Book Review: Recollections of My Nonexistence by Rebecca Solnit

The focus that it takes to write a compelling memoir is fascinating and Rebecca Solnit has not disappointed with her, “Recollections of My Nonexistence”. Beginning with snippets from her childhood in the Bay Area and returning to that time throughout the work, Solnit paints a picture of San Francisco through the eyes of a female author, struggling for recognition during the slow gentrification of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.

A large part of the work deals with the fear that women face simply walking down the street, but more so on their own in metropolitan places in America. This fear can carry over into the rural and suburban areas of the country just as easily, but there is something to be said for the distinct levels of anxiety that come along with being a solo, woman dweller in an urban area. This feeling of fear is not unique to living in America, as women all over the world deal with fear of place on a daily basis, but Solnit eloquently shows the depths of which this fear manifests in her own daily life, from the perspective of a middle-aged American woman.

But it isn’t all about fear. Solnit crafts a lovely history of her writing and the challenges she faced in the early days of learning to be a journalist and eventually moving over to the non-fiction (and later creative non-fiction) areas of composition. She weaves through her research on her early works and shows us the unique difficulties she faced to be taken seriously and to feel like she was on the right path. As she writes at the desk a friend gifted her after Solnit helped her release herself from a bad (to say the least) relationship, she allows her anxieties to inform her work in a way that is ever-engaging. Memoirs are so often rollercoaster rides of semi-good writing, but with this work, the prose often takes over in a way that transports you directly into the room where Solnit is writing. It allows the reader to come along for the journey, rather than to simply watch it unfold.

Overall, this memoir is well worth the read and I would recommend it to anyone that is interested in San Francisco history, memoirs of artists and/or authors, feminist scholars, or anyone that enjoys reading about the history of place through the lens of an individual lived life. I suppose that, in the end, is what a memoir should be and Solnit delivers fully with this work.

Book Review: How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian

In “How to Build a Heart’, Maria Padian offers a tale of youth that is interesting and, at times, heartbreaking. Told from the first person perspective of Izzy (Isabella Crawford) this story portrays the struggles of a teenage girl trying to reconcile her need to be friends with everyone against her future life. Her mother, a fierce Puerto Rican woman, is hard working and wise and continuously encourages Izzy to be better than the circumstances that she (and their family) are in. Izzy’s best friend, Roz, is a character we have seen in many other teen stories, but with a few added twists that you don’t see coming, particularly in the last 2 chapters.

At times, “How to Build a Heart” reminded me of the movie “Pretty in Pink” so vividly that it was difficult for me to fully concentrate on Izzy as my mind would wander to Andi and Duckie, but that story is merely the bones of a more interesting and contemporary plot laid out by Padian. Here, we see a young girl that is trying to navigate school, work, friends, and family, while also following her heart when it takes her in new directions. There are moments of chaos in Izzy’s life and Padian does a good job of depicting the irrational way in which Izzy reacts to these moments of difficulty.

There are multiple ways in which Izzy grapples with her Puerto Rican identity and her realizations about her paternal grandmother (White, Southern, Racist) that are moving, but I was hoping for even more discussion on race, and specifically being multi-ethnic, than what the author offers to the reader. The characters often dance around their feelings on race in a way that feels realistic, though, reinforcing what most readers already see in their day to day interactions. The book tries to show some of that struggle through Izzy’s interactions with her family and through flashbacks, but it could have gone farther when dealing with present day interactions.

Overall, “How to Build a Heart” was a quick and satisfying read and I recommend it for anyone that is interested in YA stories about growing up today and the ways in which teens navigate their worlds in order to become whole adults.

Book Review: Moving Forward by Karine Jean-Pierre

As my first review on Net Galley, I am feeling a great deal of pressure to get this right, but Karine Jean-Pierre has made my job much less difficult with her lovely memoir. Moving Forward focuses on her childhood in Queens and the daily work that is required of the eldest child of an immigrant couple, her own journey to naturalized citizenship, and her subsequent lively political and media career.

Sharing the same birth year I felt at one with Jean-Pierre as she traced her youth and early adulthood in the 1980s and 90s. She has a wonderful way with words and although our experiences are vastly different I was quite drawn in by the narrative. Her writing style helped me feel closer to her and the people in her universe. This is exactly what a good memoir should do.

Jean-Pierre’s retelling of aspects of her time in government, on various political campaigns and, ultimately, in the White House on the staff of President Obama, offers a clear and concise window into both the inner-workings of a campaign and the funny, sad, heart-wrenching, and joyous things that can happen along the way. It is by no means a comprehensive look at any one campaign, but the details she provided gave me just enough information to hold my continued interest.

I also greatly appreciated the additional information she provided on media awareness and specific news sources, pundits, and reporters that she feels are worthy of a readers time. Jean-Pierre has written this book to be used as somewhat of a manual for future politicos, explaining how she navigated that space through a successful career, but it is still quite a wonderful read for those of us that want to be involved at a more local level or just participate through our votes.

If you are looking for an interesting political memoir, Moving Forward is most definitely the book for you.