Books briefly noted: Memoirs

Amy Pagliarella recommends some of the latest memoirs.

You Could Make This Place Beautiful 

Maggie Smith
Atria/One Signal Publishers, 320 pages | Published April 11, 2023

Poems don’t often go viral, but Maggie Smith’s did, when Meryl Streep chose “Good Bones” to read aloud. Smith’s success was the beginning of the end of her marriage; she made herself smaller to placate her unfaithful husband, yet he left anyway. In snippets, vignettes and meditations that read like poems, she describes making new memories with her kids and living fully into herself, sharing her unique story as well as universal truths about everything from work and parenting to loss and grief.

All My Knotted-Up Life: A Memoir 

Beth Moore
Tyndale House, 304 pages | Published February 21, 2023

Moore, a writer of popular women’s Bible studies, is often dismissed — first by men in her Southern Baptist tradition (who undermine her “right” to teach Scripture) and, admittedly, by women like me who struggle to understand her version of Christian womanhood. But Moore found her own voice when she called out evangelical leaders who defended presidential candidate Donald Trump’s brag about sexual assault. The backlash was swift, and Moore no longer felt welcome in the Baptist church. She takes us from her rural upbringing and childhood sexual abuse, to teaching aerobics in a church basement, finally leading thousands of women in study. Moore writes with candor and complexity, revealing her deep faith and love of Christ.

A Few Days Full of Trouble: Revelations on the Journey to Justice for My Cousin and Best Friend, Emmett Till 

Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr. and Christopher Benson
One World, 416 pages | Published January 10, 2023

What is left to say about the tragic torture and murder of Emmett Till? Parker, Till’s cousin and best friend, masterfully takes us back to the terror of Till’s abduction and the aftermath of his death before walking us through numerous efforts to bring Till’s killers to justice, reflecting on the biases and omissions of earlier reporting. Parker’s story is personal; by tracing the lengthy (yet ineffective) efforts to seek justice, Parker reveals new information as well as new perspectives on contemporary injustices.

Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story 

Alfred A. Knopf, 576 pages | Published November 1, 2022

Surrender is (at least) three memoirs in one — a rock star’s life story with the gravitas of a social justice activist, all supported by a life-long faith journey. It’s also a kind of poetry, as U2’s lead singer loosely relates his story to forty of the band’s most popular songs. Bono invites us into the unspoken grief and anger underlying family relationships, along with stories of the band’s early days before taking us along with him on his activism, including his campaign to persuade the world’s richest nations to forgive poorer nations’ debt. Bono has seen it all, and his memoir is punctuated with delightful stories such as being introduced to new music by Chancellor Angela Merkel or reminiscences from his long marriage, always with the understanding that life and work are informed by his deep Christian faith. 

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