The best memoirs

Louis Menand Author Of The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War
By Louis Menand

The Books I Picked & Why

Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham

By Carolyn Brown

Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham

Why this book?

Even if you know nothing about dance, this (not short) memoir takes you inside one of the most imaginative collaborations of the twentieth-century avant-garde, and gives you the flavor of some of its extraordinary characters—not only Cage and Cunningham, but Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Morton Feldman, and others.


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Tristes Tropiques

By Claude Levi-Strauss, Doreen Weightman, John Weightman

Tristes Tropiques

Why this book?

OK, this is a classic. But it is not only a compelling story about the author’s experiences doing fieldwork in Brazil. It is also an introduction to structural anthropology (the field Lévi-Stauss created ), a great work of French prose (the Weightmans’ is the preferable translation), and a meditation on the future of the human race (not good).


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A Dance with Fred Astaire

By Jonas Mekas

A Dance with Fred Astaire

Why this book?

Mekas was a Lithuanian émigré who became an impresario of experimental cinema. He lived a long and eventful life, and this eccentric book is a fascinating account of it.


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The Tender Hour of Twilight: Paris in the '50s, New York in the '60s: A Memoir of Publishing's Golden Age

By Richard Seaver

The Tender Hour of Twilight: Paris in the '50s, New York in the '60s: A Memoir of Publishing's Golden Age

Why this book?

Despite the cheesy title, this is a revealing window on the world of postwar publishing. Seaver “discovered” Samuel Beckett as a graduate student in Paris after the war, and he eventually became an editor at Beckett’s American publisher, Grove, during its heyday under Barney Rosset.


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POPism: The Warhol Sixties

By Andy Warhol, Pat Hackett

POPism: The Warhol Sixties

Why this book?

OK, Warhol probably did not write a single word of this book, and OK, you should believe nothing in it (or that Warhol ever said). But Pat Hackett channels Warhol’s voice and attitude uncannily, and the stories, however dubious the provenance, are funny and insightful about the art world of the nineteen sixties.


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