Spring Booknotes from our Staff – Memoir and Essay

The Lifespan of a Fact
by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal (Norton)

Is it acceptable for a writer of non-fiction to alter the facts of an article in order to make it more readable? After an essay written by John D’Agata had been accepted for publication by The Believer magazine, it was handed over to one of their fact checkers, Jim Fingal. This book is the correspondence between the two men over a period of seven years. It includes the original essay plus their correspondence, which is often terse, passive-aggressive, and amusing. The book itself is short (a mere 123 pages) and worthy of long table-pounding, fist-pumping discussions on the ethics of journalism. -Jillian

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The Guardians: An Elegy
by Sarah Manguso (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The life of Harris—close friend to writer and poet Sarah Manguso—could read like so many faceless deaths of the mentally ill: after years of suffering from schizophrenic breakdowns for much of his adult life, Harris finally surrendered in a violent, public way. In The Guardians, Manguso pulls her beloved friend from the obscurity of “an unidentified white man” with this personal and moving elegy. Writing with the distinct gifts of a poet, she introduces us to her friend as she knew him and illustrates the oftentimes inadequate ways we have of expressing love and the “insufficiency of explanation.” -Molly

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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
by Jeanette Winterson (Grove)

Winterson’s semi-autobiographical novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, told the story of a young girl’s abusive childhood dominated by a fanatical, Pentecostal, adoptive mother with a special fondness for the Apocalypse. This memoir, written twenty-seven years later, fleshes out the details of those harrowing early years and leads us through the breakdowns and breakthroughs of the second chapter of her life. In her boldest stroke, Winterson, determined to vanquish the ever present shadow of her early abandonment, embarks on a quest to find her birth mother. This is a gripping, fierce, and deeply moving memoir of a woman in search of her own truth. -Laurie

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The Mountain and the Fathers
by Joe Wilkins (Counterpoint)

Joe Wilkins grew up in a water-starved stretch of eastern Montana known as the Big Dry. With his new book, he returns to the unforgiving landscape of his youth in a series of wistful vignettes culled from vivid, often violent childhood memories.  The Mountain and the Fathers is a wonderfully rendered portrait of starkly beautiful rural life and a haunting search for what it means to be a man in the American West. Wilkins is a poet; his eye for detail is clear and he writes with the narrative grace of high lonesome prairie wind. -Matthew

Booknotes, the newsletter of The Elliott Bay Book Company, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.