Memoir / Autobiography
by Karyn Kloumann
Idea/Concept: The 13 essays collected in this powerful anthology are biographical explorations of the lives of 13 underrepresented women from different eras and cultures who epitomize a particular strong character trait: defiant, antiwar, origins, revelry, provocateur, blind, audacious, persistent, present, transcendent, deliverance, disappearance, and lyrical. Their stories are instructive and inspiring.
Prose: All of the contributors to this volume are professionals in the arts, including writers and academics, and their prose is polished and effective. They capture the spirit of their subjects in vividly related accounts of their adventures and experiences.
Originality: Driven by its unique concept, this collection is edifying and compelling. Most of the dauntless subjects of these essays will not well be well known outside of feminist circles—a truth that the contributors hope to change by retrieving their legacies from the shadows of history.
Execution: In addition to the well-written essays the editor has embellished this book with Readers Guide Questions and a Bibliography with notes. The book will help direct readers who want to know more about its fascinating subjects to secondary sources about them.
by Alexander Watson
Idea/Concept: Watson offers a vibrant, unexpected, and abundantly satisfying travelogue that chronicles his year spent traveling America’s waterways aboard a dilapidated 1950s yacht with his partner, Dale, and their beloved rescue dog.
Prose: Watson's writing is robust and well-defined, effectively supporting the book’s thinner narrative structure. Sparkling detail, profound insight, and lively dramatization, allows this work to shine.
Originality: Stories of mid-life journeys are frequent memoir subjects. Watson's tremendous talent brings the story of an unconventional adventure to life. Watson's work demonstrates loving attention to detail, an ear for dialogue, and a seasoned storytelling style.
Execution: Humorous, pensive, and often poignant, this memoir offers a smart and soulful account of a singular voyage into the American south, with memorable characterizations and pitch-perfect prose.
by Shelley Muniz
Idea: This illuminating memoir tells the multi-generational story of a “family/activist band” whose members travel the country playing music, sharing stories, and advocating for vulnerable communities.
Prose: The co-authors write in a style that is both highly readable and informative. Polished descriptive language heightens the country-traversing appeal of the story, allowing readers to gain a clear sense of place and circumstance. Quotations and dialogue read naturally.
Originality: Original in scope and approach, this book is thoroughly researched and tells a unique story of a fascinating set of activist entertainers. Photos and discographic information chronicle the history of the group, while offering fans greater insight into their dynamics and musical contributions.
Execution: Part tribute, part history, this well-executed memoir admirably contextualizes biographical and historical details, while focusing on the spirit of activism and power of music.
Unleash the Girls: The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How It Changed the World (And Me)by Lisa Z. Lindahl
Idea/Concept: Lindahl’s wholly inviting memoir recounts the story behind her invention of the sports (or “jock”) bra in 1977. With cogent reflections on American cultural history and the shifts that laid the groundwork for women’s liberation, Lindahl weaves a narrative that is both intimate and topical. From her struggles with epilepsy and relationships, to her navigation of the business world in an era that didn't readily invite women, Lindahl delivers an inspiring narrative about changing the world through fearless innovation.
Prose: Writing in immediately engaging and smooth prose, Lindahl offers self-awareness, wit, and wisdom. Frequent references to landmark events, cultural moments, and influential figures, provide valuable historical context.
Originality: The author’s uncommon claim to fame truly sets this memoir apart; the driving concept behind the narrative provides a clear sense of purpose and urgency. Lindahl’s good-humored approach to telling her story—and, notably, her willingness to admit her uncertainties and vulnerabilities—provides the book with abundant warmth and humanity.
Execution: Readers will be as fascinated by the history of the book’s subject as they are about Lindahl and her own personal and professional journey during a pivotal American era.
by Muneer Nasser
Idea/Concept: This fascinating and worthy memoir of the late Jamil Nasser, an African American Muslim jazz bassist, provides both an intimate chronicle of his life and career, and a window into the lives of other luminary figures he played alongside. Completed by Nasser's son, the memoir includes detailed accounts of Nasser's development as a musician, his performances, travels, and experiences within the American jazz scene of the 50, 60s, and onward.
Prose: Nasser's first-person prose is clear, descriptive, and economical. Both exposition and dialogue are equally well-crafted and effectively balanced. Nasser's detailed writing would seem to perfectly capture his father's voice, serving as a testament to how intimately Nasser came to know his father and his experiences. Nasser's introduction movingly describes his relationship with his father and how the memoir project came to life. Italicized passages, meanwhile, feature quotes and reminiscences from other figures, providing a broader portrait of the jazz world.
Originality: As a lesser-known musician, Nasser’s unique story is both illuminating and overdue. Powerfully, the memoir also describes Nasser's fellow musicians succumbing to self-destructive behaviors and addictions, something that Nasser decidedly rejected in his own life. Nasser's memoir offers a truly uncommon look into the lives of American jazz artists--both those well known and more obscure--while his Muslim faith and activism further distinguish him as a musician of note and intrigue.
Execution: Readers eager to gain a behind-the-scenes look at the golden age of jazz, will welcome this memoir. Photos, playbills, chronological discography, and letters add much to the book's authenticity and importance as a work of musical history.
by Ying Qian
Idea/Concept: Author Ying Qian’s memoir of her upbringing during the Cultural Revolution in China, pivots from a discovery she makes upon her return to Beijing in 2010. Qian excels at viscerally recreating Mao’s China as filtered through her childhood perceptions, while supplying readers with edifying historical context.
Prose: Qian writes with restrained, quietly perceptive prose that is as effective when describing Qian’s childhood emotions as it is in detailing the machinations of Mao’s regime.
Originality: Qian’s memoir offers a highly effective framing device, which also allows the work to stand apart from other titles that unfold during the years of the Cultural Revolution. Qian’s story—of her family, her father, and her own journey from Beijing to the United States and back—is a unique and memorable one.
Execution: Rather than writing purely about a painful and tumultuous upbringing in Mao’s China, Qian reveals her own vulnerability as an adult reluctantly peering into the past and discovering truths that had perhaps been there all along.
by Debbie Neckel
Idea/Concept: Neckel’s story of her decision to become a police officer late in her professional life is deeply compelling and richly entertaining. Reading at times like a novel, Neckel narrates with both authority and knowledge of law enforcement, while also conveying her vulnerability and relatable uncertainties regarding her bold life choices.
Prose: Neckel’s prose is both personable and lively. Dramatization of circumstances result in the work swaying into creative nonfiction territory, but the veracity of Neckel’s life experience are never in question.
Originality: This work is memorable and unconventional, primarily due to the author’s unique life story. The combination of dramatic in-scene storytelling and more quiet exposition, allow the memoir to stand out.
Execution: Between conveying the circumstances of her journey to becoming a cop and her clear descriptions of the profession itself, Neckel also offers a motivational narrative about pursuing possibilities despite the odds.
by Robert Turley
Idea/Concept: This rich, heartfelt memoir centers on a flawed family legacy and the small Michigan town where author Turley was raised. Speckled with family and community lore going back generations (Turley's family was white, while the vast majority of Inkster residents were black), Turley writes lovingly of a place with seemingly little to offer or to be remembered by. In the process, he reveals its actually remarkable history.
Prose: Descriptions of Inkster's physical landmarks and natural features are fluid and detailed, while recreations of moments from Turley's family's volatile past, are vivid, visceral, and authentic.
Originality: Perhaps every American town--and family--is exceptional in its own way, and Turley's pensive memoir demonstrates this. The author understands the tethers that forever connect individuals to their childhood homes, and how the history of a location continues to hound and haunt its residents.
Execution: To use a cliché, the town of Inkster becomes a veritable character in Turley's memoir. The author does not claim to speak for the entirety of Inkster or its residents past and present--nor, certainly, should he. Instead, he offers a beautiful homage to the place that shaped him.
by S. C. Sterling
Idea: By using a linear narrative, the reader sees Sterling’s progression from budding guitarist to recognizable musician. Circumstances wrap up wonderfully with an ending that is both spot-on and satisfying.
Prose: Sterling’s voice is straightforward, clear, and offers the perfect balance of humor and candor. His writing is captivating and intimate; readers will readily become lost in the author's story of struggle, growth, and the music that sustained him.
Originality: Sterling has a life story that is truly one of a kind. His experiences, successes, and failures while playing with multiple bands and band members are relayed in a manner that is honest, amusing, and often poignant.
Execution: As the central figure in his story, Sterling displays refreshing self-awareness. His personal imperfections and emotional tumult, along with the often gritty backdrop of the music world, allow for this story to be both relatable and compelling.
by Elaine Del Valle
Idea/Concept: Del Valle's autobiographical tale, adapted from her stage play, provides a textured, vibrant reading experience. Through the author’s rich recollections, she offers both a visceral look at her own upbringing—in all its joys and hours of suffering—as well as perceptive commentary on the changes unfolding in a Brooklyn neighborhood.
Prose: The author writes with a fluid, rhythmic cadence that heightens the story’s power. The crackling language effectively mirrors young Del Valle's inner turmoil as well as her zest for life and desire to live meaningfully.
Originality: Memoirs of childhood abound, but Del Valle makes the format her own through her performative writing style and vivid scene building. The work elicits a range of emotions from receptive young readers.
Execution: Del Valle creatively and successfully weaves a poignant story of her transforming childhood home and the effects such changes have on her, her family, and the broader community.
by Mike Maranhas
Idea/Concept: The author narrates this often harrowing memoir and love story in a manner that, while substantive in its delivery, does not overwhelm readers. Instead, he draws them into a story of a routine procedure-turned-awry through complex yet relatable storytelling, detailing the agony that accompanies witnessing the suffering of a loved one and being faced with questions of life and death.
Prose: The writing is compelling and steady, exhibiting excellent control of tone and language throughout the work. Maranhas successfully tells the story of his wife's trauma, maintaining readers' focus and engagement until the uncertain conclusion.
Originality: The memoir breaks away from the traditional narrative trends of this genre by creating an immersive experience for readers. Maranhas focuses less on chronological events over extended periods of time, and more on pivotal, life-changing circumstances. Emotional and riveting, Maranhas takes a painful topic and explores it with honesty and intelligence.
Execution: The author excels at characterization, producing vivid portraits of individuals both central to the narrative and secondary. A distinguished and affecting memoir with subtle spiritual dimension.
by Steve Rochinski
Idea/Concept: Rochinski's fine, multilayered memoir recounts his experiences with childhood sexual abuse and within a dysfunctional, disordered family. Rochinski's coming-of-age story is enhanced through his heightened awareness, notably, the synesthesia that allows him to retreat fully into music, where he seeks a state of wholeness and redemption.
Prose: The author's superb writing is the book's primary strength. Moments from Rochinski's life that are otherwise unremarkable, shine through the filter of the author's uncommon perception.
Originality: Rochinski's prose demonstrates a command on narrative storytelling, placing in-scene those events that another writer might present summarily. The author's keen ability to observe, study, and reflect on the nuances of the world around him, proves captivating.
Execution: Rochinski leaves little in his life unexplored, detailing both mundane circumstances and moments of trauma with calm and collected clarity. Rochinski's reflections on family, relationships, self-hood, and music, offer readers an immersive and quietly philosophical reading experience.
by Julie L. Seely
Idea/Concept: Seely crafts a tenderly wrought story of family and survival. Exploring the lasting influences of ancestry and unraveling the puzzles at the heart of an extended family, Seely provides a work that is deeply personal and universal in appeal.
Prose: Seely takes ownership over her story through the use of measured prose and understated imagery. While the writing style may strike readers as occasionally detached and overly journalistic, Seely compensates with passages that provide a stirring undercurrent of emotion.
Originality: This memoir takes a highly unique approach to exploring a family's distant legacy through its focus on a distinctive piece of architecture. The titular "Skinny House" serves as a beacon and centering force within the work, allowing it to stand apart from other personal chronicles of family history. Seely has written a story only she can tell and she tells if with great care and reverence.
Execution: Seely's memoir is a quiet yet attention grabbing story that never meanders and delivers eloquent descriptions of both everyday and extraordinary events over the course of three generations.
by Anna Carner
Idea/Concept: An event-filled look at the dazzling personality and daily existence of a semi-tame deer, this amazing account of her fight to survive natural threats as well as the suffering inflicted by harassing humans resonates to the heart’s core. This doe teaches the meaning of love as she interacts with people and other deer, communicating, comforting, playing, and nurturing.
Prose: As absorbing as a novel, this heartwarming narrative demonstrates poetic flair as well as a grounded and genuine exploration of the sometimes fraught relationships between wildlife and human communities.
Originality: Tales of companion animals—typically cats, dogs, or horses—are available in abundance, but this unusual tribute to a wild deer surpasses expectations. Unique for its gripping plot and smoldering spotlight on the brutality of hunting these living, breathing fauna, the book compares to no other.
Execution: This touching story of an orphaned fawn that bonds with the woman who adopted her brings to light the importance of respecting deer and their right to live in peace without the annual threat of extermination. Portrayed as a loving character throughout the book, this perceptive doe leaves an unforgettable impression on a small community torn between longstanding tradition that utilizes rifles, along with bows and arrows, and progressive wildlife management that proposes the use of fertility control vaccines.
by Frank South
Concept/Idea: Frank South's A Chicken in the Wind and How He Grew collects columns reprinted from ADDitude Magazine about the author's experiences as a father, son, husband, and writer with ADHD. While many of the columns are short, South recounts and interrogates his life with welcome wit and frankness. South focuses on crucial and compelling details when describing his children's problems in school, his father's health issues, various relatable crises, and the way people with ADHD often get treated by society as "vacant, lying, retarded troublemakers." Occasionally, he offers well-considered advice for parenting, writing, and facing life with ADHD.
Prose: South's prose isn't just clear, clean, and lively. It's memorable and epigrammatic, with any page of the book offering pleasing lines and insights. Between the passages of purpose and power dealing with alcoholism and ADHD, or the harrowing experience of helping tranquilize his father, South generously studs the text with phrases and observations that are their own reward.
Originality: South's experiences are unique, and their treatment is thoughtful, original, and fresh.
Execution: South's A Chicken in the Wind and How He Grew is as funny as it is wrenching. That said, the reprinted column structure of the book rewards browsing through more than it does reading the collection straight through. Narrative momentum occasionally develops when pieces on related topics follow each other, but often readers will be starting fresh with each short piece, which can create a feeling of repetitiveness. Some of the pieces are longer than others, taking their time to tell their urgent story, while others sometimes feel too short.
Blurb: Sharp, funny, insightful, and unflinching, Frank South's A Chicken in the Wind and How He Grew illuminates the mind and heart of a father facing life and family with ADHD.
by Howie Cohen
Idea/Concept: Cohen's text is a memoir of his experiences and a journey through the advertising world. He provides many anecdotes that are relatable, but more importantly, are incredibly entertaining.
Prose: Cohen's lively and often intimate prose is carefully crafted to captivate the reader from the outset and hold their attention. The work offers a fresh and inviting storytelling style with a gratifying narrative arc.
Originality: Cohen's book is set apart from other, less concept-driven memoirs. The author provides unique insight into the world of advertising in its golden era. References to (sometimes) familiar advertising slogans, provide a highly original element.
Execution: It is clear that Cohen has a purpose and direction for his memoir, each anecdote being intentionally timed and placed. Overall, the information is presented chronologically, deviating at times, but always for a compelling reason.