The best memoirs from a wide array of people

Who am I?

I started my career as a graduate student studying the Victorian period, a great age for autobiography. And although autobiography is no longer taught much in English departments, I guess I retain my passion for the genre. The greatest, of course, is Rousseau’s Confessions.


I wrote...

Book cover of The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War

What is my book about?

In his follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Metaphysical Club, Louis Menand offers a new intellectual and cultural history of the postwar years. The Cold War was not just a contest of power. It was also about ideas, in the broadest sense--economic and political, artistic and personal. In The Free World, the acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning scholar and critic Louis Menand tells the story of American culture in the pivotal years from the end of World War II to Vietnam and shows how changing economic, technological, and social forces put their mark on creations of the mind.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham

Louis Menand Why did I love 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.

By Carolyn Brown,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Chance and Circumstance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Carolyn Brown, one of the most renowned dancers of the last half-century, lived at the center of New York's bold and vibrant artistic community, which included not only dancers and choreographers but composers and painters as well. Brown's memoir recounts her own remarkable twenty-year tenure with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and provides a first-hand account of a pivotal period in twentieth-century art.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, Brown developed close relationships with musical director John Cage and set-designer Robert Rauschenberg and with Cunningham himself. Brown's memoir reveals the personal dynamics between the reserved and moody Cunningham and the…


Book cover of Tristes Tropiques

Louis Menand Why did I love 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).

By Claude Levi-Strauss, Doreen Weightman, John Weightman

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Tristes Tropiques as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A milestone in the study of culture from the father of structural anthropology

This watershed work records Claude Lévi-Strauss's search for "a human society reduced to its most basic expression." From the Amazon basin through the dense upland jungles of Brazil, Lévi-Strauss found the societies he was seeking among the Caduveo, Bororo, Nambikwara, and Tupi-Kawahib. More than merely recounting his time in their midst, Tristes Tropiques places the cultural practices of these peoples in a global context and extrapolates a fascinating theory of culture that has given the book an importance far beyond the fields of anthropology and continental philosophy.…


Book cover of A Dance with Fred Astaire

Louis Menand Why did I love 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.

By Jonas Mekas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Dance with Fred Astaire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Dance with Fred Astaire is an extraordinary collection of anecdotes and rare ephemera featuring a dizzying cast of cultural icons both underground and mainstream, both obscure and celebrated. Memories and diary entries, conversations and insights into his work sit alongside collages of beautifully reproduced postcards, newspaper cuttings, film negatives, lists, posters and photographs, envelopes and letters, book covers, telegrams, cartoons and doodles. Mekas has kept and archived the artifacts of his life as a cultural touchstone down to the minutiae, all of which is brought together here in the form of a unique and fascinating scrapbook of a life…


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

Louis Menand Why did I love 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.

By Richard Seaver,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Tender Hour of Twilight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Richard Seaver came to Paris in 1950 seeking Hemingway's moveable feast. Paris had become a different city, traumatized by World War II, yet the red wine still flowed, the cafes bustled, and the Parisian women found American men exotic and heroic. There was an Irishman in Paris writing plays and novels unlike anything anyone had ever read - but hardly anyone was reading them. There were others, too, doing equivalently groundbreaking work for equivalently small audiences. So when his friends launched a literary magazine, "Merlin", Seaver knew this was his calling: to bring the work of the likes of Samuel…


Book cover of POPism: The Warhol Sixties

Louis Menand Why did I love 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.

By Andy Warhol, Pat Hackett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked POPism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Anecdotal, funny, frank, POPism is Warhol's personal view of the Pop phenomenon in New York in the 1960s.

A cultural storm swept through the 1960s—Pop Art, Bob Dylan, psychedelia, underground movies—and at its center sat a bemused young artist with silver hair: Andy Warhol. Andy knew everybody (from the cultural commissioner of New York to drug-driven drag queens) and everybody knew Andy.

His studio, the Factory, was the place: where he created the large canvases of soup cans and Pop icons that defined Pop Art, where one could listen to the Velvet Underground and rub elbows with Edie Sedgwick and…


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The Emerald Necklace

By Linda Rosen,

Book cover of The Emerald Necklace

Linda Rosen Author Of The Emerald Necklace

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Novelist Swimmer Public Speaker Reader Lover of gardens

Linda's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

It’s 1969. Women are fighting for equality. Rosalee, an insecure sculptor, and Fran, a best-selling novelist, have their issues. Will their bitter envy of each other and long-held secrets destroy their tenuous friendship? Or will Jill, Rosalee’s granddaughter, and the story behind her emerald necklace bind them together?

A multi-generational novel of friendship and frenemies, envy, and long-held secrets that explores current issues through a historical lens. The Emerald Necklace sheds light on that inevitable time when lovers, family, friends, and circumstances change and force you to reinvent yourself whether you want to or not.

The Emerald Necklace

By Linda Rosen,

What is this book about?

"Engaging and mysterious, The Emerald Necklace sheds light on that inevitable time when lovers, family, friends and circumstances change and force you to reinvent yourself whether you want to or not." –Rebecca Rosenberg, award-winning Champagne Widows series

Three months after her husband's death in 1969, Rosalee Linoff is determined to jump back into life.

For her, that means returning to her art. She desperately wants to be accepted as a talented sculptor, but that requires she dig up the courage to submit her work again - and be judged. Her paralyzing insecurity mounts when she meets her new neighbor, best-selling…


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