Kitty Sheehan is a writer and photographer. A native Iowan and graduate of the University of Iowa, Kitty taught elementary school in Minneapolis, was a corporate trainer, a graphic designer, a consignment store owner and a social media editor. Her resume’s a riot. She’s currently residing in New York’s Hudson Valley, savoring its scenic beauty, food, arts and people. Her essays have appeared in Hudson Valley magazine, online in Drinking Diaries and various other places around the web. She can be found online at her website and on Twitter.
The pile of books by my bed gets unruly and begins to glare at me when I’ve been spending too much time on the computer and not holding and reading a real book. I’ll see it then as if for the first time. “Oh, hey, what’s this?” Here’s what’s waiting for me now:
• Manhattan Memoir, by Mary Cantwell – This is really three books in one. Mary Cantwell first chronicled her New England girlhood in American Girl, and went on to write two more books, Manhattan, When I Was Young, about her career in New York’s magazine scene in the 1950s, and finally Speaking with Strangers, which finds her a single mother struggling to make her way in her beloved city. The three combined are under 500 pages.
I love New York, I love magazines, and I love memoir, so this book is a comfortable breeze through a life that’s never dull. Cantwell’s writing style is clean and honest; she needs no tricks to get across her sometimes funny, sometimes sad and confused voice. It’s The Devil Wears Prada meets “Mad Men,” but not wrapped in a bright shiny marketing package–just wrapped in some very honest writing. After working at Mademoiselle in the 50s, Cantwell went on to write a NY Times column for women in the 80s. Remember the 80s? Remember women in the 80s? Check her out.
And now for something completely different.
• Waging Heavy Peace, by Neil Young – This book just came out in late September. I’m a little afraid of it. I can tell it’s going to be just like a Neil Young song, or a Neil Young interview—a puzzle that leaves you completely entranced and awed when you finally figure it out. I consider him nothing short of a genius. So I’m ready to dive in, prepared to be suspended in his mesmerizing world for a while.
Here’s an excerpt, which is the only writing on the front jacket flap:
“I think I will have to use my time wisely and keep my thoughts straight if I am to succeed and deliver the cargo I so carefully have carried thus far to the outer reaches. Not that it’s my only job or task. I have others, too. Sacred things that I need to protect from pain and hardship, like careless remarks on an open mind.”
I’m entranced already.
Speaking of puzzles, are you one of those habitual obituary readers? I am. I occasionally get to write them too, which gives me great appreciation for those who’ve mastered the art.
• The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries, by Marilyn Johnson – This is the golden ticket for the obit-aholic. Johnson, an obituary writer herself, takes us deep inside what she does. She’s funny, she’s smart, she’s ultra-observant and she’s a great writer.
She details how editors and obit writers thrill to the kinds of coincidences that put two Medal of Honor winners from two eras side by side on the same day’s obituary page. We meet subjects of obits, and the writers of some of her favorite obits. She lets us in on the thought processes that brought forth her tribute to Marlon Brando when he died at age 80.
She’s masterful at pulling out the details that make a person’s life vivid, unique and meaningful to those of us left behind to read and remember. Johnson engagingly writes in first person about her joyous and productive obsession with obits from around the world. You’ll have new appreciation for the details that make us human, and, bonus—for which ones make for a good story. This book is a jewel. Follow Marilyn on Twitter.
And here’s the one that’s always in the pile, the one that never leaves.
• A Three Dog Life, by Abigail Thomas – Abby’s my teacher and my friend. I love her and her writing. You will too, I promise, if you read this: her memoir of losing her husband in a car accident. He didn’t die; he suffered severe brain damage. He lost all memory.
Abby is one of the strongest, funniest and bravest people you’ll ever meet, and it’s all here. To be in her presence is to watch her make something from nothing, over and over—whether it’s with words, food, paint or treasures from the junk shop. She builds things. This book is about how she built a new life after a surreal tragedy stole the one she had. It’s also a memoir anchored in love and rebirth.
Also in my current stack are a Joan Didion and a Nora Ephron. Isn’t that the rule?
What rules of readership do you have?