memoir · nonfiction · review

A $500 House in Detroit by Drew Philp

500houseI lived and worked in metro Detroit for a number of years, so the memoir of a young guy moving to the city and fixing up a house was interesting just because I know the landscape. I was also drawn to the book because I’ve had some long conversations with people who are or have renovated historical homes in Detroit. It’s a tough thing to do, and it’s very different than HGTV makes home renovation appear.

Besides the subject matter making me a little leery, I was leery about trying a memoir: memoirs depend so much on the voice of the author and if I feel like he/she is leaving out lots of stuff. And I was also leery about a book that sounded like a good book or blog pitch (young guy rehabs a house he bought for $500 without foundation money). And I have to say, for the first quarter of the book, the self-righteousness was a bit much. But Drew grows up during the course of the book. And the story kept moving along because it followed his house renovation. The ending was the livable house, you know.

I liked this book, and I liked the people Philp met and befriended over the multiple years he’s been in Detroit. It’s a book that brings up lots of issues to discuss, and I don’t think that’s the case for memoirs that I would call more gimmicky than this one.

A $500 House in Detroit by Drew Philp

Scribner, April 2017

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

 

 

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memoir · review

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

This is the best memoir I’ve read this year, and it may be one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. A couple years ago I read the absolutely harrowing and heartbreaking Levy piece in the New Yorker called Thanksgiving in Mongolia, which is about her having a late miscarriage in Mongolia. This book contains that piece in part and captures her adult life as journalist and relationship leading to parenthood, and it’s unsparing and direct and doesn’t feel like it’s leaving out tons of stuff, which is my usual complaint about memoirs. The other thing this book has going for it is that she’s writing about her fairly recent past instead of her childhood, like some memoirists do.

Levy has written lots of interesting pieces, and her interview on the Longform podcast was fascinating as well. I mean, of course I’m drawn to this story because her story is absolutely terrifying but it happens every day, without people talking about it. I think it’s important in that respect because the subject is so not talked about. And it’s not couched in self-help or therapeutic journeys, though it is a part of the story. Her narrative voice is so unflinching that it’s compelling.

rules-do-not-apply

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

Random House, March 2017

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.