Judge’s Comments: Creative Nonfiction (2015)

Creative Nonfiction

Tara Ison
Reeling through Life: How I Learned to Live, Love and Die at the Movies
Soft Skull Press

Judge: Nicole Stewart Schlesinger

I am honored to award Reeling Through Life by Tara Ison with the 2015 PEN Texas Southwest Book Award for Creative Nonfiction.

Ison’s compelling concept for Reeling Through Life is processing her experiences and identity through the lens of contemporary American films. Her wonderfully revealing personal anecdotes strike a deep chord with anyone who has lived a life going to the cinema. We all engage our imaginations wondering how we would react or feel if we were in the situations we see onscreen. Little by little, the reader gets to know the different facets of Ison’s character through her reflections on the many movies her mother took her to as a young person. This early exposure to visual storytelling fed what became a lifelong fascination. Her imagination dances with what she sees onscreen resulting in teased out theories of how she might fit into each movie character’s scenario. She cleverly divides her extensive filmography into chapters with a “how to” angle then proceeds to analyze each significant film and share how it may have answered questions about previously misunderstood parts of herself.

As both film criticism and memoir, Reeling Through Life succeeds. This winning blended approach begs the reader to consider her own life at the movies. What characters inspired me? What films helped me to understand my life? This worthwhile internal dialogue continued even after the last page for this happy reader.

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