Lion Forge: No Ivy League by Hazel Newlevant

The Museum of Words: A Memoir of Language, Writing, and Mortality

In 2015, Georgia Blain (Between a Wolf and a Dog) was diagnosed with a tumor in the language center of her brain. The Museum of Words is her memoir of the time after, as she comes to terms with her own mortality and the off-balance feeling of struggling with words, when writing was both her career and her identity. "I felt as though my speech was impaired to the same extent as if I were trying to dress myself with one hand tied around my back," she writes. Meanwhile, Blain watches two other writers who were close to her lose their grip on words--her mother, Anne, who suffers from Alzheimer's, and her friend Rosie, who endures the same type of glioblastoma as Blain's. She looks to these women, as well as her daughter, to contemplate how language functions in their lives as writers, readers, travelers and children.

Blain, who died in 2016, recognizes how her story falls into a history of other cancer memoirs, including those by Cory Taylor, Jenny Diski and Tom Lubbock. Some of her book's most clear-eyed, resonant passages are when Blain examines how difficult it is to capture reality when writing about oneself: "You know you are creating a fiction.... The line between the story of yourself and your actual self becomes hard to navigate." She notes the paradox of writing about life while trying to live it, a perspective that perhaps comes only from looking back from the end. --Katy Hershberger, freelance writer and bookseller