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Occasionally, a book appears like a shimmering treasure stumbled upon during a forest walk. This is certainly the case with Iliana Regan’s memoir Fieldwork: A Forager’s Memoir. Her first book, Burn the Place, was a finalist for the National Book Award, chronicling growing up gay on an Indiana farm and creating her own Michelin-starred restaurant in Chicago. In both memoirs, Regan is a hypnotizing writer who speaks to readers in a deeply personal way, writing in a natural voice that artfully interweaves past and present.

Regan’s exquisite, carefully planned prose paradoxically feels like a casual chat, the sort that might unfold spontaneously during a long weekend visit. As it turns out, some very lucky people can experience exactly that, because in 2020, Regan turned over her restaurant, Elizabeth, to her employees, and now she and her wife run the Milkweed Inn bed and breakfast in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Deep in the Hiawatha National Forest, 10 guests are treated to Regan’s culinary magic each weekend. During that time, Regan hopes they will experience something similar to the “magic of the farmhouse I grew up in.”

Fieldwork invites readers into this world, as Regan explores and forages in the nearby forest and river for food to use in meals at the inn. She also forages in her own mind for childhood memories, including those of her beloved parents and her grandmother Busia, a gifted cook who emigrated from Poland. Busia’s duck blood soup, or czarnina, exists in the author’s memories as a sort of magical potion, something akin to Marcel Proust’s madeleines. Regan also shares her ongoing struggles with recovering from alcoholism, the difficulties of running an inn during the COVID-19 pandemic, her fears of losing her parents, her anxieties about the world and her desire and attempts to become a parent. Alongside these thoughts, she captures the great beauty and comfort of the outdoors with the voice of a naturalist.

Regan has led an intriguing, unusual life, which gives her memoir a unique and compelling perspective. She notes, for instance, “Sometimes I think I would still like to be a man because I don’t feel like a woman. But I don’t feel like a man either. I feel more akin to a mushroom.” With both Burn the Place and Fieldwork, Regan has earned her place as not only a world-class chef but also a gifted memoirist.

As Iliana Regan forages in the forest for food to use in the meals she serves at her inn, she also forages in her own mind for shimmering, moving childhood memories.
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When Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney died in late 2021, he left behind an inspiring legacy, including the illustrations for more than 100 published books. It turns out that he also left behind an unfinished memoir about his boyhood during the late 1940s and ’50s, when he grew up on an all-Black block on East Earlham Street in Philadelphia.

According to a note from Pinkney’s editor, Andrea Spooner, Pinkney had not yet completed the dozens of graphite drawings he had intended to incorporate into Just Jerry: How Drawing Shaped My Life when he died. But he had finished the text and created many preparatory sketches as well as specific instructions for the book’s design. Fortunately for readers, Pinkney’s publisher chose to move forward with publication, using the available materials to achieve Pinkney’s goal of creating a visually immersive effect while also giving the book a lively, improvisatory feel. As it so happens, using sketchbook pages to illustrate a memoir about a young person’s growing identity as a visual artist is particularly apt: The narrator, like the art, is a work in progress. 

Pinkney, who had five siblings, describes seizing any available area in his overstuffed childhood home for drawing, including a favorite spot under the piano. He recalls how visits to his New Jersey relatives inspired his lifelong love of nature, and how much he admired his father’s ability to build things with his hands. Pinkney also writes frankly about the obstacles in his path, including segregation at school and coping with a learning disability. (He was diagnosed with dyslexia as an adult.) 

The most powerful aspects of Pinkney’s story involve the adults who recognized his innate artistic talents and gave them space to flourish. An elementary school teacher appointed Pinkney “class artist” to alleviate his difficulties with reading, and the owner of the newsstand where Pinkney found his first job allowed him to sell his drawings along with newspapers and introduced him to his first artistic mentor. Even Pinkney’s father, who worried about his son’s ability to make a living as an artist, encouraged his talents by letting him draw on the walls of his bedroom. Just Jerry is a moving and vivid reminder that a life in art can be made possible through hard work and dedication, and by giving talented young people the tools and support they need to succeed.

Just Jerry is a moving and vivid reminder that young people can have successful lives in the arts if they receive the tools and support they need.
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Set in the 1850s in a remote Swedish village close to the Arctic Circle, Whiting Award winner Hanna Pylväinen’s second novel, The End of Drum-Time, tells the story of Lutheran minister Lars Levi Laestadius, known as Mad Lasse for his impassioned sermons and strict religious observance. Mad Lasse’s goal is to convert the Sami people to Christianity and break the cycle of alcohol dependency that he believes threatens the very souls of the Indigenous reindeer herders. 

When shaman and prominent herder Biettar Rasti experiences a religious awakening in Mad Lasse’s church, it sets off a string of events that rips through the small village, leaving it profoundly shattered. Biettar leaves his diminished herd to his son, Ivvár, and takes up residence in Mad Lasse’s home, where he can study by the pastor’s side. 

Abandoned and angry, Ivvár begins to come into town more frequently, purchasing liquor from the village store and trying to rekindle a romance with Risten, a Sami woman from a successful herding family. But when Lasse’s daughter Willa crosses paths with Ivvár, they become infatuated with each other, and eventually Willa breaks ties with her family and community to join the Sami for their annual migration from the tundra to the sea. 

Pylväinen’s first book, We Sinners (2012), was a collection of interlocking stories about a deeply religious family struggling with loss of faith and the temptations of the secular world in modern-day Michigan. The final story, “Whisky Priest,” introduced Mad Lasse and his wife, Brita. Along with these characters, Pylväinen carries forward her sensitivity to the power, comfort and destructiveness of belief into her second novel. 

With engrossing details of reindeer herding, a beautifully rendered setting and powerful echoes of America’s own dark history of settlers forcing their religion on Indigenous peoples, The End of Drum-Time will leave a lasting impression on all readers of historical fiction. 

Echoing America’s dark history of settlers forcing their religion on Indigenous peoples, The End of Drum-Time will leave a lasting impression on all readers of historical fiction.

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