Happy Spring everyone! The good weather that finally emerged at the end of April ran away with me and here we find ourselves in May! Commencement is this Saturday, so a very hearty congratulations to all the seniors. As for me, I will continue my book schlepping well into the summer, as is tradition.
April’s pick was a book I read slightly before April, but the springyness of the book struck me as a good fit for an April highlight. The category is memoir or creative nonfiction. I originally was going to read Erik Larsen’s Dead Wake, which has been in the pile for a few years and which I had started but had to return to the library before I could finish it. I had all the good intentions– and then Four Seasons in Rome went on sale.
The premise is nothing short of dream fuel: a writer is suddenly handed a one year writing fellowship at the American Academy in Rome, expenses paid. He is not required to turn in anything at the end, not forced into certain writing roles. All he has to do is live in Rome and write. Would that I were good enough to throw my hat in that ring. Alas, I’m not likely to win the Pulitzer anytime soon, as Anthony Doerr did for the book that ultimately came out of the experience. The full title is Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World. You can likely place the year just from the title, the funeral being that of St. John Paul II.
What I loved about this book was the way that Doerr could evoke Rome, and my memories of Rome. It wasn’t just the way he captured the light (which is different in Rome than elsewhere), and it wasn’t just the way he captured the dirt and grittiness that exists in the streets, and it wasn’t just the way I could practically taste the food as he wrote his way through the seasonal variety. There is something about Rome, as most TMC students are well aware, that seeps into your bones and nourishes your soul and strips you bare and turns you on end. There is a certain level of wonder and awe and disgust and hominess that worms its way in and never does leave.
A word of forewarning, Doerr has a signature style. His prose is not purple, but he does love a good description. I do too, so this never bothered me. I brought the book to a book club and another participant told me All the Light We Cannot See made her long to red pen whole chapters, which was never something I felt the need for. His style for me is consistent with LM Montgomery and Madeline L’engle; lovely and descriptive and occasionally prone to a tangent about loveliness or an observation of the world. So keep your own tastes in mind 🙂
Other options for memoir or creative nonfiction:
Well, to be frank, a whole lot of our collection is nonfiction being, you know, a college. That said, creative nonfiction and memoir aren’t really in our wheelhouse though we do have biographies:
- I’ve always liked the historical works of Joseph Ellis, including Founding Brothers, Passionate Sage, and American Sphinx. We have most of his work down in the stacks.
- For those not yet over Hamilton, we do have Ron Chernow’s biography in the stacks as well.
- We’re coming up on the centenary of the end of World War I in November. We have several works of nonfiction and biography right at the entrance to the stacks, including Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, General Pershing’s My Experience in the World War, and E.E. Cummings’ autobiography The Enormous Room.
- I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that the Helm room is positively brimming with biographies of the Saints and spiritual memoirs. And don’t forget, Augustine’s Confessions would count for this category!