MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewSinead Gleeson’s uneven collection of reflective essays is also in need of structure. It’s a mishmash of genres: memoir, meditations, poetry, cultural critique, biography and medical material. Some of her personal stories of pain, illness and death are unforgettable ... [Gleeson\'s]life was punctured by illness and the untimely death of intimates at several other junctures ... Her experiences are rendered vividly and with an admirable lack of self-pity ... Gleeson has an eye for telling detail ... Constellations has the makings of an enthralling memoir structured around these experiences. But although the first third of the book sets out in that direction, the remainder meanders. The other essays and poems feel as though they were written as separate pieces at different times and don’t enhance or engage with one another ... Gleeson’s essays have no formal consistency ... Gleeson’s book has a conversational style, and we feel we are in the company of an appealing, sharp-witted person, a member of a lively Irish artistic scene that her writing draws on to good effect. When she veers into cultural critique, however, her observations lose their fresh particularity.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewPain Studies,...asks a great deal of its readers ... We learn almost nothing about Olstein’s family, her job or where she lives; there is scant dialogue and no plot. But nor is the book structured, as nonfiction often is, by a theory or an argument or even an attempt to convey a body of knowledge. It is a curious collage of original, lyrical, abrupt, fragmented and sometimes obscure reflections on pain (Olstein suffers from chronic migraines), written in a stream-of-consciousness style and punctuated by poems, lists and quotations ... Olstein succeeds marvelously when directly reflecting on her own pain and her attempts to treat it. An accomplished poet, she often uses language beautifully and inventively. But the book feels more like notes than a finished draft. She cites a dizzying array of authors and historical figures in rapid succession ... Yet most of the sources are touched upon so briefly that it is not clear what function they serve ... Are private and public associations with pain enough of a conceit for a book, or would a more successful form for her material be an inspired long poem, which she could surely write?
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewDespite the particularly modern horror of identity theft that lies at the center of The Less People Know About Us, a memoir by Axton Betz-Hamilton, the book reads like a grim folk tale ... The Less People Know About Us was written in collaboration with Ashley Stimpson, a talented freelance journalist and professional ghostwriter ... involved in both the writing and the reporting. The resulting book is intimate and engrossing but can also have a claustrophobic, cluttered feel in its thicket of details. As many memoirs do, it includes experiences that were personally formative but are extraneous to the narrative. In stating her objective in writing it, Betz-Hamilton seems to misunderstand the genre ... the test of a memoir is its ability not just to speak to those who’ve had similar experiences but, through the enchantment of good writing, to draw all readers into the writer’s unique life despite disjunctures of circumstance. With its piercing evocations of a lonely girl in a disconsolate world trying to protect herself from seen and unseen maternal enmity, this book passes that test better than many, but not, perhaps, as well as it might.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewSmall Fry, an entrancing memoir by his first child, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, will force readers to grapple with whether Jobs was not merely unmenschlike but a monster. It is not a stretch to say that if you read this book, you will never think of Jobs the same way again ... Brennan-Jobs is a deeply gifted writer. Before I read her book, I wondered if it had been ghostwritten, like many such books. But from the striking opening...it is clear that this is a work of uncanny intimacy. Her inner landscape is depicted in such exquisitely granular detail that it feels as if no one else could possibly have written it ... In the fallen world of kiss-and-tell celebrity memoirs, this may be the most beautiful, literary and devastating one ever written.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review\"The intellectual project of the book, as she sets it out, is to create a narrative about recovery that is as powerful as the fictional representations of alcoholism in literature ... It’s unfortunate when writers believe they need to create a whole new genre in order for their work to be of value. Jamison’s book fits well into this rich body of recovery memoirs and her book would be strengthened by being situated among them, just as it is strengthened by the portraits of the famous fiction writers and poets she has included ... Jamison’s prose is strikingly uneven. The writing itself seems tipsy: It can be energetic, colorful, fun, buzzy, affecting and spot on, but also loose, sloppy, digressive and excessively poetized at moments, veering into nebulous grandiosity.\