Margin Notes: Memoirs

I love memoirs. Especially the good ones. ;) Memoirs are tough to recommend because they're so personal. Will the person you're recommending the book to be as blown away as you are by the author's story? Or, will they think you're crazy for loving a story that is steeped in street culture when you're kind of just a girl next door? Will they think you have things to work out because you love a story about a girl who's totally messed up (but awesome) from her parent's divorce when she was 11 and your parents divorced then too? (Am I giving too much of myself away by recommending these books?)

In the end, who cares. These are books that I loved for whatever reason my brain decides to like anything. (Because it has impeccable taste, obviously.)

Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir
by Eddie Huang
Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir
Eddie Huang is the thirty-year-old proprietor of Baohaus—the hot East Village hangout where foodies, stoners, and students come to stuff their faces with delicious Taiwanese street food late into the night—and one of the food world’s brightest and most controversial young stars. But before he created the perfect home for himself in a small patch of downtown New York, Eddie wandered the American wilderness looking for a place to call his own.

Eddie grew up in theme-park America, on a could-be-anywhere cul-de-sac in suburban Orlando, raised by a wild family of FOB (“fresh off the boat”) hustlers and hysterics from Taiwan. While his father improbably launched a series of successful seafood and steak restaurants, Eddie burned his way through American culture, defying every “model minority” stereotype along the way. He obsessed over football, fought the All-American boys who called him a chink, partied like a gremlin, sold drugs with his crew, and idolized Tupac. His anchor through it all was food—from making Southern ribs (and scoring drugs) with the Haitian cooks in his dad’s restaurant to preparing traditional meals in his mother’s kitchen to haunting the midnight markets of Taipei when he was shipped off to the homeland. After misadventures as an unlikely lawyer, street fashion renegade, and stand-up comic, Eddie finally threw everything he loved—past and present, family and food—into his own restaurant, bringing together a legacy stretching back to China and the shards of global culture he’d melded into his own identity.

Funny, raw, and moving, and told in an irrepressibly alive and original voice, Fresh Off the Boat recasts the immigrant’s story for the twenty-first century—it’s a story of food, family, and the forging of a new notion of what it means to be American.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was awesome. Totally unlike anything I've read before, but I loved it. Eddie Huang has a unique, fun voice. He's smart, thoughtful, and SUCH a punk. I really admire his hustle. I found myself reading this pretty fast b/c I could tell he wanted to move onward and upward. I love his stories about growing up Asian in Orlando (and PA, but mostly Orlando) but being into the rap/hip hop scene, his relationship with his family, his intimate memories of food, his thoughts about being Asian in the US, I loved hearing about his crazy hijinks and friends. It was honestly a whole new world that I'd never jumped into, and I appreciated how honest, funny, and relate-able this story was (even for a white girl from a Boston suburb, I feel like I got a great sense of his life). I was really rooting for him and am so happy he took his passion and was successful with it. Pretty inspiring. I would NEVER recommend this to someone my mom's age or someone who isn't interested in hip hop--there are lots of inside jokes and it's written in street/hip hop language, it's just not written for them. I think it's a great book for foodies, his descriptions of food are awesome. A great book for bball fans, and Wu-Tang lovers, and for people like me who want to hear about other American experiences than my own. Next time I'm in NYC, I definitely want to check out baohaus (I hope he has a vegetarian version now, ;)).

Still Points North: Surviving the World's Greatest Alaskan Childhood
by Leigh Newman

Part adventure story, part love story, part homecoming, Still Points North is a page-turning memoir that explores the extremes of belonging and exile, and the difference between how to survive and knowing how to truly live.

Growing up in the wilds of Alaska, seven-year-old Leigh Newman spent her time landing silver salmon, hiking glaciers, and flying in a single-prop plane. But her life split in two when her parents unexpectedly divorced, requiring her to spend summers on the tundra with her “Great Alaskan” father and the school year in Baltimore with her more urbane mother.

Navigating the fraught terrain of her family’s unraveling, Newman did what any outdoorsman would do: She adapted. With her father she fished remote rivers, hunted caribou, and packed her own shotgun shells. With her mother she memorized the names of antique furniture, composed proper bread-and-butter notes, and studied Latin poetry at a private girl’s school. Charting her way through these two very different worlds, Newman learned to never get attached to people or places, and to leave others before they left her. As an adult, she explored the most distant reaches of the globe as a travel writer, yet had difficulty navigating the far more foreign landscape of love and marriage.

In vivid, astonishing prose, Newman reveals how a child torn between two homes becomes a woman who both fears and idealizes connection, how a need for independence can morph into isolation, and how even the most guarded heart can still long for understanding. Still Points North is a love letter to an unconventional Alaskan childhood of endurance and affection, one that teaches us that no matter where you go in life, the truest tests of courage are the chances you take, not with bears and blizzards, but with other people.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved this book. I thought Leigh's writing style was honest (not easy) and beautiful. She was reflective, and didn't shy away from her faults or those of her family. As a child of divorce (what an awesome club to be in, ha), I found so much of what she said to really ring true. I could really see the adventures (and near death experiences!) she was going through. I loved the adventure of Alaska, I loved how she turned really difficult feelings into simple truths, I loved the poignancy of the story, I loved her struggle to find herself and where she belongs. I was rooting for her even when she was being bratty. Highly recommended. I quite literally laughed and cried, and was consumed with reading this book.

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