Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy (Harper, $14) and Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett (Harper, $15). These two books are as intertwined as the lives of the women who wrote them. Grealy, a gifted writer whose face was disfigured by childhood cancer, and Patchett, who would become a famous novelist, met in college and formed a remarkable, heartbreaking friendship. The story of Lucy's struggle is told, so beautifully, from two distinct perspectives.
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans (Mariner, $18). A guidebook to America's Dust Bowl–era soul. Through Evans's brilliant photographs and Agee's evocative prose, you can practically feel and smell and see exactly how it was in those sharecropper shacks, right down to the kind of nails they put in the floorboards.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Grand Central, $8). Lee's novel is filled with details and characters so familiar to me that, when I first read it, I felt like it was speaking to me in my own voice. I loved that Atticus Finch gave Scout the space to be the little hellion she was — not unlike how my father treated me.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (Scribner, $16). Walls survived a gypsy childhood, dragged from town to town by brilliant but unstable parents, including a mother who cared more about her art than her children. Yet Walls had the tenacity to finish school and pull her siblings out of poverty with her. The most unforgettable scene: when Walls, who becomes a New York society columnist, realizes that a homeless woman she sees rooting through an East Village Dumpster is her mother.
The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow by Opal Whiteley (Penguin, $17). In a long foreword, Benjamin Hoff explores the mystery of Opal Whiteley, whose naïve and touching nature diary, written in crayon in phonetic English when she was 5, was a huge best seller in 1920 — until it was denounced as a hoax. My friend's daughter, who has Asperger's, was mesmerized by Opal's diary when she read it. Whether it was real or not, it spoke to her.
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