The Best Biographies and Memoirs of May

Jon Foro on May 06, 2019
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When I look at these books together, I wonder if we're all okay. But despite their heaviness, there's rich reading here, including two memoirs of fractured families and defective fathers, and another family forced to confront the ultimate loss. But it gets brighter from there, first with Ben Mezrich's Winklevoss-centric follow-up to The Accidental Billionaires—his Zuckerbergian tale of the origins of Facebook—and then with singer/songwriter/poet/activist Ani DiFranco's triumphant debut. And if you make it all the way to the end, you'll find a new biography of the inscrutable musician Warren Zevon, who you might recognize by his iconic song, "Werewolves of London." And he probably would have hated that. Ah-ooooo!

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The Apology by Eve Ensler

Mahatma Gandhi once said: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” This quote came to mind as I was reading Eve Ensler’s slim but profoundly powerful The Apology. Written as if it were a letter from Ensler’s father, it recounts the sexual, physical and psychological abuse he inflicted on her from the ages of five to 10, and acknowledges the reverberating effects on her life. Moreover, it does what the master gaslighter and coward couldn’t before he died: take accountability for his crimes and ask for absolution. This brutal purging will be understandably triggering for some, but for Ensler—and hopefully for other survivors—it provides a pathway to healing. The scourge of sexual abuse is very much at the forefront of the cultural conversation right now. The Apology is a potent and extraordinarily compassionate addition to it. —Erin Kodicek

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The Deer Camp: A Memoir of a Father, a Family, and the Land that Healed Them by Dean Kuipers

Dean Kuipers's dad was a deficient father, prone to rage, mild violence, and a great deal of manipulation and emotional abuse. Bruce was a worse husband, abandoning his family for weekends, months, and years at a time in wanton, mostly and open pursuit of other women, returning occasionally to re-assert control. When he called out of the blue to announce that he had purchased 100 acres of prime hunting grounds near their Michigan home—intended as a place of reconnecting with his three outdoorsman sons—Dean and his brothers, although intrigued, refused to take him seriously. But the land captured their imaginations, even as Bruce strained to maintain the same autocratic control over the wild space that he wielded over family. But the brothers, gradually eroding their father's stubbornness and initiating a project to restore the land. As the environmental scars of the deer camp were healed, or at least mitigated, the old familial wounds became manageable, if not eradicable. The book is raw, personal, and deftly written, and it seems likely that it was both a necessary and sometimes difficult project. The Deer Camp will please readers of two kinds of history: natural and family. —Jon Foro


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Once More We Saw Stars: A Memoir by Jayson Greene

There’s a moment early in Once More We Saw Stars when Jayson Greene’s two-year-old daughter, Greta, is in the hospital, hovering between life and death but slipping towards the latter, and “we glance around us, realizing this is the last we’ll ever see of the world as we’ve known it. Whatever comes next will raze everything to the ground.” That sentence illustrates how difficult it is to read this memoir without a lump in one’s throat. In the hierarchy of death, the death of a child is the worst, the one that makes people recoil. Those who experience such a trauma frequently talk about moving through a fog of grief, unable to recall the particulars of the days and weeks after the death, memories and heartstrings cauterized by the searing pain of loss. How amazing, then, that Greene CAN can recall those particulars:, the pain, the grief, the fears that their little family will never again experience joy, and the worry that marriages cannot survive such loss. And that even in the midst of trauma he knows he and his wife have the tools and the traits to get out the other side, to refashion their broken life into one where they can laugh again. How they keep their eyes on that prize is what makes this memoir a heartbreaking but reassuring look at courage, resilience, our slim hold on life, and the bonds of family that make that life precious. —Vannessa Cronin


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Bitcoin Billionaires: A True Story of Genius, Betrayal, and Redemption by Ben Mezrich

Those who have read Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires, which was made into the movie The Social Network, will know the Winkelvoss twins. They were the big, square-jawed, square-shouldered identical twins/Harvard rowers who hired Mark Zuckerberg to work on their Facebook-like project in college. Zuckerberg wound up launching his own product, which grew into the Facebook that counts one quarter of the world as its members. A lawsuit followed, and after the payoff the Winkelvoss twins were substantial millionaires. Mezrich opens his new book, Bitcoin Billionaires, with a meeting in San Francisco between the twins, Zuckerberg, and an army of lawyers. But this book is not a sequel to the first book so much as a chronicling of the Winkelvoss’s second act. As the twins tried to launch a career as venture capitalists, they soon realized that their fight with the Zuck had tainted their money: no one in Silicon Valley would take it. Then, in Ibiza of all places, they learn about a crazy new idea called cryptocurrency. Flash forward to November 27th, 2017: the Winkelvoss twins became the first Bitcoin Billionaires. If you’re wondering how that happened, this book tells the fascinating tale. —Chris Schluep


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No Walls and the Recurring Dream: A Memoir by Ani DiFranco

In this disarmingly honest memoir, poet, singer, and social activist Ani DiFranco chronicles her life until the ripe old age of… 30. How much living have we all done by then? For DiFranco, who was an emancipated minor at 15, quite a lot. In No Walls and the Recurring Dream she takes you from her unusual childhood (part of which was spent in a house with no internal walls!), to her accelerated coming-of-age, musical education, the creation of her own record label, and beyond. The further I get into it the more gobsmacked I am by her fearless pluck. If you’re a fan of her music, you’ll certainly enjoy DiFranco’s literary debut. But even if you’re not (which, have you heard her music?! It’s amazing), there is a lot of wisdom to glean from its pages. —Erin Kodicek


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