cement her own identity. Her mother’s diagnosis with cancer, when Zauner was in her early 20s, altered the mother-daughter dynamic, shrinking the geographic and emotional distance between them and paving the way for a deeper, more accepting relationship. Zauner’s writing is evocative throughout, especially her sensorial descriptions of food and her moving narration of her mother’s illness and passing.
The Pulitzer-prize winning New Yorker writer, Kathryn Schulz, showcases her literary breadth and originality in this brilliant meditation on losing, finding, and the “&” that connects the two. Starting with the etymology of the words in her title—lost, found, &--she evokes literary, historical, and philosophical references that speak to grief and love as universal human experiences. Schulz is bravely revelatory as she weaves in her own story, describing how her devastation over the loss of her father also had a reciprocal effect:she fell deeply in love. As readers of her work know, her writing is unfailingly elegant and moving; her story of the magic of finding true love is in a class by itself.