New(ish) Memoirs from Nathan Rabin, Sloane Crosley, and James Ellroy

Nearly a  year after earning good reviews, Nathan Rabin’s memoir The Big Rewind is now available in paperback (the cover sports the claim that the book now includes “EVEN MORE BITING WIT AND UNWISE CANDOR”). Rabin, if you don’t know, is the head writer for the AV Club, a website I am hopelessly addicted to; he’s also responsible for some of the site’s best regular columns, including “My Year of Flops,” where he revisits films that, y’know, flopped, “THEN! That’s What They Called Music!,” where he subjects himself to listening to and writing about those NOW! CDs, and “Nashville or Bust,” a year-long analysis of country music from an avowed hip-hop fan. If I sound prejudicially predisposed to liking Rabin’s memoir, I am. I can’t help it. In The Big Rewind, Rabin revisits the various pop culture touchstones through which he lived his strange, often sad life–so Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs becomes the lens through which he details his thankless years working for Blockbuster and Nirvana’s In Utero is a key to understanding Rabin’s time in a group foster home. There’s a story arc–depression, a missing mother, suicide attempts, redemption–and plenty of irony to keep it under control. At the same time, there’s too much heart in Rabin’s writing for you not to care. Recommended. The Big Rewind is new in trade paperback from Scribner.

Sloane Crosley’s new collection of memory essays, How Did You Get This Number, finds the witty, observational young lass being witty and observational in and out of New York City–but mostly in. There are trips to Portugal and Paris, and a weird wedding in Alaska. There’s a remembrance of all the childhood pets that didn’t make it. There’s a story about buying furniture of questionable origin off the back of a truck. At times Crosley’s archness can be grating, as dry observations pile one upon the other, but her gift for exacting, sharp detail and her willingness to let her guard down at just the right moment in most of the selections make for a funny and compelling read. I’m still not sure why there’s no question mark in the title, though. How Did You Get This Number is new in hardback from Riverhead Books.

I just got my advance review copy of James Ellroy’s forthcoming memoir The Hilliker Curse, so I haven’t had time to read much of it, but the story so far is morbidly fascinating (like, you know, an Ellroy novel. But this is real. Because it’s a memoir). In 1958, James’s mother Jean Hilliker had divorced her husband and begun binge drinking. When she hit him one night, the ten year old boy wished that she would die. Three months later she was found murdered on the side of the road–the case remains unsolved. The memoir details Ellroy’s extreme guilt; his sincere belief that he had literally cursed his mother pollutes his life, particularly in his complex relationships with women. Full review forthcoming. The Hilliker Curse is available September 7th, 2010 from Knopf.

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