Leslie Schwartz's powerful, skillfully woven memoir of redemption and reading, as told through the list of books she read as she served a 90 day jail sentence
In 2014, novelist Leslie Schwartz was sentenced to 90 days in Los Angeles County Jail for a DUI and battery of an officer. It was the most harrowing and holy experience of her life.
Following a 414-day relapse into alcohol and drug addiction after more than a decade clean and sober, Schwartz was sentenced and served her time with only six months' sobriety. The damage she inflicted that year upon her friends, her husband, her teenage daughter, and herself was nearly impossible to fathom. Incarceration might have ruined her altogether, if not for the stories that sustained her while she was behind bars--both the artful tales in the books she read while there, and, more immediately, the stories of her fellow inmates. With classics like Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome to contemporary accounts like Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken, Schwartz's reading list is woven together with visceral recollections of both her daily humiliations and small triumphs within the county jail system. Through the stories of others--whether rendered on the page or whispered in a jail cell--she learned powerful lessons about how to banish shame, use guilt for good, level her grief, and find the lost joy and magic of her astonishing life.
Told in vivid, unforgettable prose, The Lost Chapters uncovers the nature of shame, rage, and love, and how instruments of change and redemption come from the unlikeliest of places.
Novelist Schwartz (Angels Crest) turns to nonfiction in this reflective account of her brief time behind bars. Following an arrest for driving under the influence (and a dubious charge of battery of an officer), the writing teacher found herself in Los Angeles County Jail, sentenced to 90 days, of which 37 were eventually served. Married and the mother of an adolescent daughter, Schwartz had been sober for 10 years before relapsing into drug and alcohol addiction, and a series of blackouts that culminated in her arrest, imprisonment, and the haunting realization that she had lost entire "chapters" of her life. While in jail, she read (she was allowed to order three books per week) and found inspiration and escape in the writings of Ruth Ozeki (A Tale for the Time Being) and Edith Wharton (Ethan Frome), among many others. She was a middle-aged Jewish woman among primarily black and Latino prisoners, and there she learned to let go of self-blame and shame, and reached out to her cellmates (a 21-year-old prostitute named Wynell, and Qaneak, who killed a cop) with kindness and generosity (for example, by teaching yoga). In return, she found sisterhood, support, and love. The author's heartfelt story of self-acceptance and redemption will captivate readers with its honesty, vulnerability, and array of memorable characters.