Two new memoirs, Alex Abramovich’s Bullies: A Friendship and Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl accept this challenge, and both memoirists face a particularly daunting task because in each case the friend in question is not only alive but the sort of person who’s reluctant to express vulnerability or any tender emotion at all. One way to handle this is to nudge the reader to fill in the blanks; that path is full of pitfalls. Another is to furnish the empty spaces yourself, also risky but potentially so much more revelatory.
After years studying the odder side of architecture as a writer, university lecturer and founder of the popular BLDGBLOG website, Manaugh has found a way to explore urban planning in a way that is unique and slightly wicked.
Early on in Catherine Newman’s new memoir, “Catastrophic Happiness: Finding Joy in Childhood’s Messy Years,” she writes about her attempt to instill some order into her family’s bedtime routine through the creation of a chart. It works, so well in fact that other daily activities start to feel especially chaotic without it. Eventually, Newman decides that it would be ridiculous to create a chart for everything and reverts back to her old ways of allowing her children to figure things out in the moment.
Newman’s unsuccessful foray into chart-making is an apt metaphor for the book itself. Her memoir reveals a desire to order parenthood and give structure to the unwieldy emotional odyssey that is raising children. Nevertheless, the messiness of the experience, its patent resistance to organization and tidy through-lines, manages to seep out. This isn’t a bad thing.
Restoration of various kinds figures heavily in the lives of all three principals — Sara, Ellie, and Marty — in Dominic Smith’s glorious new novel, “The Last Painting of Sara de Vos,” which hops from New York to the Netherlands to Sydney as it glides among three very different eras, each richly evoked: the 1600s; the late 1950s, when the painting is copied and stolen; and 2000, when a reckoning finally arrives.
In the spring of 1983, a young man named Steve Case was traveling around the United States and searching for the best pizzerias in every city. Case was not really a foodie; he was a recent graduate of Williams College who at the time worked for Pizza Hut and held the unlikely title of “director of new pizza development.” Essentially, his travels involved looking for new marketing ideas that could help his employer. “There are worse ways to live,” he recalls of the job in “The Third Wave,” a book that combines Case’s insights into his career with insights into the future of technology.