NPR logo

Happy Holidays, Voyeurs: Nancy Pearl Picks Memoirs

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/131392774/131776734" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Happy Holidays, Voyeurs: Nancy Pearl Picks Memoirs

Best Books Of 2010

Happy Holidays, Voyeurs: Nancy Pearl Picks Memoirs

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/131392774/131776734" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Hi, Nancy.

M: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: She's in our studios. And do you mind if I just get a little exercise here by lifting this stack of - it's pretty big stack of books...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: ...as it often is. The first one is "The Hare with Amber Eyes" by Edmund De Waal.

M: Yes, and I have to say first that I have a love/hate relationship with memoirs. I know that memoirs are inherently filled with ego and the me of memoirs...

INSKEEP: It's all about me, yes.

M: Yes, and memoir is. M-E-M-O-I-R...

INSKEEP: There you go.

M: ...so that makes sense. But I tend not to read and I certainly don't like, what I call, the Children of Job Memoirs.

INSKEEP: Which is?

M: Oh, I'm suffering. I'm suffering.

INSKEEP: Oh.

M: I'm suffering. Oh, how I've suffered. What I'm looking for in a memoir is really interesting characters and very, very, very good writing.

INSKEEP: And do you find it then with "The Hare with Amber Eyes?"

M: "The Hare with Amber Eyes," I have to say is the best work of nonfiction I read this year. It's the story of the author's ancestors who were very wealthy Jewish bankers in the late 19th and 20th centuries. The founder, the main character of his ancestors that he talks about, is his great-uncle named Charles who collected 246 netsukes - the Japanese carvings that men used to wear on their sashes.

INSKEEP: Okay.

M: And his family, Charles Ephrussis was the model for Swann in Proust's "Swann's Way." There's so much art. There's so much culture. And it's so wonderfully written.

INSKEEP: Here's another book on the stack, "Half a Life" by Darin Strauss.

M: Oh, Darin Strauss's book is wonderful. When Darin Strauss was a senior in high school, he was driving a car that hit one of his classmates on her bicycle and she died. And although the accident was officially termed a no-fault liability, it changed his life.

INSKEEP: May I read a couple of paragraphs here?

M: Please.

INSKEEP: Ooh.

M: I mean that's just like, oh, my gosh, heart-wrenching to read and to have that responsibility placed on you.

INSKEEP: Nancy Pearl is giving us some memoirs here. Let's go to a book where the title is "Stuffed" by Patricia Volk. What's happening here?

M: There's this wonderful quote where she talks about her really beloved father, and how her father taught her how to swim, speak French, drive, eat using the utensils American-style - which nobody in America seems to do - be a spot welder, emboss, write English, ride Western, meringue, sing pop songs from World War I - "Keep Your Head Down Fritzie Boy."

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: And it's wonderful to read a memoir where the family, for the most part, was very close and really loved one another. And certainly, in Patricia Volk, they have the perfect chronicler.

INSKEEP: Here's one called "Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life."

M: Yes. This is one of my all-time favorite books by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. And here's what she says in her foreword. She says: I was not abused, abandoned or locked up as child. My parents were not alcoholics nor were they ever divorced or dead. We did not live in poverty or in misery or in an exotic country. I am not a misunderstood genius, a former child celebrity or the child of a celebrity.

INSKEEP: This is going to be a short book.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: I am not a drug addict, sex addict, food addict, or recovered anything. If, indeed, I had a past life, I have no recollection of who I was.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: I mean how could you resist a book like that? And it's arranged in a very, very nice way. It's arranged...

INSKEEP: Alphabetical order.

M: Alphabetical order, so it's like you're reading the index headings to these particular chapters...

INSKEEP: You go to the letter D, the first entry is there's an entry for deep massage...

M: Yes, right.

INSKEEP: ...it's part of her life. Deli trays, the dentist, depressing, comma, things that I find depressing.

M: Right. There's a wonderful, wonderful chapter in there of how she talks her way out of a parking ticket. It's great.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: I loved that book.

INSKEEP: Okay, the next one here, "The Bill From My Father," Bernard Cooper.

M: Their relationship is not made any better by the fact that his father, at one point, sends him a bill for $2 million, which is the cost of raising him.

INSKEEP: Oh.

M: You kind of shudder at the things his father did. But the way Bernard Cooper has come out of it and come to terms with who he is, is really a testament to him.

INSKEEP: Nancy, thanks for coming by.

M: Oh, you're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.