Posts filed under ‘Memoirs’

The Orchard by Adele Crockett Robertston

the orchard book cover

Pub Date: October 1995

 Non-Fiction (Adult)


 234 pgs.

The Orchard is our 2015 A Book Grows in Topsfield title.  A Book Grows in Topsfield is the name of the Topsfield Town Library’s Community Read, in which we encourage the entire community to read the same book at the same time, hosting book discussions and events related to the book along the way. A Book Grows in Topsfield kicked off on Friday, March 13th with a wonderful cabaret concert featuring music of the 30’s at the Gould Barn.  

Tomorrow, March 26th is our first book discussion of The Orchard.  Everyone is welcome!

A patron compared reading Robertson’s The Orchard to “running your hands over smooth velvet.”  That was her assessment of Robertson’s writing style, and I thought that was beautifully put.  Adele “Kitty” Crockett Robertson’s memoir about running her family’s apple orchard during the Great Depression is filled with straightforward but poetic prose, descriptions of hardship, monetary and otherwise, and anecdotes of the colorful characters she met along the way.  Robertson is a natural storyteller and you get the sense that she lived a full life and must have been even more entertaining in person.  Indeed, the Foreword and Epilogue–written by Kitty’s daughter, Betty Robertson Cramer, the one who discovered and published her mother’s manuscript posthumously–are just as interesting as the memoir itself.  I wanted to know more about Kitty’s life, even after The Orchard.

The best part of choosing The Orchard as a Community Read title is that it truly is about our community, or at least, a very nearby community. Several patrons who have already finished this book have come in and remarked that they are familiar with the farm portrayed between the pages.  Robertson, an Ipswich native, penned this memoir between 1932 and 1934, a couple of the worst years of the Depression.  Not only do the themes of sacrifice, hard work, and general bleakness certainly resonate today, but being able to visit and look at the same landscapes as Kitty make this a special Community Read.

We hope you will be able to join in a book discussion or another event for A Book Grows in Topsfield!



March 25, 2015 at 8:51 pm Leave a comment

The Journal of Best Practices by David Finch

Pub Date: January 2012

Non-Fiction (Adult)


240 pgs.

David Finch is in a mixed marriage. Not a marriage religiously mixed or racially mixed, but one that is neurologically mixed.   In 2008, he learns that he has Asperger’s Syndrome, a disorder on the very-high-functioning end of the autism spectrum.  And suddenly, a beam of clarity:  he is Aspergian, while his wife is NT (neurotypical).  Their brains don’t match.

David and Kristen Finch became friends in high school and had been married for five years and were parents of two small children at the time of David’s diagnosis.  Although they shared much love, the Finches could feel their marriage breaking apart beyond their control.  Kristen couldn’t understand why her husband thought it was perfectly OK to walk away in the middle of conversations at parties, or root around in their dryer for only the clothes he needed, leaving everything else to sit for days.  Or why he was incapable of disrupting his rigid schedule to give his wife a hand with the kids in the morning.  David couldn’t understand why Kristen didn’t do these things herself, when they made so much sense to him.   Five years of building frustrations left their marriage teetering on dangerous ground.  David’s disregard for his wife’s and family’s needs struck some as being “typically male,” but the Finches came to suspect it was more than that.  Then came the diagnosis, along with a significant sense of relief–and, for David, a renewed sense of purpose.

His Asperger’s diagnosis inspired David to formulate a plan to become a better husband and father.  And that, through his “journal of best practices” –its earliest incarnation a drawerful of scribbled notes such as “give Kristen time to shower without crowding her”–is exactly what he achieves.  However, it doesn’t come easily, or quickly–and the reader is treated to David’s singular observations of marriage and fatherhood.

Immensely readable, and funny (David was also a contributor to Second City, the Chicago sketch comedy group), this was a book I tore through in a couple of days.  Though it appealed to me particularly because of personal significance, this is a thought-provoking memoir with a light, humorous touch that promises very broad appeal.   Those interested in neurological issues especially, but anyone looking for an encouraging answer to the problems of family life should pick up this book.   Or anyone looking for a good book, period.


March 23, 2012 at 7:19 pm Leave a comment

We All Fall Down: Living With Addiction by Nic Sheff

Pub Date: April 2011

Non-Fiction (Young Adult)


368 pgs.

Never have I ever met a character to route for more than Nic Sheff.  When we last left Nic, in the book Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, he was struggling to maintain his stability with drugs and alcohol.  Then in a profound companion novel, Beautiful Boy, his father, David Sheff, shares the family’s battle with Nic’s addiction.

Now, in We all Fall Down: Living with Addiction, Sheff offers the reader his heart wrenching attempt at recovery.  In and out of detox centers and on and off of the drugs, Nic’s story is garnished with detail, compelling and emotional. Although profane language is used, Nic’s voice is both daring and truthful and resonates with readers.

Nic shares a lot of characteristics of an addict, such as self-destruction, lying, and harming close relatives and friends.  Within his story, Nic also shares long term relationships with women who have addictive behaviors.  More so, Nic goes through several abuse programs, none of which seem to aid him.  However, as Nic faces such setbacks he continues his attempt to be clean and extracts use out of a 12 step program. Because of his fight, Nic is able to find solace in relating to the sober community.

Complete with relapses, bad language, and sexual encounters, it is a poignant and true account of drug addiction.  However, nowhere does Nic say recovery is easy.  If anything, his narration reveals that not every program works, nor is there a single program for any one addict.  This memoir of addiction is more than just a complex story of a boy’s battle with sobriety;  it is about faltering, realizing and accepting your mistakes, and grappling with picking yourself up afterwards.


August 23, 2011 at 6:52 pm 1 comment

Two love stories

Whiling away the last relaxing long weekend curled up with these two very different books, I suddenly realized the books were in fact related–they are both love stories, albeit extremely different ones. Two love stories. For Valentine’s Day. How appropriate!

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Pub Date: January 2010

304 pgs.

After having such a good experience with the rock and roll/feminism memoir Girls Like Us, I got quite excited when I heard about this new memoir by Patti Smith, especially after being riveted by an early excerpt in Rolling Stone. Just Kids is Smith’s tribute to the late Robert Mapplethorpe, legendary provocative photographer and Smith’s close friend and former lover. In it, she details their first chance meeting in New York City.  Smith had moved to the big city at the age of twenty with dreams of stardom, after some personal trauma. Like a great scene from a movie, Smith and Mapplethorpe “meet cute” on a street corner when he saves her from an unsavory date.

From there, Smith narrates in her poetic style their ensuing relationship and their struggles toward fame.  Smith and Mapplethorpe move from Brooklyn to the Chelsea Hotel, an artists’ haven, and float in and out of rooms filled with impossibly famous and creative people of the era, from Hendrix to Joplin to Burroughs to Ginsberg. She covers about 10 years in their lives, from their meeting in 1967 until the mid-1970s, when fame had begun to touch both of them.

A true fan of Smith would fare better here–although I respect Patti Smith, I’m not a fan, exactly, and am just not very familiar with her work in general. Also, Smith’s excessive references to French writers Rimbaud and Genet got tiring at times.  Her writing style may be an acquired taste, but Smith’s moving account does strike a chord, especially her tear-jerking ending. And while the 1960s/1970s period of love and art in New York City might be well-tred territory, I don’t think it’s worn out its welcome just yet.

Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage by Edith Gelles

Pub Date: April 2009

352 pgs.

Gelles’ book is the first full-length biography of not just John Adams, not just Abigail Adams, but of their marriage and partnership.  During the Adams’ long (over a half-century) and productive marriage they spent huge chunks of time apart, mostly while John was serving as foreign ambassador to France.

Reading the story of their marriage through their letters, it’s clear that Abigail and John value each other very much. They are complements in temperament, equals in intelligence, and complete partners in life despite great distances from each other.  There are also some surprises in Gelles’ text–for example, Abigail’s frequent and surprisingly flirty communications with James Lovell, John’s contemporary and, to Abigail, a “dangerous man.” But never fear, the Adamses were not some twenty-first-century scandal-mongers; they remain true to each other in every sense of the word. As one Amazon reviewer notes, “It’s good to know such marriages can exist.”

Thorough and well-researched without being overly long and dense, Gelles’ book is a good choice for both romantics and those of a more practical nature;  for both history buffs and those interested in relationships in general.

Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage is our TTL Book Club pick for the month of February. Our meeting, originally scheduled for the 16th, was canceled due to weather, and we have rescheduled the meeting for this coming Tuesday, February 23rd. Also, we are co-hosting an event with the Topsfield Historical Society ( ) on Sunday, February 28th, featuring John and Abigail impersonators. Hope to see you there!

February 20, 2010 at 4:54 pm Leave a comment

Featured Genre Friday: Memoirs

Looking for something to read after The Glass Castle? Want to find another book like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? For readers, like me, who are partial to fiction but sometimes want to step outside that box,  memoirs are a treat.  Memoirs have been huge lately, especially what I call “stunt” memoirs—i.e., the let-me-try-a-crazy-thing-for-a-year-and-write-about-it variety.  Not that those aren’t as fun and informative to read—I enjoy them and have included a couple in my recommendations below.

jesusland Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres / Pub Date: September 2005 / 368 pgs.

For months after I read this book I was an evangelist for it.  It would definitely appeal to fans of The Glass Castle but it seems far fewer people have heard of this book, a fact I would like to change.  Scheeres narrates this gripping story in the present tense from the point of view of her as a child, when she was growing up in a cold, abusive home in rural Indiana with two adopted black brothers.  Julia and her brother David grow extremely close, while she has the opposite relationship with her brother Jerome.  It is a story of troubling contradictions–the children sit at home and eat a soup literally made of garbage while their father drives a Porsche; the Scheeres parents–devout Christians–abuse their children even when flaunting their supposed “tolerance.”  The first half of the book takes place in Indiana, the second half takes place in a bizarre Christian “reprogramming” camp in the Dominican Republic where Julia and David end up being sent. Its appeal lies not only in the mind-boggling story, but also in its honest and unsentimental telling.

Between Two Worlds by Zainab Salbi / Pub Date: Oct. 2005 / 304 pgs.between2worlds

When Zainab Salbi was growing up, she and her family were members of Saddam Hussein’s elite inner circle, as Zainab’s father was Saddam’s private pilot.  Now president of Women for Women International, an activist group for female victims of war, Salbi recounts the strange and troubling days her family spent ensconsed with Saddam.  What really makes the book is not only Salbi’s unique perspective, but alternating chapters comprised of her mother’s diary entries, which reveal the danger they were in–even if most of it eluded Salbi at the time.

hermothersdaughter Her Mother’s Daughter: A memoir of the mother I never knew and of my daughter, Courtney Love by Linda Carroll / Pub Date: Jan. 2006 / 320 pgs.

I know what you’re thinking: a memoir written by Courtney Love’s mother– is there anyone who won’t jump on the memoir/celebrity tell-all bandwagon these days? And I admit, the subtitle is the only reason I picked it up in the first place.  (Yes, I am a fan!) And then I opened it, and started reading. And then I kept reading. And I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that this was not a “tell-all” at all, rather it was actually quite an intelligent, thought-provoking commentary on the meaning of mother-daughter relationships.  When she hears that Courtney is pregnant with her first child, a daughter, Linda is compelled to locate her own birth mother, whom she has never met. Her quest causes her to examine her relationship with her well-meaning, if distant, adoptive mother, and her relationship with her enigmatic, extremely smart and troubled daughter Courtney.  Hoping to avoid what she sees as the “curse of the first-born daughter,” Linda seeks to understand what makes mothers and daughters the way they are to each other. Why did her birth mother give her up, and how could have her relationship with Courtney been different growing up? Linda’s is a deeply personal, thoughtful and undeniably interesting story of four mothers and daughters. Who knew? Courtney Love’s mother has written a book to remember.

Plenty: One man, one woman, and a raucous year of eating locally by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon / Pub Date: April 2007  / 272 pgs. plenty

It is a concept reminiscent of Barbara Kingsolver’s recent Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: vowing to eat only locally-grown food for one year.  However, this book was actually executed and written before Kingsolver’s bestseller. In Plenty, journalists Smith and Mackinnon decide to eat only locally-grown food for one year following a delicious meal made from locally-grown food at their rustic Canadian cabin. For most of the year, though, the couple lives in a cramped Vancouver apartment, and here the book offers a difference from Kingsolver’s (who lived on a large Virginia farm): you can live urbanly and still eat locally.  Also, the couple set one strict rule in place: nothing they ate or purchased could be produced more than 100 miles away (in fact, the book was first published under the title The 100-mile Diet). It is at once a memoir of their new eating habits and a memoir of their personal relationship, with alternating chapters written by each, with interesting facts on the local movement and recipes thrown in.

not-buying-itNot Buying It: My year without shopping by Judith Levine / Pub Date: Feb. 2006 / 288 pgs.

I picked up this book in January, a time when resolve is as yet unweakened and resolutions are as yet unbroken.  Spend an entire year without shopping!, I thought. I could do it too! Of course, I failed, but happily read along with Levine as she eventually reached her goal:  she and her husband did manage to spend an entire year going without “unnecessary” purchases.  Of course, readers may disagree with what she deems “necessary,” but that’s half the fun of reading.  How do you decide what constitutes necessity? Levine’s arguments are timely and compelling and they get more so every day.  It is a bit politically charged, but raises many extremely valid points about the way we spend today–both personally and nationally–and what that means.

July 31, 2009 at 6:31 pm Leave a comment

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