Clearly, Mark Richard has a gift for writing. The end of this book made it all worth while for me, but my mind wandered a bit along the way. Perhaps I'm getting too old or shallow.
I found it awkward that the book starts out in third person and then goes into second person, making the narrator appear detached...as if he's observing his disaster of a life from afar, absolving himself of any responsibility. As a child, he's labeled as "special" because of his deformed hips and spends a great deal of time in charity hospitals.
It's a wonder he made it to adulthood, with some of the risks he took. It's almost as if he didn't feel his life was worth preserving...having faced his crippling hip problems and a dysfunctional family.
By the time he becomes a writer, he's also worked in a variety of odd jobs...on a fishing boat, painting houses, as a radio DJ, photographer, journalist, bartender, and almost a pastor.
The book traverses over his life in a scattershot way. We don't learn much about his writing career or his marriage. I enjoyed the end of the book the most--when he helps build the "House of Prayer."
Although the book was lyrically written and I liked much of it, I was hoping for something more compelling.(less)
What an inspiring young woman! With assistance from writer Christina Lamb, Malala Yousafzai tells her story...beginning from when she was born. In her village in the Swat valley, people rejoice when a son is born, but not a daughter. However, her father was immediately delighted to have a daughter. Reading Malala's story, it's clear how tremendously lucky she was to be blessed with such a father. Fathers have incredible power in traditional, religiously conservative countries such as Pakistan. “Our men think earning money and ordering around others is where power lies," wrote Malala. "They don't think power is in the hands of the woman who takes care of everyone all day long, and gives birth to their children.” Because of her wise, brave father's belief in women's and girls' potential, Malala was able to pursue her dreams of education. He dedicated his life to educating girls by starting his own school:
“His sisters--my aunts--did not go to school at all, just like millions of girls in my country. Education had been a great gift for him. He believed that lack of education was the root of all of Pakistan's problems. Ignorance allowed politicians to fool people and bad administrators to be re-elected. He believed schooling should be available for all, rich and poor, boys and girls. The school that my father dreamed of would have desks and a library, computers, bright posters on the walls and, most important, washrooms.”
Throughout her life, Malala has been an ambitious, competitive, and passionate young woman. She emulated former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, another strong Pakistani woman who bravely faced her opponents to fight for what she believed in. She has been supported along the way by both her father and mother.
Sadly, it's hard to say whether Malala will ever be able to return to Pakistan. It's not safe for her there, and many condemn her speaking out against the Taliban.
As I was reading this book, I was explaining it to my younger sons, aged 7 and 10. I wanted them to understand how lucky they are to have a good education. My 7-year-old, in particular, is highly interested in the plight of Malala and wants to know why she can't return to Pakistan and why the Taliban fights violently against women's rights to be educated.
I highly recommend this story of a phenomenal young woman, and I admire her passion and commitment to stand up for girls' education in her homeland.(less)
When I first chose this book, I thought Joshua Safran was one of the Safran Foer brothers. I'd read Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, and later on read Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. From what I can tell, there is no relation whatsoever, but "Safran" must be a relatively common Jewish name (as is "Joshua"). I'm so glad I found this book anyway!
Joshua Safran, an award-winning attorney who has committed his career to combatting domestic violence, tells the story of his childhood. This book was born when he represented a battered woman who had been serving life in prison for killing her batterer. This case resonated with him, as he realized he had a story to tell about his own experiences.
Safran's mother ("Claudia") was a counterculture feminist artist/activist, and when he was four years old, they left Haight Ashbury in San Francisco and hit the road. He was raised in an extremely open, permissive home and "homeschooled." He heard his mother having sex with her lovers. He felt inadequate because he didn't have a vagina. They hitchhiked all around the west coast (mostly in Washington state), constantly seeking a true intentional community--utopia. Safran's village of parents were not necessarily related to him--he had a few positive role models along the way, but none of them were ideal. Many of his childhood experiences made me squirm with discomfort...being bullied after he puts himself in a regular school, being completely separated from his mother and nearly sliding down a mountainside or drowned at a hippie festival, or careening up a mountain with a drunk driver (his stepdad).
But as much as his mother was proudly independent and strident in many ways, she ended up with loser after loser. (His father wasn't actively in the picture.) The last one--who she married--was physically abusive. Safran observed the abuse and felt humiliated for not supporting his mother and stopping her attacker. This book, more than any other I've read, describes well what it's like to be in a home full of domestic violence.
Joshua Safran constantly yearned for a "normal life," but wasn't able to find this until he'd graduated from college, married someone who also was raised in a hippie home, reconnected with Judaism, and creates his own family.
Now he's a practicing Orthodox Jew, husband and father, and attorney. He's written the story of his childhood with his mom's permission. It's a story of redemption and discovery in spite of a very difficult beginning.
This book brought me to tears at the end...especially this paragraph:
"People sometimes ask me: If you could do your childhood all over again, would you grow up in the cushy suburbs you always dreamed of? And I always give a complicated answer. As a father, I have done everything in my power to give my children the stable, secure, and comfortable childhood I never had. But I also recognize that while my early life was difficult, I received an unconventional and powerful education that taught me self-reliance, righteousness, and empathy like no other. In the end, I would rather slog back down those trails at my mother's side again. There are many ways to judge a mother, but I think the best way is to look at the man her son grew up to be."
As a mother of three sons who sometimes doubts her own parenting strategies and patience (who doesn't?), this is reassuring and touching. And the way Safran has dedicated his work to helping women who are unable to help themselves is the most inspiring of all.
I'm a hippie at heart, but this book shows the dark side of living off the grid and on the edge of mainstream culture...especially for children. Safran is already working on a sequel and his mother, Claudia Miriam Reed, is writing her own book. (less)
Sarah Thebarge survived grueling breast cancer, and a recurrence within a year, before moving west to Portland, Oregon, my hometown. While on the MAX light rail train, she meets a Somali immigrant and her five young daughters, and a friendship begins.
Thebarge alternates her story between getting to know and helping Hadhi and the girls and her travails enduring breast cancer treatment. She was raised in a strict evangelical religion, but went onto earn a degree at Yale and was in the middle of earning a journalism degree at Columbia when cancer struck. She also had a serious boyfriend and was close to becoming engaged. Ian, the boyfriend, was too weak to stick it out and abandoned her. Her church community apparently also abandoned her. She felt alone and bereft, her faith severely tested, when she picked up stakes to move to the west coast. Given the fact that I've had several friends endure and survive Stage 3 breast cancer similar to Thebarge's, I most appreciated reading about her experience and her feelings about having cancer. I also always like reading books set in my hometown!
When she got to know and began to help Hadhi, who didn't speak much English, she seemed to relate to the "invisible girls" because of what she had endured. She too felt like a stranger in a strange land.
This book has been accused of the "white savior complex." At times I wondered whether she could teach Hadhi how to fend for herself and survive rather than just rescuing her (do they have a sustainable life in the U.S.?). I was touched that Thebarge went out of her way to make this family feel welcome in the United States...a feeling they had not experienced before they met her. So much of their lives was difficult, but Thebarge brought joy to their poor, struggling family.
I felt that she could have delved a bit more into how she broke away from her traditional religious upbringing, and her feelings of betrayal when very few were there for her through cancer. And during one of the last chapters of the book she mentions some kind of identity theft or fraud but never explains what happened. (It felt like a big loose end was not tied up...perhaps an editorial oversight?)
The final chapter made me squirm a bit, as Thebarge and her friend reach out to a prostitute and do some proselytizing...mostly because, as a Christian, I'd rather that people learn about Christianity through the way we live our lives and not because we hit them over their heads with it. So even though she felt completely oppressed growing up in such a strict Christian denomination--in which women were not allowed to hold any leadership roles in the church whatsoever--she seems to move back to it at the end. That was a bit confusing.
But Thebarge did help this family in dire straits. She brought delight into their lives and she helped them muddle through, and she too was enriched by the experience. She decided to write this book so she could raise money for the girls to go to college. I hope she is successful in her goal.
I love this tidbit I found on Thebarge's blog, which is the ultimate takeaway from this book:
"And I realized this morning that solving the problem of invisibility doesn’t require legislation or institutional intervention. It’s simple, and it’s easy, and it’s free. It just takes all of us walking through life with open eyes and softened hearts, taking the risk and the time to tell someone else, 'You’re not invisible any more. I care that you exist. I see that you’re suffering. It matters that you’re here.'
How would our world change if every day, each of us told one person — just one —'I see you. So you’re not invisible any more.'”(less)
Wow. This book brought me to tears so many times. Nadia Bolz-Weber is a recovering alcoholic and fundamentalist (she was raised in the ultraconservative Church of Christ), and she is now an ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) pastor, wife, and mother. She founded and leads a church called the House for All Sinners and Saints, or HFASS (pronounced Half-Ass) for short. In this book, Bolz-Weber shares deeply and honestly about her own personal trials and how she found her way to the Lutheran church: in one word, grace.
I had forgotten this, but when we were at Holden Village several years ago, Bolz-Weber was also there. A few in our group found her to be standoffish and not very warm. She admits this herself and calls herself a "misanthrope." Her grumpiness comes out full bore in her memoir, but that's what I like so much about it: her deep honesty. She's like Anne Lamott as an ELCA pastor.
I heavily dog-eared my copy of this book, and this is what spoke most clearly to me:
--God's aunt: When she spent some time with Wiccan friends (before finding a home in the ELCA), she said "the goddess we spoke of never felt to me like a substitute for God, but simply another aspect of the divine. Just like God's aunt." She goes on..."I can't imagine that the God of the universe is limited to our ideas of God. I can't imagine that God doesn't reveal God's self in countless ways outside of the symbol system of Christianity. In a way, I need a God who is bigger and more nimble and mysterious than what I could understand and contrive. Otherwise it can feel like I am worshipping nothing more than my own ability to understand the divine."
--What you were called to be: When she hesitantly shared with her pastor dad and mom about her decision to become a pastor (after being raised in a church where women could not even teach Sunday school to boys over 12, much less preach), her father responded in a way she didn't expect: "At that moment, my father silently stood up, walked to the bookshelf and took down his worn, leather-bound Bible. Here we go, I thought, he's going to beat me with the scripture stick...He opened it up and read. I could tell from where he was turning that it wasn't one of Paul's letters at the end of the book, but something closer to the middle. My father did not read the 1st Timothy passage about women being silent in church. He read from Esther.
From my father I heard only these words: "But you were born for such a day as this." He closed the book and my mother joined him in embracing me. They prayed over me and they gave me a blessing. And some blessings, like the one my conservative Christian parents gave to their soon-to-be Lutheran pastor daughter who had put them through hell, are the kind of blessings that stay with you for the rest of your life. The kind you can't speak of without crying all over again." Oh, did I ever cry when I read this story!
--I am baptized, so fuck off: Apparently Martin Luther had a bit of an anger issue. "Luther was known to not only throw the occasional inkpot at whatever was tormenting him and causing him to doubt God's promises, but also while doing so he could be heard throughout the castle grounds shouting, 'I am baptized!'" And this is what baptism means to a Lutheran--to be claimed by God and touched by God's grace, no matter what we do or who we are. It's not up to us; it's up to God. This is what she shared with a young transgender man named Asher, who was also raised in a conservative Christian church and who she blessed in a name changing ceremony. She met him a few years later after he returned home from seminary. He said, "I never told you about the dream I had the night after my naming rite"..."It was like so many other nights--a voice accusing me, damning me, scaring me. But this time I talked back," he said proudly. "I said, 'I am baptized, so fuck off,' and when I woke up I was giddy. I called a friend, and we went to City Park and made snow angels." I plan to use this next time my own personal demons threaten my spirit.
--No fakery: Bolz-Weber is not a fan of praise music or liturgical dance and can barely keep herself of showing her dislike on her face. "Pretending to feel a way other than how I actually feel is not a gift God gave me. I can pull it off for short periods of time when needed, but the effort is exhausting." I can relate! This is why it would be very difficult for me to be a pastor!
--Radical hospitality does not sell: She addresses the fact that "churches that try to live into the beauty of radical hospitality and the destabilizing idea that Jesus is experienced in welcoming strangers don't tend to be described as 'sprawling.' Jesus wants you to be rich and beautiful is doing great as a message, though. There are shiny millionaire preachers and full attended parking lots every Sunday morning in America to prove it."
--Strangers sometimes look like our parents: But she also struggled big time with the growing attention her church has received. When they started attracting a lot of white, middle-class suburbanites, she didn't like it. "I wanted the 'us' to be bigger. What I wasn't prepared for was the 'us' to be different." She found it increasingly difficult, as the numbers grew, to maintain a welcoming attitude to some of these newcomers...those who didn't fit her definition of "all sinners and saints" (alcoholics, tattoo-wearers, drug addicts, hippies). "My precious little indie boutique of a church was being treated like a 7-Eleven, and I was terrified that the edgy, marginalized people whom we had always attracted would now come and see a bunch of people who looked like their parents and think, 'This isn't for me.' And if that started to happen, I would basically lose my shit." Then a friend of hers pointed out that her church was really good at welcoming young transgendered people..."but sometimes the stranger looks like your mom and dad." And then young Asher, the transgendered young person, expressed gratitude for those who didn't look like him. "I just want to say that I'm really glad there are people at church now who look like my mom and dad. Because I have a relationship with them that I just can't with my own mom and dad." More tears.
--What would Jesus do? When a con man becomes a member of her church, her first instinct was to "try to get rid of him. You know, like Jesus would do...Ugh, Jesus. He always seems to be showing up when I want him to politely just keep out of my business." And when this con man, Rick, becomes part of her community and works at a food distribution center at the Occupy Denver outpost, he enthusiastically shares, "Distributing food at Occupy Denver is awesome!"..."Everyone is fed. It doesn't matter if you are a homeless guy who is scamming and doesn't even care about Occupy or a lawyer on a lunch break."..."The only place I've ever really seen that is at communion." Then she hangs up, trying to pretend she wasn't crying. And again, I dropped tears. That's what communion means to me as a Lutheran--everyone is welcome and everyone gets fed.
This book, while it might not appeal to everyone (especially if you are sensitive to salty language), made me glad to be an ELCA Lutheran. I'm so glad that we have tattooed, alcoholic pastors like Bolz-Weber, and that she is spreading the word about God's grace to everyone. I encourage you to watch this long interview with Bolz-Weber by Krista Tippett: http://vimeo.com/73913123 It's worth it.(less)
My first memory of Cyndi Lauper was when I was a junior in college, and "Money Changes Everything" was a big hit. In the video, Cyndi Lauper kicks a g...moreMy first memory of Cyndi Lauper was when I was a junior in college, and "Money Changes Everything" was a big hit. In the video, Cyndi Lauper kicks a garbage can...and my roommate and I would blast the music and pretend to kick things. You know...the silly things one does in college!
Then when I was in Japan in the late 1980s, both Cyndi Lauper and Madonna were all the rage. I bought her "True Colors" cassette tape (yes, that's right--that's how old I am) and I loved her unique sense of style, which was appealing to this woman whose mom once told her, "Marie--you have a style all your own!" In that era I had short, spiky hair with a tail (wish I had a photo) and I've always been drawn to colorful clothing. Lauper was a true pioneer in the 1980s, inspiring many of today's edgy artists such as Lady Gaga, Nikki Minaj, and Pink.
Then a few summers ago we went to see Cyndi Lauper perform at the Oregon Zoo after she'd made her blues album, "Memphis Blues." She was a dynamic, compelling, and talented performer, who had essentially reinvented herself as a blues singer. She even had blues legend Charlie Musselwhite on tour with her. When she sang "True Colors," I cried along with most of the audience.
Cyndi Lauper's memoir is very much like her personality--all over the place. Writer Jancee Dunn manages to capture Lauper's voice and style in her writing. The narrative jumps around a bit, and she digresses, just as Lauper does...you can practically hear her distinctive voice jumping off the page.
She seemed to have a reasonably happy childhood and she was loved by her mom and siblings, but she never really fit in. She ran away when she was in high school because of a lecherous stepfather. What I admire the most about her is her crazy sense of self-confidence and self-assurance, even at a young age. She took herself off camping in Canada completely alone as a young woman--the only companion she had was her dog Sparkles. She has always been passionately committed to her ideals of justice, and she's also been committed to making great art--both musically and visually.
When she started to get successful and make records (after some awful experiences with some of her initial bands, including once when she was raped by her former bandmates), she was screwed over by record company executives, who wanted to make her into someone else--more marketable and less assertive.
At times, the book digressed into the details of each record production, and I began scanning...but I enjoyed reading about how she met her husband David and had her son, Declyn, after struggling with bad endiometriosis.
She has become a passionate advocate for LGBT justice, beginning with her friendship with Gregory, or "Boy Blue," who died of AIDS in the 1980s. Her beloved sister Elen also is a lesbian. I also learned that she has a strong connection to Japan, and she landed in Japan right after the big earthquake and tsunami and stayed there to give back to the Japanese people, who were mourning the devastation in their country.
I have a much bigger appreciation for Cyndi Lauper's music now...and I'm glad I read this book. Steer clear if you don't like salty language!(less)
This is a devastating, heart-breaking memoir about grief. If you can't handle this kind of story, stop right here.
Sonali Deraniyagala opens up the boo...moreThis is a devastating, heart-breaking memoir about grief. If you can't handle this kind of story, stop right here.
Sonali Deraniyagala opens up the book in Yala, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, where she was vacationing with her husband, two sons, and parents over the Christmas holidays of 2004. Within a few moments, the massive tsunami took away the lives of everyone she loved most dearly, and she nearly died herself. Can you imagine what this would be like? Savoring the post-holiday pleasures with your children, who were playing with their Christmas gifts, and your husband is sitting on the toilet reading? Suddenly you see a wave rising up way too high and approaching your hotel and you tell everyone to run. They ran so fast that they didn't even have time to warn her parents, whose room was next door. Not that it would have mattered.
Sri Lankan-born Deraniyagala lost her beloved sons Vik and Malli and her English husband Steve. And parents who she loved dearly. Of course she wished she were dead too.
Over the next several years, she passes through the many stages of grief...total depression and devastation, anger, bitterness, alcoholism, you name it. She seemed well cared for by her friends and family, but we don't really get to know any of them well in this book.
It's clear that she had money, as the family did not sell her parents' home in Colombo (where she grew up). After initially renting it out to a Dutch family (who Deraniyagala tormented during one of her manic phases of grief), they left it standing empty so they could return to it. She did the same with their house in London--it was kept as a sort of monument to her family, with the boys' things untouched as they left them. In fact, she didn't even return to the London house until nearly 4 years after they had died. Not everyone would have the resources to do this. Most people would have their grief compounded by having to give up those memories far more quickly than they were ready to.
I remember when my friend Laurie lost her son Zacary at age four, devastating enough as it is, but then she and her husband had to sell the house where Zacary lived (because of money problems) ...shedding those precious memories of him in that house. That is what Deraniyagala clings to, still.
At first she doesn't want to face her memories, but gradually she starts recollecting the wonderful details of her children...athletic, intelligent Vikram who was interested in the natural world, and the younger son, Malli, who was expressive, sensitive, and liked to dress up in a tutu. She looks back on her husband's childhood in inner-city London, growing up in a council flat, and how she met him at Cambridge. I loved how Steve would drive through Europe with his father on his lorry runs, sampling the cuisine along the way...and later he would become the chef in their family. They loved to go to the London fish markets early in the morning to purchase the freshest catch. He adopted Sri Lanka as his own, and they spent as much time there as possible.
My only quibble with this book is that she sometimes uses run-on sentences divided only by commas. I'm not sure if this was a deliberate stylistic choice but I'm guessing it must have been, I found that to be distracting. (See what I mean??)
Deraniyagala doesn't address the rest of the 230,000 people who died in that tsunami. As she returns to Yala over and over again, she paces the destruction left behind...but she doesn't talk about the way the wave affected the community. She doesn't talk about all the people whose loved ones died and who didn't have the resources or support she did.
That's not what this book was about. It's about grief, pure and simple, and how one woman finds her way through it. It's searingly honest and candid...and brave.
A few days after the tsunami hit in Japan, Deraniyagala took a trip out deep into the Indian Ocean, south of the southern tip of Sri Lanka...the sea that divides Sri Lanka from Antarctica. She went on a whale-watching trip and saw great blue whales breaching. Her son Vikram had always wanted to see a blue whale, and at first she felt that it was unfair that she should be able to do so without him...but then she let herself savor the magical moment on his behalf.
Some reviewers have wanted more hope or resolution in this book, but that was not the purpose. Grief never resolves. It can fade away gradually, but it endures.(less)
I feel ambivalent about this book, which I finished several days ago. Lauren Drain's family moved to Kansas to join the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC)...moreI feel ambivalent about this book, which I finished several days ago. Lauren Drain's family moved to Kansas to join the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) after her father, an atheist libertarian, was making a documentary about the group. He soon become absorbed and went full bore. They were one of the few families who were not part of the Fred Phelps dynasty.
Lauren became an enthusiastic picketer, truly believing that WBC had a straight line to heaven...even though they apparently believe in predestination. A couple of things about the WBC surprised me: they highly value education and encourage all members to pursue careers...even women, although in many other ways, women are treated as second-class citizens. Conversely, the second in command at WBC is Shirley Phelps-Roper, one of Fred Phelps' daughters. Another thing I learned is that WBC pickets and protests not to convert or save people from hell, but only to proclaim what they believe.
Some reviewers have commented that Lauren should have waited a few more years to write her memoir--she comes across as a teenager, even though she's now a young woman. I don't think she would have left the church on her own volition--she seemed to love it too much, even though she was beginning to chafe against the favoritism shown to the Phelps family. She did not leave because she disagreed with the church's teachings. Essentially, she was kicked out because she was asking lots of challenging questions and she was drawn to have relationships with men. The WBC rules forbid any contact with people outside the church, and Drain had only one marital prospect within the church. She says now that she stayed in the church because she couldn't bear to leave her family.
In the epilogue, Drain apologizes to gay people for being so hateful, saying the classic "some of my friends are gay" (can't believe her cowriter actually included this staple of prejudice!). But it didn't feel completely genuine to me...I think I might have felt more convinced had the writing been stronger. When I finished the book, I had the impression that if Lauren's family wanted her back in the church...and she could still have freedom to have a relationship with a man outside the WBC...she would be back in a heartbeat. It just didn't ring true to me. She seemed to get such a high level of enjoyment out of the picketing and didn't seem to realize, even later, the depth of hatred she espoused.
However, when I watched an interview with her, I felt more convinced that she was glad she was out. Drain describes the WBC as like a gang. When you are part of it, you feel a sense of belonging. But if you leave, they pray for your doom and destruction.
Drain was treated horribly by her family and the rest of the church...and she is still scarred from that treatment. She hasn't seen her parents or siblings for 5 years.
I did find it interesting to get inside of the WBC and try to understand their hate and evil...but the book itself could have been better.(less)
What a phenomenal woman! I never would have guessed that someone so accomplished--reaching the top rung of her field at a fairly young age--would start her life with such large obstacles. She had an alcoholic father, was raised by a hard-working single mother in poverty, and continues to struggle from anxiety. In this memoir, she opens up and shares her stories from a young age...from when she was first diagnosed with juvenile diabetes and had to start giving herself daily injections...to talking about how her marriage failed. She decided to write a book because "People who live in difficult circumstances need to know that happy endings are possible."
She revealed more about herself than typical for a Supreme Court justice and knew she might be judged harshly for some of her choices, but she made this decision consciously to offer comfort, and maybe inspiration, by showing that an "ordinary person, with strengths and weaknesses like anyone else, has managed an extraordinary journey."
From an early age, she chafed against injustice...beginning with Catholic school, where she reflected that "I accepted what the Sisters taught in religion class: that God is loving, merciful, charitable, forgiving. That message didn't jibe with adults smacking kids." The nuns also criticized working mothers, which angered Sotomayor because her own mother worked long hours in a couple of jobs to send Sonia and her brother to that private school. This passion for justice fed her desire to become a judge, and after she became a judge she dreamed of becoming a Supreme Court justice.
Even though she has accomplished amazing things in life, she has not done it without carrying along a load of doubts. From her school days well into her professional career, she wrote about settling into new places or positions before jumping in with both feet. In college, she didn't want to join a club in her first year until she had gotten the lay of the land.
I love Sotomayor's views on mentors and friends: "Whenever I make a new friend, my mind goes naturally to the question, what can I learn from this person? There are very few people in the world whom you can't learn something from, but even rarer are those souls who can reveal whole worlds to you if you observe them carefully." From her far-flung Dominican family from childhood, to her current family of close friends and relatives, Sotomayor highly values close relationships with others. Although she never had children, she has a special affinity for them and has close bonds with countless godchildren. She has a special relationship with her niece was an early preemie.
Living with diabetes her whole life has given Sotomayor a wise, deep appreciation for life:
"I've lived most of my life inescapably aware that it is precious and finite. The reality of diabetes always lurked in the back of my mind, and early on I accepted the probably that I would die young. There was no point fretting about it; I have never worried about what I can't control. But nor could I waste what time I had; some inner metronome has continued to set a beat I am unable to refuse. Now diabetes has become more manageable, and I no longer fear falling short in the tally of years. But the habit of living as if in the shadow of death has remained with me, and I consider that, too a gift."
I share her philosophy of every experience containing a lesson or a blessing:
"With every friend I've known, in every situation I've encountered, I have found something to learn. From a task as simple as boiling water, you can learn a worthwhile lesson. There is no experience that can't avail something useful, be it only the discipline to manage adversity. With luck, there will be plenty of time ahead for me to continue growing and learning, many more stories to tell before I can begin to say definitively who I am as a judge."
Although I had a hard time sinking into this memoir at first, it was well worth the effort!(less)
This is the first book I've read since I had surgery in December that has really compelled me. Any story about or by sisters always interests me, and this one--about Asia--did in particular.
As you might recall, Laura Ling was captured with her colleague, Euna Lee, and imprisoned in North Korea from March to August 2009. They worked for Current TV (cofounded by Al Gore) and were making a documentary about North Korean defectors who escaped into China, some of whom ended up in forced marriages or sex trafficking. They traveled into China on tourist visas instead of admitting they were journalists because they were not going to be portraying either China or North Korea in glowing terms. They hired a guide to take them to the Chinese-North Korean border, and one morning the guide encouraged them to go onto the frozen river that serves as the boundary between the countries. They followed him, and they came to regret it. Although they went back into China, guards from North Korea pursued them and captured them.
For five months, they were interrogated about their intentions and actions and kept isolated from one another. At the same time, Laura's sister Lisa (who works for Oprah and used to appear on "The View") took advantage of her media and government connections and did everything she could to get her sister out of North Korea. She was in contact with Al Gore, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Oprah Winfrey, the U.S. State Department, and media and entertainment celebrities. At one point, Michael Jackson even offered to perform for Kim Jong Il (if it would help), right before he died so suddenly.
It's clear that Laura Ling had powerful people working for her, trying to get her out. If her sister hadn't used all her connections and if she hadn't been working for Al Gore's company, who knows whether they would have been able get former president Bill Clinton to make a visit to Pyongyang to retrieve her and Euna Lee (who had left a 5-year-old daughter at home in the U.S.).
Clearly, they made an error in judgment by taking the risk to cross into North Korea...whether they were persuaded to take the risk by their guide or not. But that doesn't detract from this story.
I was touched by the very close relationship between the sisters, who are best friends. I cried several times, as I did again when watching the video of Laura Ling's speech as she got off the airplane in Burbank, California. I'm always deeply affected by stories of sisters being separated or reunited.
I also found it touching to read about the relationships she developed with some of her guards, translators, and even her primary interrogator. Even though she was being held in captivity, she was treated well for the most part. Even though the North Koreans felt angry at the United States, most of them did not treat her unkindly.
It's clear, as is mentioned in the epilogue, that many political prisoners do not have the resources Laura Ling and Euna Lee had...working incessantly to free them. But evident in the book, too, is Laura Ling's keen intelligence and political and media savvy. She handled the imprisonment professionally, wisely, and diplomatically, in spite of her own health problems and severe stress.
Check out my blog (at the top of this review) for links to a book trailer and interviews.(less)
I picked this one up at random at the library...I had never heard of Stacy Pershall...little did I know she was an Internet sensation (and not necessa...moreI picked this one up at random at the library...I had never heard of Stacy Pershall...little did I know she was an Internet sensation (and not necessarily in a good way).
Pershall grew up in the small town of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, and she never really fit in there. Pershall's mom pours all of her attention on her brother. She refers to her father's anger, but we don't get much detail on that.
Fast forward to adolescence, when she develops anorexia and bulimia, followed by (or concurrent with) bipolar and borderline personality disorder. She becomes highly self-destructive and somehow, amazingly successful given the self-destructive behavior (she lands a job as adjunct professor at the School of Visual Arts after earning her M.A., somehow!).
Each time she seemed to pull her life together, her mental illness struck again. (She even got married for awhile.) As one of the Internet's first "camgirls," Pershall broadcast one of the first online suicide attempts (and only one of many of hers) before shutting down her site. She found comfort by making tattoos of the things that scared or saddened her.
This book shed a lot of light for me on mental illness, particularly bipolar and borderline diseases. I would have liked to have learned more about her childhood and any thoughts she had about what led her to these illnesses. (Was it genetic? Environment?) She seems to have a tenuous relationship with her parents now, but what happened to her brother?
This was a raw, terribly honest memoir about all the mistakes Pershall has made in her life. I'd expect nothing less from someone who bared her soul (and clothing) for the Internet.
Most of the book is about her illness, and only an epilogue provides some closure. She seems to have it together now...but I felt that we were missing something in the journey to success. Maybe there's a Part 2 in progress?
As I joke in my house, I'm not easily amused. My nine-year-old son rented "The Three Stooges" recently, and I knew that I would not find it funny in the least. Even when watch something I do find funny (like "Downton Abbey" or "Lost in Austen"), my husband is rolling on the floor laughing while I might just smile to myself.
About the only people who regularly make me laugh are Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Ellen Degeneres, and Jane Lynch. When I've read humorous memoirs, I often start out thinking they are light and interesting, and then they grow tiresome.
That's Ali in Wonderland for me. My husband had checked it out of the library for humor research (for his writing). I picked it up because it looked interesting--Wentworth is married to George Stephanopolous. She's exactly my age, so many of her childhood and teenage memories rang true for me (like when her sister who had just had scoliosis surgery and ran away in a full body cast because she was fed up, and Ali had to follow her, but the only thing she cared about was getting home for The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and Love American Style, and her sister said she would only return home if Ali could make her laugh, so Ali took off her clothes and rubbed mud all over herself and did some weird kind of dance, only to be seen by people driving by). Some of the anecotes were indeed funny.
But midway through I started to get bored. I think the last straw was the chapter talking about how her mother believed that the cure for anything was to go to the Four Seasons. Wentworth was raised in privilege and lives in privilege now. Another chapter was about family-friendly resorts and how inconvenient it can be to slip on a dirty diaper by the poolside. Although I assume she's a good liberal in the Kennedy style, I just couldn't relate to her problems and complaints. She also jumped around tons in her storytelling, so it was hard to keep track of which part of her life she was describing.
I ended up scanning the second half of the book to the end when she talked about meeting and marrying George. The descriptions of her big fat Greek wedding and family were funny...but I found myself ready to move onto something else.(less)
-You are easily offended by foul language. -You are an ardent animal lover. -You are a literalist. (Did it bother you that Dan Brown took liberties with history in The DaVinci Code?) -You take things or life too seriously.
Jenny Lawson, otherwise know as The Bloggess, has written a hilarious memoir about what it's like to:
-Grow up in the wilds of Texas, with a father who is a taxidermist -Be so poor she wore bread sack shoes (still trying to picture those) -Become completely accustomed to running into the interior of a deer carcass, acquiring pet raccoons, having a just-killed squirrel turned into a puppet named Stanley, and having your dad throw a baby bobcat at your prospective husband on his first visit -Be spoiled rotten by her grandma -Feel socially awkward and like an outcast throughout school -Be loved intensely by her parents and have a happy, although extremely crazy, childhood -Try to rescue her just-died dog from swarming vultures -Lock her husband out of the car while he battles a supposedly dead but very alive rattlesnake--and then get mad at him! -Battle an anxiety disorder -Try to convince her husband to pee around the house to keep out the snakes -Set her oven on fire at least twice -Keep her beloved dead dog from being devoured by hungry, aggressive vultures -Buy a huge metal chicken because she's so annoyed with her husband who didn't want her to buy more towels -Be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and struggle with treatment -Suffer from three miscarriages before carrying a baby to term -Have silly, nonsensical fights with her husband via post-it notes
As Lawson describes herself in her author bio, "Author Jenny Larson relaxes at home. Her husband glares off camera and asks whether that's his toothbrush. Her husband should probably get his priorities straight. And go get her a margarita. Even if it's three a.m. Seriously, Victor, go get me a margarita. Also, the people who published this book probably shouldn't have let the author write her own biography. Poor planning on their part, I'd say."
If she's to be believed (which is questionable), she and Victor treat each other horribly, frequently with foul language. But I don't really believe much of that. After telling many a wild story, she confesses that only one tiny piece of the story is true. I tried this exaggeration-of-the-truth tactic recently myself, and it's not easy! It seems to come fairly easily to Lawson, though. She's a master!
The writing style is very casual (ADD-like, really), with frequent parenthetical phrases, postscripts, and notes from "the editor." She talks about her vagina fairly frequently and has a sentimental yearning for tacky taxidermy such as dead Cuban baby alligators and mice in Shakespeare outfits (see cover). She also has a tendency to tell wild, inappropriate stories at dinner parties, especially those involving her husband's employer or colleagues.
I really enjoyed this book, but it's not for everyone! Check out her blog if you're curious. If it makes you laugh, you'll like the book.(less)
Oh my...what a wonderful book! I first heard about Wild when I was at Holden Village this summer, when two friends were reading it at the same time. I remember April telling me about how crazily misinformed and naive Strayed was about backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail...she didn't even test out the weight of her backpack until the morning she set out. She packed such strange choices as a full-size camera and fancy lens, even though she's not a photographer. She included items like a foldable saw, just in case she needed to cut wood. The only thing she included for protection from predators (man or beast) was a loud whistle. And she set off completely alone.
In the beginning, Strayed (a name she chose for herself) was not a particularly likable character. After her beloved mother dies suddenly of cancer (described in a completely heart-wrenching, daringly vulnerable chapter), she went off the rails. Married way too soon at 19, she began having irrational flings, cuckolding her wonderful husband and best friend, feeling guilty but unable to keep herself from doing it. She started shooting heroin with a guy she hooked up with in Portland while visiting a friend. Her siblings and stepfather, to whom she previously felt close, scattered and grieved in their own ways. In another heart-wrenching chapter, Strayed and her brother had to shoot their mother's neglected horse because she was too old and sick and they couldn't afford to hire a vet. She was a complete mess.
But something about the Pacific Crest Trail called to her. At the age of 22, wracked by grief, Strayed set out on a 1,100-mile hike all by herself...woefully unprepared for what she would face. Beginning in the Mojave Desert, she hiked up through California and Oregon, concluding at the Bridge of the Gods on the Oregon-Washington border. She hiked through blazing heat, record snow levels (when she couldn't find the trail), and drenching rain...and faced down severe dehydration, treacherous conditions, bears, rattlesnakes, coyotes, and a predatory hunter.
Strayed lives in Portland now and has become a local celebrity writer. She's moved beyond the devastating grief and wretched self-destruction of her early 20s and now has a husband and two school-age daughters. In this interview with Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin, Strayed talks about how happy she is now and challenges anyone who is feeling unhappy to get out and walk for 20 minutes:
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Cheryl: Walking. Doesn’t it make everyone happier? I challenge you to walk for twenty minutes and not feel better by the end of it. It’s the cheapest, healthiest cure on earth.
Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Cheryl: That we can survive anything, even if we don’t want to. Even in the face of great suffering, there is joy.
Masterfully and honestly told, Wild is a story I will remember for a long time. Check out this book trailer with photos and Strayed's description of the book:
Little did I know that I was about to dive into a scandalous book! Feldman must have predicted the type of reaction she would receive when she published her memoir. The Hasidic community has mounted a campaign to discredit her.
Feldman was born into an extremely strict sect of Hasidic Judaism, the Satmar sect, founded on the belief that the Holocaust was God's punishment for the Jews because they had forsaken their strict religious laws. Her father was mentally disabled or retarded (hard to say, because he was never diagnosed for fear of affecting his marriageability), and her mother, who had traveled from England to marry her father sight unseen, escaped the sect when Feldman was a girl. Consequently, Feldman was sent to live with her grandparents, who she is fond of, but she never really felt truly loved and accepted. She constantly chafed against the extremely rigid rules, unfair treatment of women, and rejection of secularism.
Strongly discouraged from reading or speaking English, she delighted in discovering Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, and JK Rowling. Hasidic schools for girls emphasize religious instruction over academics, so she felt grossly inadequately educated. When she finally met a teacher who will challenge her (even though she also sounds bordering on verbally abusive!), she was thrilled.
When she was married off at 18 to a man chosen for her by her grandparents, her body completely shut down. After receiving messages all her life that her body was a den of iniquity and temptation to men, she could not have a healthy sexual relationship with her husband. After much therapy (and the entire community knowing intimate details of their sex life), they finally consummated their marriage. When her son Yitzak was born, she knew that she had to get out. She enrolled in a course for adult learners at Sarah Lawrence and her world cracked open.
I really enjoyed this book, and Feldman is an inspiration. I cannot imagine what it would feel like to be trapped in a religion that believes that you are dirty for half of the month...and that you cannot partake in the same religious studies and community as men. (I loved the movie "Yentl" for similar reasons.) Or one in which your worth is determined by the age at which you get married, who you marry, if you secretly attend the mikvah (women do not discuss the mikvah with their husbands), and whether you wear a wig instead of your natural hair.
As I mentioned, the Satmar and other ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects are waging war on this book and Feldman herself (a pro-Orthodox Facebook group has been urging people to write one-star reviews). Just read the reviews or google the book and you'll see what I mean. What is most fascinating about this campaign are the petty accusations they are leveling at her:
•They claim she didn't accurately describe her mother's life and when she got divorced. •They point out the existence of Feldman's younger sister and claim the whole book is a lie because she left her out. (Feldman says she chose to leave her out because she is a minor.) •Clearly without reading the book, they say that she fabricated a story about a woman's murder (??) and that she said her mother abused her. There's nothing like this in the book. •Feldman attended a strict Satmar school, but they say that she didn't admit it was not her first school. This is not true. She did say that she moved to a new school, but she doesn't say a lot about her former school. How is this important?? •Feldman tells a story about a Hasidic man who cuts off his son's penis after he saw him masturbating. She acknowledges that she doesn't know this for a fact, but it is what she hears (through her husband and his brother). The crime is not reported. This enrages the haters, because they say it's blood libel. Feldman admits that she was reporting the facts third hand. Still, it's concerning...that as well as another rumor she heard about a man who sexually abused minors, and the crime was covered up and not reported to the authorities! •Some Hasidic women say she doesn't portray the life of Hasids accurately...and "I'm a Chassidic woman who runs her business and employs 30 people" or they say that she is attacking a religion that treats women with respect. Hmm... •They claim that she has attacked her grandparents and has been ungrateful. (I did not see any of this. She writes fondly of her grandparents.) •They say that all of her problems were due to growing up in a dysfunctional family. These are just a few of the examples I've seen as "evidence" that Feldman fabricated the whole book. As Jesse Kornbluth writes in The Huffington Post, the haters are completely missing the point of the book.
What's fascinating to me in all this is that the Satmars only want to engage on the smallest points:, like where Feldman went to school and the technicalities of her mother's divorce, I've received not a word of protest about the conclusion of my review, which was, I thought, the most damning:
"The real issue is sex. Not the act, but what it signifies --- male control of women. That old story. We see it in far too many places; dehumanizing women is a key component of fundamentalist cults, from hardcore Muslims to certain Republicans.
Men who oppress women --- they say they love them, but it seems more like they fear and hate them --- haven't been taught that sex is our reward for making it through the day. Like their women, these men have been sold the idea that sex is just for procreation. No wonder they feel like they're the ones who are oppressed.
There are claims in this book that Hasids have disputed. I can't tell what's true. But I'm sure of one thing: Men who can't live equally with women aren't worth living with. Why didn't the Satmars take me on about the blatant sexism that oppresses both women and men in their community? I can only conclude this: It's a problem for Deborah Feldman --- not for them."
Feldman also spoke of her disenchantment with the Satmars, not just for the way they treat women, but also the way they fight for power. Her grandfather told her that in Europe, no one would have dreamed of fighting to be called a rabbi. (They actually turned down the position because of their humility.) But Feldman's Satmar community was divided in half--each half supported one of the Satmar rebbe's sons for succession. And it was a bitter battle. When she first met her prospective husband, she's unsure of whether she can even consider the match because she's concerned his family supports the other son.
When it's discovered that the wigs worn by the Hasidic women have actually been made with human hair from India (from women who worship other gods), the rabbis claimed that it's the work of the devil, a punishment for the "promiscuity of their women." (Yes, it's all the women's fault. Always. See above...a religion that treats women with respect?)
Feldman wrote of her harrowing and humiliating first exposure to the Mikvah, the ritual bath house every woman must visit (and be inspected) before her husband can touch her. For 14 days after her period, she had to touch herself with white cloths twice a day to make sure she was not bleeding, for fear of "contaminating" her holy husband. That's right, women are filthy dirty. She also had a very difficult time bonding with her family members and her son because of the rigid rules and her anxiety about breaking them. It was only when she finally left with her son that she was able to develop a close relationship with him.
I remember learning about the ultra-Orthodox morning prayer men say, "Thank God I was not born a woman." Well, it's easy to understand why Feldman left such a stifling, misogynistic community.
Although Feldman's memoir is not perfect (many characters and events seem to be given short shrift), it's her story...and it's told from her perspective. She writes about the things that mattered most to her. Her mother and father were not significant influences in her life, so they are largely absent. Now that she's left, she has a relationship with her mother. I found this book to be very inspirational, and one that I will hold in my heart for a long time.
Judaism, as with many religions, can be beautiful. But when religion is taken to its extreme (in Christianity, Islam, or Judaism), it perverts it to a love of the law over a love and compassion for others and for God.
I don't easily give five stars, but I am giving them to this book, in honor of Feldman's courage, and because of all the stupid one-star reviews from people who haven't even read the book.(less)
I am a polar opposite of Storm Large. I had a happy childhood with two stable, loving parents who were always there for me. I am happily married with three children and have never been promiscous or used drugs. Yet I love Storm Large, as you can see by the multiple posts about her on my main blog.
After seeing Storm's show, "Crazy Enough," twice at Portland Center Stage and purchasing the show CD, as soon as I read she was writing a book I put it on hold at the library. I've been waiting for several months to get my hands on it.
As I expected, the book delivered. Storm was able to go into deeper detail about her crazy childhood and young adulthood. Raw, honest, and full of profanity and crazy-making shit, she lays it all bare for her readers. Sex addict, drug addict, and now a performing addict, she knows all too well how larger than life and wild she is. It's part of her act. The world is a better place because she can use her wildness as art and be addicted to music and performing instead of the unhealthier habits. Much of the content was covered in her one-woman show, but she's able to go into more detail here.
If you have a strong stomach and are not easily offended, read this book. (less)
I've long been a Jane Lynch fan, since I first saw her in "Best in Show," and of course who doesn't love Sue Sylvester on "Glee"?
Lynch talks about her growing-up years in a happy suburban Illinois family. She had a reasonably happy childhood, although she never really felt like she fit in with her Catholic, traditional family. She also started drinking at a very early age, with her parents' knowledge. One of the places she felt she really fit in was in choir class, similar to the kids on "Glee."
She didn't start feeling comfortable in her own skin until she was in her 40s...between being a fledgling actor (flitting from commercials to bit parts in movies and TV series for years), an alcoholic, and gay in a straight world...but everything in her life seemed to come together as a series of happy accidents. Just as she began filming "Glee," which shot her career up to fame, she met the love of her life, her now-wife Lara Embry, and became a mom after she never thought she would have children (and in fact, she hadn't had any interest in having children).
Some have criticized Lynch's memoir for not being more revealing or dishing gossip on her costars. It strikes me that Lynch is not that kind of person. It sounds like she might have been at an earlier age--she admits that she had a big dose of Sue Sylvester in herself in her 20s and 30s--when she came down on other actors when she felt they weren't pulling their weight--but now she's happy with her life, and the fact that all of her dreams have come true. Not only is she in a fun TV series with a positive message about diversity and self-acceptance and she is happily married, but she also got to share the screen with her idols Carol Burnett and Olivia Newton John.
This was a fun read--absorbing and interesting. Lynch seems like she would be a fascinating person to have to dinner. (less)
After delivering a commencement address, Katie Couric got the idea to gather commencement addresses and other advice from various celebrities, politicians, athletes, military commanders, philanthropists, and businesspeople. She opens each section with an anecdote from her own life...about her own childhood, how she got into television, losing her husband to cancer, raising her daughters, and being criticized for her work on the CBS Evening News.
I have always liked Couric, even though others have criticized her "perkiness." But I like perky. She's upbeat, energetic, friendly, and dynamic...the kind of person I'm naturally drawn to. She might be perky, but she's got guts, ambition, persistence, and drive!
I enjoyed it, and found some of the essays to be more powerful than others. A few I scanned over (such as the ones from some of the athletes and comedians). I read about the founding of the Blue Man Group and how the guys have used their fame for philanthropic purposes. I found myself nodding with Meryl Streep on the challenges female actors face and how females are conditioned to accept male protagonists but not so much the other way around. I was inspired by personal accounts of what prompted people to found charities that now help thousands or millions of people. I found myself dog-earing the pages to jot down fragments or quotes, including some that Couric used to open each section. Here are some the ones I liked:
"One person with passion is better than 40 people merely interested." --E.M. Forster
"Despite the obvious fault in the universe, it cannot be used as an excuse for not trying to be your best self. Instead, use unfairness as a starting point to be sure that your actions are the best you can muster, and find peace in navigating your time here with grace and humor whenever possible." --Valerie Plame
"Live is not so much what you accomplish as what you overcome." --Robin Roberts
"Acts of bravery don't always take place on battlefields. They can take place in your heart, when you have the courage to honor your character, your intellect, your inclinations, and yes, your soul by listening to its clean, clear voice of direction instead of following the muddied messages of a timid world." --Anna Quindlen
"Write down five things you love to do. Next, write down five things that you're really good at. Then just try to match them up! Revisit your list once a year to make sure you're on the right track." --Hugh Jackman
"Greatness is not found in possessions, power, position, or prestige. It is discovered in goodness, humility, service, and character." --William Arthur Ward
"Nobody ever erected a statue in honor of a critic." --John Wood
"You are carrying the future of America in your heart and your mind. So live your dreams and remember, whatever you choose to do with your life, you must also be a citizen of your country, your n ation, and our interdependent world. Because while our differences make life more fascinating, our common humanity matters more." --William J. Clinton
Fareed Zakaria, international affairs journalist and bestselling author, talked about how much fear and blame there is in the U.S. today, while people do not appreciate how lucky we are. "If you listen to the political discourse in America today, you would think that all our problems have been caused by the Mexicans of the Chinese or the Muslims. The reality is that we have caused our own problems. Whatever has happened has been caused by isolating ourselves or blaming others."
"Find a way to say yes to things. Say yes to invitations to a new country, say yes to meet new friends, say yes to learn something new. Yes is how you get your first job, and your next job, and your spouse, and even your kids. Even if it's a bit edgy, a bit out of your comfort zone, saying yes means that you will do something new, meet someone new, and make a difference. Yes lets you stand out in a crowd, be the optimist, see the glass full, be the one everyone comes to. Yes is what keeps us all young." --Eric Schmidt, Executive Chair of Google (less)
A few weeks ago I heard Barbara Roberts on Oregon Public Broadcasting's morning show, Think Out Loud, talking about her new memoir. In her lively, genuine way, she spoke about the highlights of her time as governor and also discussed her upbringing. I knew I wanted to read her book, so I put it on hold at the library.
Roberts is a fascinating woman. Raised primarily in a small Oregon town (Sheridan), she grew up in a blue collar family filled with love and respect. Unlike many women of her generation, she never received the message that she was anything "less than" as a woman. However, even though she was very successful in high school, it never occurred to her (and no one encouraged her) to go on to college. She got married before she graduated from high school, and soon she found herself living and lonely in Texas (married to a soldier) and pregnant.
When her older son Mike was five or six, she began to realize something was wrong...she took him to a specialist, who pronounced him to be "extremely emotionally disturbed" and recommended that he be institutionalized (he is autistic). She refused to accept this label, but because no services were offered (much less required) for these types of kids, she ended up admitting him to a residential school, the Parry Center, where he stayed for three years. When they brought him home, she was able to get him into a special ed program in the Parkrose School District (which was being offered via a three-year grant). When the grant was going to expire, Roberts became a lobbyist to fight for the program to be extended. Oregon was the first state in the country to offer special ed services to kids who need them. A federal law was not passed until four years later. After achieving success, she joined the Parkrose School Board and eventually the Multnomah Community College Board. At the same time as her political ambitions began to grow, her young marriage began falling apart.
Soon she was a single mother raising two sons and working full-time as a bookkeeper, and working on the school boards at the same time. She got to know Oregon state senator Frank Roberts and soon married him, even though he was 21 years her senior.
She was elected as state representative, then secretary of state, and then finally governor; she was the first democratic secretary of state Oregon had seen in 100 years, and she was the first woman governor in Oregon ever. She came from behind to defeat well-known and popular candidate, Dave Frohnmayer.
What amazed me the most about this book was how much tragedy and angst was behind Roberts' cheerful exterior. Her sister lost a 2-month baby in a car accident. When Roberts became secretary of state, her husband was healthy. By the time she ended her term, he had survived two bouts with cancer and a heart attack and lost use of both legs (because of the chemo damaging a nerve in his spine). Her beloved father died just scant months before she was elected governor. Two and a half years into her governorship, her husband's cancer returned and he was given 1 year to live. He wanted to keep it a secret so he could finish out the legislative session, so they carried on as best as they could without people knowing. He died in the last year of her term. At the same time, her sister was diagnosed with cancer. Later her mother died, her son nearly died in a motorcycle accident, and her beloved best friend died of a brain tumor. Throughout it all, Roberts worked hard and showed a cheerful face to Oregonians. I don't know how she did it.
I couldn't help but think of Barack Obama while reading this book. Like Obama who has been saddled with a failing economy, Roberts was handed two huge burdens on the day she was elected: Ballot Measure 5, which was the first property tax measure to gut Oregon's economy and services, and a split legislature. As she tried to cut spending so that they could pass a budget, she took crap on every side. People blamed her for not getting more done, but she was fighting uphill battles, just like Obama. I won't go into the details of what she accomplished in office, but given the hand she was dealt with, she did many great things as governor.
Current governor John Kitzhaber does not come out very well. Kitzhaber, then the head of the Oregon senate, announced he was challenging Roberts for governor while her husband--and his colleague--was dying of cancer. In his characteristically "icy" way, he announced his decision and didn't stay to discuss it or ask how her husband was doing. He just walked off.
Two other things struck me about this book:
•Barbara Roberts is unfailingly honest, direct, and ethical. She does not shy away from admitting her mistakes or fighting for a controversial issue...whether if be the Spotted Owl, gay rights, feminism, abortion rights, AIDS, social justice, the death penalty, or any other topic. I admire her honesty and courage in standing up for what she believes in.
•She did it all without a college degree. After she retires from politics (again)--right now she's serving on the Metro council--she plans to finish her education. Clearly, she is extremely bright, articulate, and a natural leader to accomplish everything she has without a degree. I was tempted to give the book four stars, because as a woman and a leader, Roberts is inspirational and amazing. But as a book, it is not the highest-quality memoir. Roberts' writing is a bit pedantic, and she uses the passive voice a lot. She also seemed to want to document every detail of her political life, and at times she should have left some of the details (and names) out for the sake of her (non-political junkie) readers.
But I'm glad I read this book. Roberts was a trailblazer in so many ways...from advocating for her special needs son when no one else would...to believing she could be governor and making it happen. (less)
I adore John Lithgow. My husband and I saw him perform in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" on Broadway a few years ago, and we both laughed out loud during every episode of "Third Rock from the Sun."
Lithgow had me tearing up during the introduction to his memoir, when he shared a poignant tale about taking care of his elderly father during an illness. His love and admiration for his father, who was a Shakespearean director and teacher, created the impetus for this book and Lithgow's one-man show, Stories by Heart.
He takes us through his actor's life, starting with childhood and up through his recent experiences. Much of the book centered on his formative years as he was just starting out as an actor in plays directed by his father. Articulate and funny, Lithgow is a wonderful storyteller. I could not put this book down.
I found this book especially fascinating given the period of my life, as my 8-year-old is rehearsing for his first professional theater performance. One evening I read the book while waiting in the theater lobby for Kieran while listening to the shouting and singing overhead.
Lithgow actually wanted to be an artist, but acting chose him. This line particularly resonated with me during this time in my family's life: "If you hear enough applause and laughter at a young enough age, you are doomed to become an actor. After my performance as the young damsel-in-distress, my fate was probably sealed."
Even though Kieran's worn out at the moment from play rehearsals five days a week, I have a feeling that his fate will be sealed, too, once he starts performing five shows a weekend beginning next Friday. That applause and laughter will seal his fate.
Another time I cried while reading Lithgow's book was when he shared that he and his first wife had a premature baby who died shortly after birth. I am deeply touched each time I read about someone who has had a preemie or a medically fragile child. "I experienced the first genuine tragedy in my life. Jean gave birth to a son nine weeks early. For a few hours the little boy struggled for life and then gave up the ghost. It was a devastating loss for both of us."
Lithgow wrote about how his father found it too difficult to comfort him. "My mother was deeply comforting. My little sister wept compassionate tears. Actors in the company clasped me in long, heartfelt embraces. I honestly cannot remember my father registering the slightest reaction." I remember people in my own life who could not fathom what to say to us while we endured our own premature baby crisis (even though in our case our baby lived)...or later lived through repeated miscarriages. As our dear friend Doug says, "Grief reorders your address book."
Another thing I admired about this book was that Lithgow did not use names when he had less-than-pleasant reports about any of his theater colleagues. Gracefully, he used pseudonyms to protect people's reputations.
He writes about the mistakes he made...for example, getting married too early and suffering through adolescence in his 30s, leading to the death of his first marriage...and starting up a theater company without knowing what he was doing...and throughout it all, he weaves through the themes of family and lifelong learning and growth.
I would dearly love to see Lithgow on stage again someday. In the meantime, I'll have to satisfy myself with rewatching some of his old movies, and perhaps some of his new roles as well. (less)
Firoozeh Dumas is an Iranian-American married to a Frenchman, and now a writer, speaker, and mom of three. A few years ago, I enjoyed reading her first book, Funny in Farsi, a collection of stories about moving to the U.S. as a child and viewing life through an immigrant family's eyes. Laughing Without an Accent is more focused on Dumas' recent years in the U.S.
Dumas shares stories about the difficulties of getting her first book translated into Persian (in Iran, the author has no quality control over translations of their work; her courtship with her husband, who she met in college; a Tina Fey moment, when she berated a woman for allowing her dog to poop in her front yard, only to find out later that she was her children's new school principal; the stories of mother guilt (not confined to Jewish mothers) and the difficulty of turning down a parental present, even if it's awful; her decision to get rid of her family's TV (and her son's ignorance about Toys 'R Us--not a bad thing!); a funny Christmas when her husband tried valiantly to please her parents with a gourmet Christmas meal; and her view of farmers markets as near-religious experiences.
I enjoyed reading about attending an office clearance sale with her resourceful-to-a-fault, thrifty dad, who insisted on buying a few enormous desks without regard to how they were going to get the desks home, much less into the house.
As an avid library lover, I adored the story about how Dumas grew up in a family without books and only got to visit the library when a teacher advised it (her parents always obeyed teachers!). She could not believe that she would be able to take out books for free, so she took her purse with her, ready to pay for the book. “Ever since we had arrived in the United States, my classmates kept asking me about magic carpets. They don't exist, I always said. I was wrong. Magic carpets do exist. But they are called library cards.”
Some reviewers have criticized Dumas for lumping all Americans together. I say hogwash and they need to lighten up. She writes about the independent, outspoken Iranian women she knows who are hidden under hijab, contrasted with the over-the-top skimpy attire in American culture: "I wish to see the day when no woman is forced to wear a hijab, chador, or burqa, but let us not discount the women underneath those mandatory coverings. If empowerment were as simple as being able to show skin, Paris Hilton would be the most enlightened woman in the United States. Having freedom does not automatically mean we all make good choices. Freedom is a rope; some make a ladder out of it and climb out of the box they're put in; some make a noose; and others make a stripper's pole." Yes, she's opinionated about the likes of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, but she's not saying all Americans are like them.
At times she does contradict herself a bit, such as when she talks about how great Iranian schools are (were), yet how the first time she ever had a nurturing teacher was in the U.S. I would have liked to have read more about her relationship with her husband: how do they merge their French and Iranian cultures, traditions, and religions?
Most touching were stories about how tough it was to be an Iranian-American in 1979 during the hostage crisis, constantly hearing the "Bomb Iran" parody on the radio, and how recently she got to know Kathryn Koob, one of the female hostages. She ends with a story about how Koob took her all over her Iowa hometown, embracing her as a friend. And she ends with these thoughts, on the subject of reconcilation (one of my favorite topics):
"The bible is foreign to me, but its concepts are not. My father always said that hatred is a waste and never an option. He learned this growing up in Ahwaz, Iran, in a Muslim household. I have tried my best to pass the same message to my children, born and raised in the United States. Ultimately, it doesn't matter where we learn that lesson. It's just important that we do." Amen. (less)
Artie Van Why worked right across from the twin towers on that fateful day in 2001. This book is his personal account of September 11 and its aftermath on his life.
Written in a very simple style and self published, the book describes Artie's life in New York (how he ended up there and got discouraged while pursuing his dream to be an actor). He worked in a law firm's word processing center across from the World Trade Center, and on the morning of 9/11 he heard a horrifically loud boom above him. When he and his coworkers rushed out into the street, they saw people falling through the skies.
Van Why's personal account of his love for the World Trade Center and its surrounds, and the description of how the events of 9/11 affected his psyche, is touching and very personal. He speaks about going to an AA meeting at noon on that day and feeling so comforted and at home with others who had experienced similar trauma.
September 11 served as a wake-up call for Van Why. He realized that life is too short to work in an unrewarding job, coasting through life. He writes of how he tenses each time he hears an airplane overhead...or a siren.
I always think of 9/11 when I'm at the airport, particularly when I'm being dropped off by my family for a business trip. I was on my way out of town that morning and first learned about 9/11 in the airport lounge, as everyone was glued to the television overhead. Now when I fly away from my family, I always think of those people on United Flight 93, whose goodbyes to their loved ones were their last ones forever.
Artie Van Why now lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and works at a small theater. He moved to be closer to his parents. Take a look at the BBC News article (on my blog post, above) to read an excerpt of the book--and view a slide show with Artie's memories. He found that writing about his experiences--and speaking about them live in a play--helped him process his profound, painful feelings and memories.
*Disclosure: I received a copy of this book to facilitate my review. (less)
It feels like I have been reading this book forever, and I'm so glad to be done with it. I loved Meryl Streep's portrayal of Julia Child in the movie and liked Amy Adams enough to get through the Julie Powell bits. Stanley Tucci, another one of my favorites, played Julia's husband, Paul.
I'm all over one-year experiment memoirs, but I'd stayed away from this one because of the mixed reviews. But when this book was in my book group's "Yankee Swap" Christmas book exchange, I stole it from my sweet friend Caley. I took it to Holden Village with me last week, and halfway through I picked up another book (Touching the Void) in the Holden library because I needed a break from Julie Powell's incessant whining.
I'm not sure what her original blog was like, because it's virtually impossible to navigate through. I'm curious whether she actually chronicled her progress through the 536 recipes in 365 days, because in the book she writes about only perhaps 60 (?) of them, which is pretty strange since that's what the book is supposedly about. The recipes she does cover are mostly nothing I'd ever want to eat (many involve offal, brains, veal, or lamb). I wanted to know more about the actual cooking process of all of these recipes, not about Powell's tortured work life, strange friends, extremely squishy integrity, and pathetic house cleaning habits.
I definitely could have done without the maggots scene. The thought of her cooking all that fancy food in a filthy, maggot-breeding kitchen is enough to make me vomit. Her poor (dysfunctional) friends--they must have had the same feeling when they read her book and realized they had eaten the products of that kitchen.
Powell's husband, Eric, is faithfully devoted and long suffering. It didn't help me like Powell's personality knowing she cheated on her husband for 2 years and wrote all about it in her subsequent book, Cleaving. She's narcissistic and shallow and shares way too much information, even for a blog or memoir. I agree with her on some fronts (politics being one) and disagree on many others (she calls the World War II memorial in Washington "mind-bogglingly hideous"--but I liked it!).
Speaking of mind boggling, I question how Powell could hold down a mind-numbing bureaucratic job and cook 536 complicated and expensive recipes in one year's time, without gobs of vacation time and a hefty loan. It's hard to tell if she cheated--all we have to go on is her claim that she couldn't think of not finishing her project in one year's time. But who's to say she didn't skip half of the recipes?
One thing I'd like to know is how a notoriously fussy eater (she had never eaten an egg, for God's sake, before starting the project) was able to get past her food foibles and eat all sorts of bizarre ingredients (such as beef marrow and calf's feet). She does not address how she conquered her food issues, but she does mention she gained a lot of weight during that year. She relished eating innards and also in butchering, slicing, and killing (lobsters).
Powell is crushed to learn that Julia Child was not impressed with her project. After reading this book, I do not blame Julia Child one bit. Perhaps if Powell were more likable and spent more time focusing on the cooking and less on the drama in her life, Julia Child would have been entranced and intrigued by her blog.
At the end of the book, Powell claims that the project rescued her. When Julia Child died, she wrote, "I have no claim over the woman at all, unless it's the claim one who has nearly drowned has over the person who pulled her out of the ocean." If this is true, though, why did she start an affair with another man a few years later because she was filled with self-loathing or some other ridiculous reason? Julie & Julia is full of soppy adoration for her husband Eric (except when he's having a "Blanche" day or gets in her way when she is having a tantrum). What happened to lead her to not only have an affair and have a quickie with a stranger, but to rub her husband's nose in it?
Throughout Julie & Julia, Powell scatters made-up vignettes about Julia Child and her husband Paul. They seemed out of place and only made me want to read Julia Child's My Year in France to learn the real story. Julia Child was a fascinating, dynamic woman who loved life and her husband with a passion. Julie Powell, not so much. (less)
Maya Angelou is a poetic prophet, and this book contains nuggets of her wisdom. At first I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to relate, since I do not have any daughters myself. However, Angelou has one son and no daughters. Her daughter is metaphorical.
I enjoyed reading about some of her experiences and reflections (she is very opinionated!), but the one thing that bugged me was the glaring run-on sentences. Surely this book was edited? Perhaps it was meant to be stream of consciousness, but I found it to be distracting.
It did really feel like Angelou had taken her dear daughter out for dinner and was sharing her sage thoughts about life. (less)
First of all, very clever name. Meredith Baxter, star of TV movies and the classic family sitcom, "Family Ties," writes about her lack of mothering, three troubled marriages, parenting, drug use and alcoholism, bout with breast cancer, and eventually, her coming out as a lesbian.
"Family Ties" last three years were when I lived in Japan. I remember my parents or friends taping a bunch of the American TV shows I liked and sending me videotapes--they were priceless. "Family Ties" was one of the shows I relished on those videotapes.
I've always enjoyed Baxter's acting, and I was surprised along with many others when she quietly announced that she was in relationship with a woman...although I suppose the fact that her three marriages were unsuccesful could have been a clue.
Baxter never went to college so when she was with her second husband, David Baxter, who constantly verbally and emotionally abused her (and sometimes physically assaulted her, too), she always felt "less than." It took a lot of courage for her to finally declare that she'd had enough. I think that verbal and emotional abuse is even harder for women to walk away from sometimes than physical abuse. In her case, she had five children to consider as well.
Those expecting a full book of stories about "Family Ties" will be disappointed, as she covers that period in just a chapter or so. She fondly mentions Michael Gross (who played the dad), who became one of her closest friends and one of the first people she told about the abuse. I first heard about this book when I happened on an Oprah clip with Baxter, and Michael Gross appeared as a surprise guest. It was clear that they have great love and affection for one another.
She doesn't go into great detail about most of her costars (in fact she doesn't even mention Justine Bateman, causing me to wonder), so readers who are expecting a celebrity gossip rag will be disappointed.
It's not high literature, but it was an interesting read, with ultimately, a happy ending. (less)
I didn't notice until I actually started reading this book that Tina Fey has man hands and man arms on the front cover of this book. Ugh!! Shows how (un)observant I am.
Bossypants is part memoir, part show biz story, and nearly all funny. She wanders throughout her life, haphazardly, telling the reader stories and sharing observations.
She starts out by sharing her growing-up stories and photos--I always find it amazing to look at school photos of glamorous celebrities. I mean, who knew? They so clearly did NOT look glamorous in their school photos! Fey had a very normal childhool, raised by two Republican but also tolerant parents. They welcomed all of Fey's gay and lesbian friends through her high school years, especially during the summers when she was involved with a local theater group.
After college, Fey goes off to Chicago to make her millions and begins by working at the YMCA with a coworker, Donna, who loved to complain. However, "do not try to get ahead of Donna and initiate the complaining, no matter how sure she'll agree. Because Donna will leave you hanging every time.
ME: Can you believe they're cutting our lunch down to half an hour, lowering our pay by 10 percent, taking away our insurance, and making us eat dirt?!
DONNA: I don't go to doctors. I like dirt anyway, so...fine by me."
I know people like this, and they drive me CRAZY!!
Fey begins working at Second City Comedy Club and learns the rules of improv, which she shares with the reader. The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. "Always agree and SAY YES. When you're improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we're improvising and I say, 'Freeze, I have a gun,' and you say, 'That's not a gun. It's your finger...,' our improvised scene has ground to a halt...but if you say, 'The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!,' then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun." Fey then shares that "as an improviser, I always find it jarring when I meet someone in real life whose first answer is 'no.'...What kind of way is that to live?"
Fey shares interesting observations about working with men in comedy, some positive and some negative. When she first started working at SNL, the writers actively discouraged having too many women in sketches and heaven forbid, not just two women alone. (They claimed that people wouldn't want to watch two women in a sketch.) Fey broke a lot of glass ceilings when she became one of SNL's head writers. And then when the sketch of Fey and Amy Poehler and Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton shot the ratings through the roof, Fey was vindicated.
I could have done without the image of men peeing in cups and leaving said cups on the bookshelves in their office. WTF? Are they too lazy to go to the restroom? Why on earth would you want to have pee-filled cups all over your office? Clearly, these men are not married. Or gay.
When Fey moved onto 30 Rock, she had a lot more power about the way things would go (hence the name, Bossypants). People often ask her if it's hard being the boss (as executive producer of 30 Rock). She ponders whether anyone ever asks Donald Trump the same question. She's proud of her "little show," in which all of the people look normal (unlike Friends or Desperate Housewives, among others). "I've never understood why every character being 'hot' was necessary for enjoying a TV show. It's the same reason I don't get Hooters. Why do we need to enjoy chicken wings and boobies at the same time? Yes, they are a natural and beautiful part of the human experience. And so are boobies. But why at the same time?"
During one very insane weekend of her life, she (1) scheduled and shot a critical Oprah appearance on 30 Rock, (2) learned Friday she would be appearing as Sarah Palin on SNL the next day--with almost no time to prepare, and (3) planned and hosted her daughter's birthday party on Sunday. She discusses her ambivalence about the Sarah Palin period...and how her Republican parents' initial excitement eventually turned to dread...and how she feels about women in politics and leadership. When Palin herself appeared on SNL one night, Fey insisted that she be protected from what she was sure would be a studio filled with loud boos. (Palin's first appearance was backstage, so the audience weren't sure if she was there in the studio or not.)
"In my opinion, the most meaningful moment for women in the 2008 campaign was not Governor Palin's convention speech or Hillary Clinton conceding her 1,896 delegates. The moment most emblematic of how things have changed for women in America was nine-months-pregnant Amy Poehler rapping as Sarah Palin and tearing the roof off the place."
This completely resonates with me and is akin to how I recall with fondness seeing our pregnant pastor in the pulpit, preaching to a community of Lutherans and Roman Catholics (who certainly had never had a pregnant pastor before). There's just no way you can not realize that you're listening to a WOMAN when she is pregnant.
In short, this was a highly enjoyable light read and makes me want to go watch all those Tina Fey/Amy Poehler SNL sketches all over again!(less)
If you like David Sedaris, you might like this. It was not a travelogue. It was more of a story--attempting to be funny--about how the author drunk an...moreIf you like David Sedaris, you might like this. It was not a travelogue. It was more of a story--attempting to be funny--about how the author drunk and slept her way through three European cities. Read my review here: