Skip to main content

memoir

<i>Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life</i>. By Yiyun Li. Random House, 2017. 224p. HB, $27.

Unsettled

In 2011, the writer Yiyun Li and I were both asked to judge a fiction contest for the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. I panicked, that certain swoon-panic of the fellow author who is a fan, at her name next to mine. I was enamored of all her abilities, from mechanical to aesthetic—a certain gelid elegance, sharpness in syntax and diction, fluidity of theme in dark and light with such self-possessed strokes. And I—in my head and sometimes truly with my pen, an impulsive maximalist-stylist, always straddling rough and rougher—studied her register but found it impossible to emulate. So when we judged that contest together, I tried to calmly and coolly interact with her without a stutter. We both had agreed on the same winner almost instantly. I completely agree with you, Porochista. It’s my favorite too, so let’s go ahead with it? she wrote, words I held on to for months. Eventually I realized we had even more in common than I dared suspect: her East Asian immigrant to my West Asian immigrant, English as a second language, nuclear physicist fathers, and California as home.

Illustration by Marc Aspinall

But I’ve Got Ovid

After thirty years of disaster with men and fresh from a spanking-new heartbreak, I’m back in Miami, back in my dilapidated condo in paradise, to decide if it’s time to retire from love.

Even my mother thinks I should. When I called to tell her of the latest disaster, she sighed and said, Maybe, darling, you should give up on all that. Maybe it’s just time.

Okay, I’ve got other loves, after all. My broken-down mother. My blind old cat. A love poet who’s been dead two thousand years whose words I’m being paid to translate. A friend or two via text.

Katrina: After the Flood. By Gary Rivlin. Simon & Schuster, 2015. 480p. HB, $27.

The Storm That Won’t Quit

The storm landed on August 29, 2005, right as winds mercifully dropped to 125 miles an hour, down from 175. But the real horror came afterward, in the wake of fifty-three levee breaches that caused New Orleans to fill up like a bathtub. When the air [...]

"Pioneer Girl," by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Edited by Pamela Smith Hill.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Outtakes

December 5, 2014

My four-year-old nieces love the picture-book versions of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, which extract small stories from the canon, representing them simply for young readers.

Smuggler: A Memoir of Gay Male Literature

Smuggler

The discovery of that kiss changed me. Reading, which had seemed a retreat from the world, was suddenly more vital, dangerous, and necessary.

All in Favor, Say “I”

As a beginning writer I had a typically naïve conception of style as something added to a finished piece, as if the content is water and style the vase you pour it in—​a vase that shapes and decorates but doesn’t alter the chemistry of the water. But this understanding flattens style into its least dynamic, least magical aspect. 

Ariadne Van Zandbergen

A Brief History of Near and Actual Losses

We are at Cape Coast Castle, and Callie refuses to be held. She won’t let me carry her in my arms. She won’t let me put her in the cloth carrier on my back. She won’t ride on her father’s shoulders. She won’t sit astride my hip. She wants to be in charge of exactly where her body goes. She wants both feet on the ground.

Jen Renninger

We a Baddd People

Lou Marie, my grandmother, is telling this story. It is a story about before, before she was old, before she became the drawl, the accent, the presence behind the white door in her own daughter’s house, with only her hair to keep her from looking like a heap of almost defeated life, long ebony hair styled by her own hands to look like Veronica Lake’s.

R. Wesley/Getty

Pain

My father was never one to complain. On the morning of the day he died, an ulcer he’d suffered from for years, and left untreated, ruptured and began to bleed. Two days later I met with the town coroner. He told me the end had been painless, that, as his life leached away, my father would only have felt increasingly weak and light-​headed. The coroner, trying to make me feel better, was lying.

Pages