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Gonville: A Memoir
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Gonville: A Memoir

3.36  ·  Rating Details ·  94 Ratings  ·  20 Reviews
In powerful and spirited prose, Peter Birkenhead recounts a childhood spent trying to make sense of his father, a terrifying, charismatic presence who brutalized his family physically and emotionally at the same time that he enchanted them with his passion and whimsy. An avid gun collector yet an anti-war activist, a popular economics professor and a wife-swapping nudist, ...more
ebook, 272 pages
Published March 2nd 2010 by Free Press (first published 2010)
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I won this on first reads.

The way Peter Birkenhead recounts his childhood is often portrayed in a humorous light. I often couldn't help but laugh outright when he is describing some of the things that happened to him throughout his life. Like how every morning,when he was a teenager, his father had him hold his feet while he did naked sit-ups.

The outrageous part of the book was the way his father beat his mother and brothers. How he regularly would turn something as mundane as a hotel forgetti
Jan 24, 2010 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
engrossing and inspiring.
Christy Stewart
Actually funny and written well for a memoir (meaning it wasn't too self-serving)
Feb 04, 2010 Steven rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I recently won this book called "Gonville: A Memoir" by Peter Birkenhead from

Biographies are typically not my type of reading material- which would explain half of why I struggled to read this so slowly. The other half, the half I just realized, would be how it brings me back to my childhood.

This book tells the story of Peter's own personal childhood/adolescense (sp?), and adulthood. It kept eating away at my mind how would I write a review on someone's personal life? I can't
Feb 06, 2010 Jo rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads, memoirs
Favorite episode: The Squirrel Channels Rocky, pg. 225-226
Favorite quote: "You know, some people make a great contribution to the world, but most people, most people live their lives quietly, making their mark by the impact they have on those around them. Through their role as 'bearer of the torch,' by passing on humanity to their progeny." p. 245 (Thus, I feel, the essence of success.)

Conclusion: The squirrel makes it. Without the squirrel, I think I'd be a lot more dissatisfied, as most memoir
Feb 08, 2010 Leah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-read
I won this book as a first reads give away. I generally like memoirs and I was expecting something similar to The Glass Castle...a description of a tough childhood. A memoir wouldn't be very exciting if there wasn't some challenge to overcome. This is basically what I got with this book, a description of a crazy (probably clinically) dad and how his behavior affected his children. The beginning was tough to follow though and it really took me a long time to get interested in this book. I feel li ...more
Ken Yliniemi
Jan 19, 2016 Ken Yliniemi rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I heard an interview of this author on Minnesota Public Radio. It sounded like a book and memoir that I would be really very much interested in and a great read! I was very much disappointed. Skipping the first two parts of the book and getting to the third part would have been best. I did not like the tangents the author kept going down, and all type of writing that seemed to be insincere and geared towards an artsy interpretation. It did not go well with my style and enjoyment of a memoir that ...more
Sally Anne
Jun 09, 2010 Sally Anne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Look, this book is not great enduring literature, but it is a hell of a good read, almost as funny as David Sedaris, with more depth. I gave it five stars because it was a total sleeper. i was picking up about 8 books I had on hold when, with arms loaded, I this one jumped out of the new book section at me. Very glad I read it.
Feb 06, 2010 Karen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book had some interesting stories, and it did keep me engaged, but it seemed to me to lack some continuity among chapters. There was no overarching thing to me. But if you're looking for a few disjointed stories about a dysfunctional family, this is a good one!
Apr 17, 2011 Katie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"I wish so bad that you were all bad instead of almost good"

I loved this book because it might as well have been the story of my life and my father. I found myself laughing and crying. I did not want this book to end!
Nikki Dore Parker
I had a hard time in the beginning of this book, but once I got past the first 3 chapters - I was hooked.
Gonville is about a boy coming to terms about his cruel and unusual father. He adds some humor when relating stories of dysfunctional family.
Jan 20, 2011 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this fascinating 'though it wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea. Story of a violent nontheless charming and charismatic father; the confusion of a child growing up with this. wonderfully written.
Beverly Hollandbeck
Another memoir from a child of an abusive father. Sadly, so many of these have been written. This one was interesting. This son managed to continue a relationship with his father, in spite of the terror his father created during the son's childhood.
Aug 05, 2015 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
His father.......Yeah
Dec 20, 2010 Bruce rated it really liked it
Reading a memoir, even a weird one like this, makes me want to write my own, for the benefit of my grandchildren, perhaps.
Clif Smith
An unusual life to be sure, but it really got repetitive and uneventful in the latter chapters.
Feb 25, 2010 Emily rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I must admit some bias being cousins with the author but I am riveted to this memoir! Can't wait for it to hit the streets next week.
Alas, while it sounded good, I could not engage this book, probably more my state of mind than the quality of the writing.
Oct 19, 2010 Lynn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written memoir. Enjoyed it very much. Can't imaging growing up with such a horrible father.
Linda Tiessen-Wiebe
Jan 14, 2011 Linda Tiessen-Wiebe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010-read
Started Jan. 5
Maureen Gebelein
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Peter Birkenhead is the author of GONVILLE: A Memoir (Free Press) He is a regular contributor to, where he writes personal essays and cultural criticism. An essay about Oprah's endorsement of The Secret was the most-read piece on the site in 2007. He's also a regular contributor to Marie Claire Magazine, and has written for GQ, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune and other publica ...more
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