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Nothing Left to Burn: A Memoir
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Nothing Left to Burn: A Memoir

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  98 Ratings  ·  21 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, he
ebook, 303 pages
Published September 21st 2010 by Algonquin Books
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Aug 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a brilliant, touching and transporting memoir.
Jane Hammons
Mar 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 16, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sep 15, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, wnba
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
Author Jay Varner and I have a few things in common.

First, we both grew up in small, blue-collar town Pennsylvania. Second, we witnessed the demise of the factory world (and the birth of the Rust Belt) during our lifetime. Third, we both left for college only to return home with college degrees in English (a degree that is bewildering to blue collar families). Finally, when we did return home, both of us ended up in jobs as local newspaper reporters -- a position that many people did understand
Tim Lowe
Nov 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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
Dec 25, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

Jan 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Kate Sweeney
Sep 07, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 08, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
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
Jul 01, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 21, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 30, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Oct 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Julie Saint
Mar 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
One of the best memoirs I've ever read.
Jan 18, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Andrew went to High School with the author. It was very interesting reading about the town they grew up in.
Kallie Spaulding
too depressing
Barbara Finkelstein
A gracefully written memoir, with all of a memoir's brilliant flaws. Jay's Bookpod audio essay:
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Katie Plunkett
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William Lawrence
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Sep 29, 2012
Kathy Erskine
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First Thoughts 1 7 Jul 14, 2010 08:51AM  
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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
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