I added this memoir to my list after reading a personal essay about knitting, by Maynard, in Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting. The mention of her r...moreI added this memoir to my list after reading a personal essay about knitting, by Maynard, in Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting. The mention of her relationship with J.D. Salinger was what particularly caught my attention. But the fact that the book was in audiobook format (my preferred method of "reading" memoirs, these days) was why it didn't end up languishing on my to-read list for a couple of years.
I am always amazed and impressed by the bravery of authors who write memoirs that do not flatter them at all but instead reveal the utter depth of their naivete, lack of common sense, spitefulness, or other personal shortcomings. Maynard, as a young adult, embodied the first two of these in spades.
At eighteen, and just beginning college at Yale, she fell under the sway of fifty-three year old author J.D. "Jerry" Salinger--first through a lively correspondence and then by phone and in person. She was starry-eyed for him, felt like the most precious and special girl in the world for having caught his attentions. She was also (though she didn't learn this until years later) not the first nor the last to fall prey to Salinger's celebrity and charms. But, not only did she fall in with Salinger, she quit Yale to move in with him. She struggled with anorexia and bulimia. She declined to do any promotion for her first memoir because of Salinger's hatred of the media. Although Maynard has found some success in her writing career, I wonder how much she hurt herself by following Salinger's advice--which essentially sabotaged her career in its infancy--and then by her other decisions after her relationship with Salinger abruptly ended.
This was an interesting story to read, presented in an objective way where Maynard allows the reader to pass their own judgments on the actions of her, her parents, and J.D. Salinger.
The beginning of the memoir greatly reminded me of Augusten Burroughs's childhood in A Wolf at the Table, because they both dealt with alcoholic fathers and their families were similarly dysfunctional (although Maynard's father was much milder, when intoxicated, then Burroughs's). But that childhood dysfunctionality went on to greatly effect both authors in adulthood.
I wouldn't say I've read a lot of nonfiction stories about knitting. But what I have read has brought me to expect a lot of wit and humor, as well as...moreI wouldn't say I've read a lot of nonfiction stories about knitting. But what I have read has brought me to expect a lot of wit and humor, as well as a point. In contrast to those expectations, many of these personal essays were meandering and barely cohesive. As a book with all professional writers as contributors, I have to say I was rather disappointed in the quality of many of the stories. Many of them (particularly at the beginning of the collection) came off as if they were written for a warm-up writing prompt and then published as-is, with very little editing or refining. The stories were also very arbitrarily arranged in alphabetical order by last name of the contributors, which didn't at all help with the flow of the collection. Lastly, a significant portion of the essays were written by people who wished they could knit. I suspect this book is primarily aimed at a knitting audience. As a knitter, I am much more interested in reading about other knitters, when I read a collection of personal essays about knitting, than about people who wish they could knit. Just pick up a pair of needles and do it already! It's really not that hard.
There were a few hidden gems, including contributions by Andre Dubus III, Martha Frankel, Jessi Hempel, Joyce Maynard, and Taylor M. Polites.(less)
This is my first experience reading (or in this case, listening) to David Sedaris. And, for the most part, I was thinking, How have I not come across...moreThis is my first experience reading (or in this case, listening) to David Sedaris. And, for the most part, I was thinking, How have I not come across this before?! This is great! I would have rated the collection of personal (for the most part) essays with four stars if not for the last few essays in the collection. Which is where the for the most parts really come in.
For the most part, Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls is a collection of memoir short stories about very interesting and colorful Mr. Sedaris, his expatriate adventures in Europe, his partner Hugh, and his rather dysfunctional and emotional scar-inducing father. Sedaris's effortless prose and witty observations about himself and others reminded me of Augusten Burroughs (perhaps Sedaris was an influence of his?) and made for great entertainment and a comforting sense that nobody is perfect.
However, mixed in with the last few essays in the collection were several that dropped the memoir/personal essay point of view in lieu of something closer to the facetious irony of Stephen Colbert. In these stories, Sedaris seemed to adopt the points of view of the kinds of people he hates--and, I must add, the most hyperbolic representations of how these people might think and act (for example, a man who goes on a killing spree after gay marriage is enacted into law). Rather than being humorous and making light of right-wing insanity (as Colbert does), these stories left me with a dark and yucky feeling induced both by Sedaris's own dislike of these people as well as the hate imbued in the characters themselves. I could have done without these, as well as without the dog limerick that closed the collection on a rather low note.
Oh, also, although Sedaris did open up the collection with a story relating to owls, he never once (that I can recall) mentions diabetes in the collection. For which I was definitely disappointed.(less)
I was rather disappointed in this first memoir by Carrie Fisher (best known for her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars). The narrative was all over th...moreI was rather disappointed in this first memoir by Carrie Fisher (best known for her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars). The narrative was all over the place, particularly the first chapter or section, which I think was meant to kind of capture and summarize the theme and trajectory of the rest of the work but just came across as, perhaps ironically, all over the map--completely bi-polar, perfectly mirroring the mental disorder that Fisher shares her struggles with in this book.
Everything enjoyable about the book was tempered by Fisher's reading of it and her general writing style. I can't even count how many times she would start a new paragraph with "Anyways...". Even when her tangent really did have to do with the topic at hand. So, flow was an issue. In the audiobook version, I think Fisher tried hard to be sincere and candid. But that's just the thing. She sounded like she was trying hard. Really, really hard. All her chuckling at her own funny stories really dampened the humor potential of everything. And her overall performance came across as somewhat contrived. One of the only times that I would say the memoir would have been better if read by someone other than the author.
I will probably go ahead and read her second memoir Shockaholic, despite my disappointment in this first one, because I already have it on hand. Plus, they're short. And it's not like I dragged my feet about listening to it. It's just that it was by no means fabulous.(less)
I didn't realize until at least two-thirds of the way through that the theme of this work is actually father-figures. More accurately, the theme and f...moreI didn't realize until at least two-thirds of the way through that the theme of this work is actually father-figures. More accurately, the theme and focus seemed to suddenly swing away from Carrie's drug-abuse and Electroconvulsive (shock) therapy over to the father-figures in her life and, ultimately, her father Eddie Fisher.
As with Wishful Drinking, I found this second memoir by Carrie Fisher mildly annoying and something to be gotten through. She likes to preface all her memoirs with lengthy introductions about how she knows she is famous and uber-rich and so really doesn't have a right to complain about the difficulties in her life, blah blah blah. And I get that. Nobody's life is perfect and being famous and rich doesn't buy you happiness. And yet I still find myself wanting to say, just about certain things: Suck it up a little, Carrie. You were not chubby as a young and middle woman, but gorgeous. Boohoo that Star Wars become an instant classic and launched you into unwanted stardom. You made bank; set for life. Get over it. And the Princess Leia hair and the metal bra really don't justify all the whining I'm hearing from you. So dudes like to picture Princess Leia while they masturbate? DEAL WITH IT!
Shockaholic was a little better than Wishful Drinking in terms of the writing (many fewer "So..."s and "Anyway..."s), the whining quotient, and Carrie's reading of the book (in the audio version) but, as stated above, not so great in terms of organization and cohesion. Plus, I just don't find her jokes funny.(less)
Free-range knitter contains a collection of personal essays and humorous bits pertaining to her life-long obsession with knitting. Being one of her la...moreFree-range knitter contains a collection of personal essays and humorous bits pertaining to her life-long obsession with knitting. Being one of her later works, this book contains a lot of essays about the latter stages of parental life--once most of her kids of reached their teenage years.
This is the second book I've read by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, and I actually found this one a bit disappointing. I particularly found most of the essays about parenting and watching other people knit rather dull and was impatient to get to the next story. Yet she hides little gems even in these more boring stories, so I don't feel like I can skip ahead without potentially missing out on something. (Note to people with kids: you probably won't find the parenting essays so dull. It's just that I don't have children, let alone teenagers, so it really isn't the kind of thing I can sympathize with yet.)
Free-range knitter, as with Pearl-McPhee's other works, offered a few very redeeming stories in it as well. I particularly enjoyed the essay about how she knits while she walks, and the unfortunate elevator incident that results, and her story on how she taught her daughters to knit through osmosis.(less)
Chasing Waves follows the author as she first learns to surf, the resulting obsession, and the surfing adventures that subsequently lead her around th...moreChasing Waves follows the author as she first learns to surf, the resulting obsession, and the surfing adventures that subsequently lead her around the world in search of great waves. This memoir reads more like a collection of short stories about her surfing adventures (albeit, in chronological order) than a cohesive narrative. I wish there had been a little more about how surfing fit into or affected her regular life. Instead, each chapter is only about the next surf expedition. Waeschle does a great job, though, of conveying both the awe and joy of surfing as well as the fear and imminent danger. Her story both made me want to surf and also made me never want to surf.(less)