Kelly's Summer Reading List for Writers

by Kelly Caldwell

Memoirs that settle it once and for all: Yes, you can use your imagination without making stuff up and then having to apologize to Oprah.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh – A graphic memoir full of funny, quirky stories, and a description of clinical depression so effective it’s been adopted by psych profs everywhere.
The Boy Detective by Roger Rosenblatt – Flights of fancy are seared into this entire story’s DNA.
The Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward – Gotham memoir teachers are often asked by writers if they can write a memoir that is primarily about someone else. Novelist Ward shows us all how it’s done, in this memoir about five young men she grew up with, and loved, and who died too young.
Classic Memoirs
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou – A legendary book by a legendary writer. If you didn’t understand why her obituary was on the front page of every news site in America (and a few in other countries) read this, and understand.
Another Bullshit Night In Suck City by Nick Flynn – Flynn finds creative solutions to most of the challenges encountered by anyone who writes memoir.
Night by Elie Wiesel – I can’t express it better than the publisher, so I’ll quote: “Night offers much more than a litany of the daily terrors, everyday perversions, and rampant sadism at Auschwitz and Buchenwald; it also eloquently addresses many of the philosophical as well as personal questions implicit in any serious consideration of what the Holocaust was, what it meant, and what its legacy is and will be.”
Not all really good (not good for you) nonfiction is memoir you know
Gulp by Mary Roach – A trip down through your digestive tract – almost as much fun as a trip on the Wonkatania. (Just youtube it.)
First Class by Alison Stewart – How the fight to educate black Americans both pre- and post-Civil War led to the creation of the nation’s first, and best, prep school for black students, and how its fortunes faltered with the collapse of segregation.
Going Clear by Lawrence Wright – Why is Hollywood’s leading actor the member of, and advocate for, a church that has been accused of harassment, intimidation, and imprisoning its members? Wright explains, and you’ll hold your breath as you go.
Fiction to help you escape when you’re not escaping the city
11/22/63 by Stephen King – My colleague Dana Miller was so absorbed by this novel that she tries to read it more slowly, to make it last.
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud – This is the other really great novel of 2013 set in the community of art and artists, with something to say about art's power to transform lives. Messud and her protagonist Nora were in the eye of a short lived literary hurricane last year when an interviewer asked whether Messud would befriend Nora, and Messud replied with an eloquent defense of the unsympathetic female character. I actually didn't find Nora unsympathetic, especially by the end of the book. But you should judge for yourself.
The Financial Lives Of the Poets by Jess Walter – Hilarious, and so far one of the best things, fiction or nonfiction, written about the Great Recession and its aftermath.
Short stories are the best hammock reading, because after you finish one, you can go refill your drink or get a snack or take a nap.
Twilight of the Superheroes by Deborah Eisenberg – These are the kind of stories that when you finish you just stare out in space muttering, "wow."
A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies by John Murray – Murray is a master at creating sense of place in fiction, setting these stories all over the world, from Key West, Florida, to the peaks of the Himalayas, the beaches of Maine and the villages of New Guinea.