The lost chapters

The cover of Leslie Schwartz's book The Lost Chapters

“This isn’t just a story of hardship; it’s also a story of atonement, transcendence and grace, and of a passionate love for words. Scenes from this book will burrow in and stay with you for a long, long time.”

Hope Edelman, Author – Motherless Mothers

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 Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude to more contemporary accounts of resilience like Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, Schwartz’s reading list is woven together with visceral recollections of both her daily humiliations and small triumphs with 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 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.


what people are saying

“It is not likely that you have read a memoir like this before. Rich in grace, vividly written and it ushers us all into a re-thinking of transformation, shame, and the glorious connective tissue of our shared humanity. The weaving of literature and the wisdom of the trustworthy guides at the margins will alter your heart and restore you to the exquisite mutuality possible for us all.”
Gregory Boyle, Bestselling Author
Tattoos On The Heart & Barking To The Choir
“What an incredible book. Leslie Schwartz’s story would be a page turner on its own, but she’s also crafted an elegant tribute to literature and all its transcendent powers. The Lost Chapters is honest, erudite, and infused with just the right proportions of shock, awe, humor and grace. I read it with unceasing admiration and haven’t stopped thinking about it since.”
Megan Daum, Bestselling Author
The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects Of Discusssion
“Brave, bold, honest, raw — this book cracks open conversations about addiction and incarceration and, in just 247 pages, makes them infinitely more complex. Aided by the 21 books she read during six weeks in county jail, Leslie Schwartz dives deep beneath the facts of her story to bring back nuggets of wisdom and insight. This isn’t just a story of hardship; it’s also a story of atonement, transcendence and grace, and of a passionate love for words. Scenes from this book will burrow in and stay with you for a long, long time.”
Hope Edelman, Bestselling Author
Motherless Mothers
“A deeply affecting memoir of incarceration. How large a finite piece of time can be, and what infinities are contained within it. Schwartz’s relationships in jail were the most moving parts of the book, revealing the deeper tragedy — how our system of incarcerating poor and non-white people has robbed the world of these defiant, beautiful and wild spirits. Schwartz has produced a real life-changer of a book. This is time more than served, it’s time redeemed.”
Janet Fitch, Bestselling Author
White Oleander, The Revolution of Marina M.
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.
Schwartz is an excellent writer. This book is intense, riveting, and personal…her treatment at the hands of the jail staff exacerbates what would already be an excruciating experience and turns it into a virtual hell. I highly recommend this powerful book.
–Albert J. Menaster, Head Deputy Public Defender, Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office
April 2018
An intimate chronicle of the cruel and dehumanizing experience of incarceration. At the age of 53, Schwartz (Angels Crest, 2004, etc.), a fiction writer, essayist, and writing teacher, began a 90-day sentence at a Los Angeles county jail for DUI. By the time she began her term, she had been sober for six months, following a devastating 414-day relapse of drinking and drugs. In “a chronic state of blackout,” her writing career tanked; her husband, teenage daughter, and most of her friends left her; twice, she nearly died from an overdose. Arrested four times, mostly for DUI, she crashed two cars and lost her license and most of her money. Ashamed and grateful that she never killed anyone when driving drunk, she was overcome with anger and self-pity despite realizing the pain that her alcoholism had inflicted on those closest to her. “Sometimes I would look at you when you were drunk and wish you were dead,” her daughter told her. For Schwartz, incarceration was both “soul crushing” and ultimately liberating. Jail was a leveler, where everyone—prostitutes, addicts, murderers, and women too poor to pay parking tickets—was reduced to a barcoded wristband. In jail, she reflects, “it was impossible to stereotype. Everything I thought I knew about what and who people supposedly were was forever stripped from me.” She forged close, empathetic friendships with her cellmates: obese Duckie, who took Schwartz under her wing; “tough, wise Wynell,” a prostitute who revealed a life story of poverty, violence, and fear. The author witnessed “the depravity of power” that pervades the criminal justice system. Besides her relationships with her fellow prisoners, she found solace in 22 books—fiction, poetry, and the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous—that she read hungrily. From Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, she learned that “change is only possible through self-forgiveness,” and “sanity meant I had to stop blaming everyone for the fury of my addiction.” An absorbing, emotionally raw memoir.

Amazon Reviews

Book clubs get ready: God, recovery, the magic of books and women’s kinship, all revealed inside county jail. A discussion-starter that is at turns brutal, tender, hilarious, and loving. An amazing story that is full of amazing stories.
Spencer Woods
A Stunner
Three days ago, I finished reading Lost Chapters. Technically, the writing is superb, but that's just the beginning. So many haunting scenes (which I will not reveal here.) Many questions still swim in my mind, but I like them better unanswered. I don't want to complete everything with a check mark, especially on such a wondrous creation. I also loved the meditation on time. It reminded me of: Time present and time past Are both perhaps present in time future, And time future contained in time past. T.S. Eliot (From the Four Quartets, my favorite poem in the English language.) I want to thank the author for writing this book, what a gift to humanity, what an accomplishment.
A Gift to Humanity
As the days and now weeks have passed since I read Leslie Schwartz's wonderful book, fragments of it continue to surface in my thoughts. In part , it's so memorable because of its many, deeply affecting facets. It's a memoir of personal struggle and renewal. It's a full throated celebration of the power of literature. It's an anger producing but deeply humanizing social justice tale that points to the everyday abuses in our jail system. It's a character rich celebration of the strength and resilience of women, even those---especially those---to whom life has dealt some very bad hands. And it's a book filled with deliciously smart, often wickedly funny writing. In short, it's the kind of book you want your friends to read so you can discuss with them afterward.
JG. Rose
Stellar and very affecting. Continues to stay with me…
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