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In Will Schwalbe’s memoir We Should Not Be Friends: The Story of a Friendship, the wry writer of books-about-books (see The End of Your Life Book Club and Books for Living) turns his attention to an unexpected friendship that originated in a secret society at Yale. Unlike any secret society I’ve heard of, this one aimed at connecting very different folks in a purposeful community during their senior year of college. And members Schwalbe and Chris Maxey could hardly have been more different.

Early in the memoir, Schwalbe differentiates between nerds and jocks, positioning himself (theater kid, gay, literature major) in the former category and Maxey (wrestler, scuba diver, avid motorcyclist) in the latter. When the two met, they repelled each other like misaligned magnets; something about Maxey’s boisterous masculinity put Schwalbe on edge. But they began to listen to each other, due in part to the rituals of the society, and an unlikely trust began to form.

We Should Not Be Friends then veers from this nostalgic origin story into the rushing sweep of adulthood. Early dreams and uncertain beginnings gather momentum and fling the two friends through various adventures and, as time unfolds, into the stressful compression tunnel of middle age. Health concerns, financial concerns, marital concerns, dreams realized and abandoned, open communication and years of silence: All of it unfolds here, controlled through Schwalbe’s careful narration as he effectively shows how an fragile alliance in college yielded years of rewards.

As Schwalbe and Maxey share their lives, it’s obvious how much they support and even change each other, in part because of how different they are. “Had it not been for Maxey, the me that is here today wouldn’t be me,” Schwalbe writes, and he goes on to illustrate the peculiar familiarity that emerges between long-haul friends who have known each other across life stages, geographies and decades. If you are someone who appreciates the people in your life, especially those whose presence seems serendipitous, this book will feel at once fresh and familiar.

Will Schwalbe’s memoir captures the peculiar familiarity that emerges between long-haul friends who have known each other across life stages, geographies and decades.
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John Hendrickson’s Life on Delay: Making Peace With a Stutter is the kind of memoir that educates, endears, impacts and devastates, often simultaneously. A journalist and senior editor at The Atlantic, Hendrickson is best known for his 2019 interview with then-presidential candidate Joe Biden. The resulting piece had little to do with politics. Rather, Hendrickson’s article centered on Biden’s lifelong stutter and its influence on everything from his childhood to public speaking. The perceptible beating heart of the piece is Hendrickson himself, who tackled the subject of Biden’s stutter in a way only someone on the inside could. Hendrickson also speaks with a stutter, one that he deems severe. Life on Delay picks up after Hendrickson’s article went viral, when he was left to tackle media attention focused on the disability he had spent most of his life trying not to think about.

John Hendrickson shares what happened when he stopped regarding his stutter as an obstacle and started viewing it as a fact.

Although the book is predominantly a memoir, covering everything from adolescent bullying to teenage angst, it also includes a wide selection of interviews with other people who stutter. These conversations highlight Hendrickson’s journey from reluctant stuttering icon to a person at peace with himself and his stutter. His writing is unflinching as he depicts the daily life of someone with a disability only 1% of the U.S. population has. Personal yet informative, Life on Delay delves into the internal poeticism of someone who feels perpetually on the fringe while offering tangible advice regarding what to say or not say to someone with a stutter. By combining his own personal narrative with others’ life stories, Hendrickson provides a kaleidoscopic portrait of stutterers’ lived experiences, including creating music and art, facing childhood trauma, having their own “coming out” experiences and accepting disability as a part of their identity.

Life on Delay is not a disability memoir that focuses on trying to find a cure for stuttering, nor does it fall into the category of sentimental, inspirational stories of overcoming impossible odds. Instead, the book promotes a simple message: Obtaining true peace comes from accepting every part of yourself, including the things that bring you shame. It’s a universal message from a voice that has been misunderstood at best, demeaned and diminished at worst, making its impact on the reader all the more profound.

John Hendrickson’s Life on Delay: Making Peace With a Stutter is a memoir that educates, endears, impacts and devastates, often simultaneously.
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The word windfall conjures images of unanticipated abundance: sweet apples fallen from the tree, ripe for the taking; money unexpectedly found in a coat pocket; or a surprise inheritance of wealth. Erika Bolstad, journalist and former investigative reporter for Climatewire, offers these kinds of unexpected riches in Windfall, a personal family story wrapped in a history of mineral rights, the oil and gas industry, the hard realities for women homesteading in the early 20th century and the American myths of exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny.

This heartfelt, meticulously researched memoir hinges on the author’s great-grandmother Anna Josephine Sletvold, a daughter of Norwegian immigrants who set up a homestead in North Dakota in the early 1900s. In 1907, according to family lore, Anna disappeared. 

More than 100 years later, Bolstad’s mother received a surprise $2,400 check from an oil company—a payment for leasing the mineral rights beneath the surface of the lands where Anna’s homestead once was, at the edge of North Dakota’s profitable Bakken oil fields. She was jubilant. “We could be rich” had been whispered throughout their family history, starting in the early 1950s when North Dakota began its quest for oil, and when Bolstad’s grandparents entered into a lease agreement for royalties on mineral rights.

A short time later, Bolstad’s mother died, leaving behind a mystery that sparked the author’s investigative bent: What exactly had happened to Anna? And was the possibility of riches from oil-related wealth a reality or a chimera? Bolstad writes that this mystery “was my inheritance, my windfall. My story to tell.”

Into the personal fabric of this memoir, in which Bolstad recounts her search for how Anna was “lost,” the author weaves a robust history of the Homestead Act; the rise and fall of the North Dakota oil fields; the often nefarious practices companies employed to make huge profits at the expense of lands, workers and the public; and the political, economic and environmental implications of America’s never-ending quest for energy—and wealth.

With so much urgent concern over climate change and the impacts—environmental, political, economic and social—we humans have on our planet, Windfall is a timely, insightful and important read.

Erika Bolstad’s heartfelt memoir is also a robust discussion of the environmental implications of America’s never-ending quest for energy—and wealth.

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