THE BOOK NOOK: A trio of intense memoirs that go straight to the heart


Some superb memoirs have been issued recently. These phenomenal titles, all penned by women, just came out:

“The Bright Hour — A Memoir of Living and Dying” by Nina Riggs (Simon and Schuster, 311 pages, $25).

Nina Riggs learned she was dying. She lays it all out for us as her memoir opens: ’ “Dying isn’t the end of the world,’ my mother liked to joke after she was diagnosed as terminal.”

She continues: “I never understood what she meant, until the day I suddenly did — a few months after she died — when, at age38, the breast cancer I’d been in treatment for became metastatic and incurable.”

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Riggs was a poet, a wife, and the mother of three young sons. She takes us through the course of her treatment and her final days. Life went on: “We laugh at the dinner table. We snipe at each other. We try not to. We make summer plans.” As she accepted her fate with magnificent poise, my heart was trembling. A sublime transformation to witness.

“Memory’s Last Breath — Field Notes on Dementia” by Gerda Saunders (Hachette Books, 272 pages, $27).

Seven years ago, Gerda Saunders received a disturbing medical diagnosis. She had microvascular disease, a leading cause of dementia. Only Alzheimer’s produces more cases. Her neurologist told her at the time that she was “dementing.”

Saunders decided to retire. She was 60. Her co-workers gave her a blank journal for a parting gift. She began filling it with what she calls her “Dementia Field Notes.” As her mind was slowly changing, she immersed herself in analyzing the process.

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She approaches the subject, her own mind, with brilliance and not the slightest touch of self-pity. She looked back to her past and recorded the subtle changes that she was noticing in her behavior and in her thinking.

This memoir is utterly compelling.

“The Going and Goodbye — a Memoir” by Shuly Xochitl Cawood (Platypus Press, 172 pages, $13.98)

Shuly Cawood is another prolific poet. She brings that approach to her memoir “The Going and Goodbye.” Cawood, who grew up in Yellow Springs, distills her thoughts into potent paragraphs spilling over with emotions and intense imagery.

She writes about love; wanting it, finding it, giving it and losing it.

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Her quest for happiness and security are universal themes that will resonate with readers. As she looks back at her life she recalls seemingly inconsequential pivot points that spun her towards happiness or fear, confidence or loss, and the joys and defeats that were accrued.

Here’s a sample: “Those were leaving words, though I did not know it then.

“I feel foolish now for what I missed. I still believed in chances, in counseling, and the old American dream that if you work hard enough, you can succeed. Instead, in the weeks that followed, we had whittled away what we had, listing off each others’ failures until our marriage became a flimsy thing.”

This book is a treasure. Shuly’s father, Hap Cawood, was the long-time editorial page editor for the Dayton Daily News. Her mother Sonia taught Spanish for many years at Wright State and at the University of Dayton.



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