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Culture Books

Four recent memoirs

Books

Four recent memoirs

Educated

Tara Westover

Book critics love this well-written memoir by Tara Westover. That’s probably because it fits their idea of how conservative, homeschooling Mormons live. Her junkyard-owning father distrusted the government. He stockpiled food, water, and weapons for the coming apocalypse. Instead of homeschooling, Tara often worked at the salvage yard, running dangerous equipment that frequently hurt her, her brothers, and her father. Though one brother escaped to attend college, another terrorized Tara. Caution: Westover vividly describes emotional and physical violence. Nonetheless, the book is a page-turner that shows the obstacles Westover overcame on her way to earning a Ph.D.

Kitchen Yarns

Ann Hood

The child of an Italian mother from Rhode Island and a Navy man from Indiana, writer Ann Hood grew up in two food cultures—and this memoir includes recipes from both. It’s through food that Hood recalls her childhood, early adulthood, and marriages. And it’s through food that she processes the grief of failed marriages and the deaths of her older brother, father, and 5-year-old daughter. Although Hood appreciates good cooking (and is currently married to a chef), she’s also a fan of less-exalted foods, understanding how much emotional power each can evoke. Caution: at least one obscenity.

Little Dancer Aged Fourteen

Camille Laurens

Critics hated Edgar Degas’ 3-foot sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. The work scandalized the Paris art world in 1881, yet it fascinated Laurens. This nonfiction/memoir delves into the world of the Paris Opera at the end of the 19th century and asks hard questions about Degas’ reasons for portraying the dancer as he did. Long paragraphs and some repetition hurt the book’s flow, but Laurens provides a thoughtful portrayal of Degas, the life of the “little rat” (the name for members of the corps de ballet), and her reasons for feeling connected to the sculpture.

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love

Dani Shapiro

Shapiro begins this memoir with stories about her deeply rooted identity as the daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter of prominent Orthodox Jews. Photographs of her family fill her home. Yet an Ancestry DNA test, which she took on a whim, upends her previous assumptions about her parents. Once Shapiro recovers from the shock of her discovery, she sets out to discover her biological father. The story of that search, the eventual reunion with a bio family of whom she’d known nothing, and her new understanding of her identity make this a compelling story. Caution: a few obscenities.

Handout

Lisa Scottoline (Handout)

AFTERWORD

Lisa Scottoline’s most recent thrillers still feature the partners of an all-woman law firm in Philadelphia, but the stories are faster-paced and more likely to end with gunshots than courtroom gavels. In Feared (St. Martin’s, 2018), the partners must defend themselves from a claim of sex discrimination against male attorneys. Ultimately the story turns on whether the suing attorney has forgotten his South Philly roots—and whether his mother can still shame him into doing what’s right.

That emphasis on family appears also in Exposed (St. Martin’s, 2017). Here Scottoline pits two of the partners against each other. Mary DiNunzio wants to take the case of a longtime South Philly friend who claims he was wrongly fired. Founding partner Bennie Rosato says the firm can’t because it already represents the corporate parent—and that would be a conflict. Only Scottoline’s skill can make that storyline into a page-turner. —S.O.