Nothing Left to Burn: A Memoir
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

Nothing Left to Burn: A Memoir

3.58 of 5 stars 3.58  ·  rating details  ·  76 ratings  ·  19 reviews
"Nothing Left to Burn" is a remarkable memoir that looks into the life of a family that has spent years harboring secrets, both dark and volatile. It eloquently tells the story of a son's relationship with his father, the fire chief and a local hero, and his grandfather, a serial arsonist.
When Jay Varner, fresh out of college, returns home to work for the local newspaper,...more
ebook, 304 pages
Published September 21st 2010 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 201)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
This is a brilliant, touching and transporting memoir.
Jane Hammons
When I read a review of this book and saw what it was about, I knew I had to read it. A lot of memoirs seem to stretch rather thin life substance into 200-300 pages. Not so this book. The story is deep; the writing is crisp and clear. For years I have shied away from reading memoir because some seem so embellished that they lack credibility, or they come in a series that seems to tell the same story in a way that I find redundant rather than deepened by reflection (loved Mary Karr's The Liars Cl...more
Linda M
This is set in my home town! How can I not know this guy? I am really looking forward to a good, cathartic read when it comes from Amazon.

Later, after finishing. . .

Everyone experiences pain in life. Varner has experienced pain, and has done the ordinary with it--he has become bitter and estranged from others. The extraordinary story comes from an extraordinary response to pain. Nothing Left to Burn tells a tale with potential, but it falls flat because the author has no unique response. There...more
After graduating from Susquehanna University, Jay Varner got a job back in his home town reporting about fires for the local newspaper. That's all well and good, but throughout the course of this book, you get an interesting family background. Jay's reporting fires. His late father was a well-loved fire chief. His father's father? The town arsonist.

This book examines Jay's relationship with his father and grandfather through this connection of fire. A very interesting take on such relationships...more
Tim Lowe

I am a sucker for memoirs with troubled father-son relationships; you can guess why....

If a book is compared to Rick Bragg's All Over But the Shoutin' on the back cover, well, it would be difficult for me to not consider reading it.

I recently finished Jay Varner's NOTHING LEFT TO BURN, and it was a thought-provoking book. As a boy, Varner resented the fact that his father wasn't around more -- he was the town's Fire Chief and was always having to rush away to fight fires, control emergency situa...more
Most of the book is a sweet and nostalgic story of growing up poor (his father is excited about them moving up to a double-wide trailer) in a dying part of America. Although Jay actually grew up in the 80s, it has a feel of older times, the 60s or even older, with wood-burning stoves, town parades, and shoveling snow. The book is a touching homage to his father, who Jay as an adult is starting to understand. Not only was being the fire chief a position of real responsibility and respect in the t...more
Jay's father, Denton, was the chief of a volunteer fire department in a small town. His career started early, and he rose to be one of the town's most recognizable mascots. He was known for his devotion to the community and his singular focus on both preventing and fighting fires. It comes as little surprise in the reading that Denton's own father, Lucky, was an arsonist. Jay describes growing up in such a volatile environment, where much of the community was clued in to the disparate activities...more
It's no secret that I love a good memoir. And this one has it. Jay grows up in your standard small town, where everyone knows everyone's business, and his family is… less than desirable. Though they live in the same house, he has nearly no relationship with his father. If Dad isn't at work, he's at the firehouse, which he makes the first priority in his life. Dad's parents aren't much better; Jay's grandfather, Lucky, has this odd obsession with fire. Everyone knows it, but no one discusses it.

Kate Sweeney
A young man covers the fire/police beat in his small town's local paper. His father was the fire chief. His grandfather? The town arsonist. Aside from these compelling facts about Nothing Left to Burn, it's just a very well written, engrossing read. I tore through it in about three days last week while visiting New Hampshire, where we were surrounded by mountains and blessedly chilly air. It's a coming-of-age book about the death of illusions which somehow functions perfectly in a world of dying...more
George Ilsley
It is well known among fire investigators that people who set fires often are also fire fighters. Varner, whose father was a fire chief, seems never to have heard of this. This account is very focused on the personal, and displays little journalistic impulse. For example, he often seems just to take his mother's version of events (regarding relations with others in the town) as the truth, without considering alternative explanations (maybe she was widely perceived as snobbish - she did after all...more
I discovered Nothing Left to Burn when reading an article by the author in the winter 2011 issue of the Oxford American. In the article Varner says that his mother stopped speaking to him after he wrote this book. Obviously, I had to read it. After some shenanigans with my local library, I ordered it off Amazon and read it in three days. The writing is only good, not great, but Varner treats his family with fairness and he bravely peels back the layers of his own life to share with the reader. W...more
This book has interesting and detailed stories of the author's childhood, but I found myself skimming through to get to the climax and was somewhat disappointed when I got there.
An unflinching account of growing up in a dysfunctional family in small town Pennsylvania. If you think you already know what this book is about, think again. This is a family fascinated with fire. Some of them like to set fires; one spends his life putting them out. Some have compared this book to the work of Larry Brown (which is high praise in my opinion). But it is not unwarranted; this is a well written, painfully honest book.
Jean Rodenbough
Jay Varner has made a courageous and well-written study of his family, which involves fire in many varieties of activity. His grandfather was obssessed with fire to the point of arson, his father becomes the local fire chief and Varner writes about growing up in such an environment. The story is sensitive and perceptive. I have a review of this on Amazon also.
kinda boring, long, drawn out and hard to keep going however; there were some good parts and things i could relate to. over all i probably wouldnt read a book like this again but it was alright... iv deffenetly read worse lol
Emma Bolden
I bought this book when it came out, and now that I've finished it, I'm really sad that I didn't read it sooner. An absolutely mesmerizing book, beautifully written and well-crafted. I couldn't put it down.
Barbara Finkelstein
A gracefully written memoir, with all of a memoir's brilliant flaws. Jay's Bookpod audio essay:
Andrew went to High School with the author. It was very interesting reading about the town they grew up in.
Darren Mcgill
Darren Mcgill is currently reading it
Jul 14, 2014
Rachel marked it as to-read
Jun 18, 2014
Ellen marked it as to-read
Feb 22, 2014
Dave's Book
Dave's Book marked it as to-read
Jan 29, 2014
Debra marked it as to-read
Jan 19, 2014
Inspirame marked it as to-read
Jan 10, 2014
Allison marked it as to-read
Jan 05, 2014
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
First Thoughts 1 7 Jul 14, 2010 08:51AM  
Jay Varner grew up in Central Pennsylvania. He earned a B.A. in creative writing from Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA. He helped found The Susquehanna Review, one of the few national literary journals dedicated solely to undergraduate writing. He received his M.F.A. in creative nonfiction from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. While in graduate school he taught creative writin...more
More about Jay Varner...

Share This Book