Reading Yes Please is like sitting down with your wackiest, most honest friend, the one who tells you everything, warts and all.
I’d recommend this book to fans of comedy, SNL, Parks and Recreation, or Poehler’s movies…others might find it less interesting.
I enjoyed reading Poehler’s stories of her childhood (she was deeply cherished and told she could do anything, not a surprise when you see her optimism and cheerful spirit). She discusses her early career in comedy and how she made her big break onto SNL. She also talks of motherhood and being a professional woman, albeit a celebrity one. She speaks fondly of her friends, colleagues, and ex-husband Will Arnett…and warmly tells stories of making and tearfully ending Parks and Rec.
And she confessed one of her shameful secrets…being part of a SNL sketch that made fun of a disabled child, and trying to make amends after she learned what she had done. Honest to a fault though, she waited awhile after being called on the situation before she could ask apologize and ask for forgiveness.
I love Poehler’s brand of feminism: being unabashedly proud to be female; upbeat, optimistic, and fun; and embracing male allies, but not taking any shit, which she continues to espouse in her Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls videos and Facebook page. And best of all, like me, she cherishes her women friends, as important to our souls and spirits as food and water are to our bodies. She lives out this philosophy in her work (Leslie Knope’s Galentine’s Day and adoration of her best friend) and in her life (as she writes about one of her main collaborators, Tina Fey).
So if this sounds appealing to you, sit down with your imaginary best friend Amy for some funny, poignant, and touching tales....more
Aaron Hartzler grew up in an extremely conservative, religious home, where just disagreeing with his parents was tantamount to being seduced by Satan. For example, one day the young, fashion-conscious Aaron wanted to go to church without wearing socks with his Sperry Topsiders (because that's what you do). His father commanded him to put socks on, and Aaron resisted...and thus ensued a huge power struggle, with his father pouring on the guilt and shame...over a lack of socks.
I had to laugh when I read that Aaron got in trouble at his conservative Christian school for singing a Sandi Patty song! She was popular back when I hung out with some evangelical Christians in college, but apparently she fell from grace after she got divorced and had an affair.
Aaron is gay, but as a child he didn't know that. He felt himself drawn to fashion, theater, and music...and he also felt himself desperately torn between wanting to please his parents and wanting to express himself, in spite of his strict evangelical upbringing.
I found myself getting really annoyed with his parents, who on one occasion told Aaron he couldn't be in his school play because he had pop music tapes in his car (or some such extreme infringement of their rules). The book ends before Aaron comes out to his parents, so we don't learn how they reacted to the news...but follow-up research indicates he's still in touch with them, so that's good.
My book group enjoyed this book, and many commented on how Aaron deeply loved his parents in spite of their deep religiosity and their strict demands on him.
I always enjoy reading stories about my hometown or seeing it on film (e.g., Grimm), so that's what drew me to The Residue Years. Our local library syI always enjoy reading stories about my hometown or seeing it on film (e.g., Grimm), so that's what drew me to The Residue Years. Our local library system featured it for its "Everybody Reads" program.
But this book represents a different part of Portland than where I grew up (in the predominantly white suburbs). What makes it most interesting is that it's an autobiographical novel, based on the author's own life experiences.
Grace is a drug addict, even though she loves her children. She just can't escape the appeal of losing herself (and her troubles) in a haze. And Champ ends up selling drugs, largely because he sees so many people dealing around him...it's the easiest way to make money.
It took me a few chapters to get into this book, but Jackson's writing is beautiful: “She’s been through fire and got a soft spot for folks that seen the flame.”
The Residue Years raises questions of class and privilege. If I had been born and raised in another part of Portland, perhaps to black parents, would I have faced similar obstacles in my path? Probably.
Jackson opens up our city to bring in different perspectives...some of them not always easy to see....more
The ageless Jane Fonda breaks our lives into three acts, and she focuses most of this book on Act III. Weaving her personal life stories with strong research and tips on aging, food, fitness, friendship, love, and sex, Fonda recommends that we each perform a life review--especially while our elders are still alive so we can interview them--to better understand where we've come from and where we're going.
I must confess that I finished this book several weeks ago and forget much about it, but I made a few notes. Here are some highlights that stood out for me:
--The importance of education, no matter your age. For every added year of education, you'll add one year to your life expectancy, according to the Stanford Center on Longevity.
--"Girls' voices go underground at adolescence, whereas boys' hearts go underground when they are around five or six years old." (Lest you are of the opinion that Jane Fonda is a man-hater, she addresses the very real challenges men face, as well as women.)
--The importance of resilience, which can be even more important than what happens to you.
--The concept of a fertile void: For women in midlife, the void is fertile because we are becoming midwives to our new selves.
--An aging brain just works differently, not less effectively. As we age and lose our crystal-clear memory, it's actually "judicious pruning." Dr. George Vailliant, Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, likens the aging memory to "an attic that has filled up carelessly over the decades but now, with age, we clean it out and select only the most cherished, meaningful items to keep."
--Fonda's experience among the early feminists, making her realize the power and beauty of female friendship, while burning "away my individualistic dross and allowing the pure gold of friendships to enrich and cushion me...I often think how different, how frightening, aging would be for me had this not happened...I know that I can lose everything but that my friendships with women, together with my family, will always be there, no matter what." (Fonda talks at length about the value of her friendships, which resonated me.)
--Women over 85 are the fastest growing age group in the world!
Fonda has two chapters focused on sex during aging, with some particularly interesting information! She also discusses spirituality and shares her experience of going on a meditation retreat, trying to quiet her mind.
In the end, a well-worth-it read on aging for women!...more
My dear friend and Lutheran pastor, who visited Palestine in 2014, advised me that Blood Brothers was a good introduction to the history of the conflict in the Middle East.
Until a few years ago, I only knew one side of the Palestine-Israel story. Several people from my church started a Holy Land team and regularly visit Palestine. We've had many speakers on the topic, including Lutheran bishop Mitri Raheb (who just won the 2015 Olof Palme peace prize), Rabbi Ned Rosch (representing Jewish Voice of Peace), and other speakers. So I was reasonably well informed before starting this book, but Blood Brothers gave me a more personal, home-grown perspective.
A few months ago, we discussed Blood Brothers at our church book group, and we had two special guests: a friend who is Syrian, Hazar, and her dear friend, who is the great-niece of Fr. Elias Chacour, author of this book. A deeply emotional, heartfelt conversation ensued as they both shared stories of loss and sadness about their homelands.
One of Elias Chacour's mentors, Fr. Longere, gave this advice during a final lecture: "If there is a problem somewhere, this is what happens. Three people will try to do something to settle the issue. Ten will give a lecture analyzing what the three are doing. One hundred will commend or condemn the ten for their lecture. One thousand people will argue about the problem. And one person--only one--will involve himself so deeply in the true solution that he is too busy to listen to any of it. Now...which person are you?"
This is the central message of the book...Fr. Chacour dedicated his life to building peace among nations and religions, even though his life and his family's was upended by the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
The most important message about this book is that there's so much more going on in Israel and Palestine than what meets the eye (or crosses our path via western media). Blood Brothers begins when Fr. Elias Chacour is just a small boy, when his family had close relationships with Jews in his community. Peaceful farmers, his family did not have a lot of money, but they were rich in love and their Christian faith.
I learned in the book that the desire to form a Jewish homeland in Israel did not begin after the Holocaust. In fact, the idea first sparked in 1897 in Switzerland, at a conference "to lay the foundation stone of the house which was to shelter the Jewish nation." Over the years, many western countries talked about creating a homeland for the Jews.
In 1917 Jewish Zionists aligned themselves with Britain's Christian Restorationists, a group that believed they might bring to pass the second coming of Christ by creating a state of Israel. The intentions were not necessarily pure either. British Lord Balfour supported the creation of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, while at the same time playing a major role in passing the Aliens Act in 1906, which expressly sought to exclude Jews from Great Britain. He also did not care at all what the Palestinians thought about this.
Through the 1920s, European immigration to Palestine increased and Zionist leaders became less guarded about their plan to institute a Jewish state. Many Zionists were ill at ease with those who insisted on Jewish "predominance" in Palestine. Yitzhak Epstein, an agriculturist, warned the Zionist Party that they "had wrongly consulted every political power that held sway over Palestine without consulting the Palestinians themselves..." and he worried about Palestinian resentment. He argued that the immigrating Jews should help Palestinians find their own identity and open to them the new Jewish hospitals, schools, and reading rooms...however, he was staunchly opposed.
By the 1930s, immigration from Europe was rising like a flood, with no intervention or plans by the British. In 1936, Palestinian leaders called for a general strike, as they were losing power over their own homeland...the strike lasted for 6 months, crippling commerce. But violence increased and in 1938, the protests were finally crushed.
Pres. Roosevelt held off the Zionists and wanted to open the free world to the victims of the Holocaust, but Pres. Truman had a different plan. The Zionist lobbyists argued that admission to Palestine was the "only hope of survival" for the Jewish people. The exhausted British found themselves pressured by the White House, even as they watched their mandate government in Palestine blitzed by a campaign of terror. In 1947 they announced their plan to surrender their mandate. And violence spread unchecked.
Then came the Holocaust, when many western nations refused to take in Jewish refugees. Chacour does not blame the terrified masses of Jewish immigrants who fled to Palestine. He says they were pawns of the Zionist leaders. Upon their arrival in Palestine they were indoctrinated against their so-called new enemy: the Palestinians.
In 1950, 50,000 Jewish people were celebrating Passover in Baghdad, Iraq. (More than 130,000 Jews lived in Iraq at the time, the oldest Jewish community in the world.) A small bomb was hurled from a car speeding along the river, and shock waves rocked the community. Leaflets appeared the next day, urging Jews to flee to Israel, and 10,000 signed up for emigration immediately. Then a second bomb exploded, then a third, killing several people outside a synagogue. By early 1951 Jews fled Iraq in panic until only 5,000 remained in the country. In the end, 15 people were arrested in connection with the bombing, and they were Zionists. They had thrown bombs at their own people to touch off a panic emigration to Israel. Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and others knew of the plot in advance.
But back to Elias Chacour's story. During the Zionist takeover of Palestine, Israel destroyed 450 Palestinian villages, including Chacour's. He and his family had to flee their orchards and house to settle in a nearby village that was much more shabby than their own. Chacour was eventually sent to seminary and became a priest and then a bishop.
Even though his family's lives were torn apart by the Israeli Zionists, he does not hate them. Instead, he shows compassion to them, the true biblical "turning the other cheek," because he keeps in mind what happened in the Holocaust. He has dedicated his life to bringing Jews, Christians, and Muslims together...through activism, advocacy, and community building. At a young age, he and other Palestinians were unfairly branded as "terrorists" even though they were not. Given the Palestinian apartheid and unfair treatment they have received, it's understandable why they would want to protest. But Chacour has chosen a nonviolent path in spite of what he has seen and faced.
He tells a touching story about arriving in the deeply fractured city of Ibillin, where he arranged to have three nuns visit and reach out to the villagers. He hoped the sisters would be able to do what he had not yet been able to do: broker peace. Even after the tension began thawing, enemies still existed. One day Fr. Chacour locked the church doors and exhorted them to act like Christians and forgive each other.
His mother's final message to him before she died was, "Be strong, Elias. What you do matters. Especially for the young ones."
The book ends with Fr. Chacour asking questions of Palestinians, Israelis, and westerners. "How can you take on yourself the right to decide who is the terrorist? Who is the fighter for liberty? How do you find it your right to judge?"
Coauthor David Hazard shares an anecdote in the afterword about a visit to a Gazan refugee camp, where he spoke to a 17-year-old Palestinian girl. She told how she witnessed her teenage cousin being shot through the head after he picked up a rock in response to Israel soldier taunts. She accused him and all Americans of knowing about these daily abuses against Palestinians but not caring, and even supporting the conservative Israeli forces that sponsor these acts. When Hazard tried to explain that Americans don't know about these things, she said, "Of course Americans know we're suffering over here. You're the most powerful nation on earth. And everyone has a television. I know you know."
In the group at my church, our guests--Hazar from Syria and Fr. Chacour's niece, who is Lebanese, emotionally spoke of their homelands and the misperceptions people have about the real story in the Middle East. The following month, we discussed Blood Brothers at my regular book group, and my British friend Niki spoke about what she learned about Palestine and Israel growing up, a much more complex and multilayered picture than what we were fed in the U.S.
We are so uninformed and ignorant. So much of the conflict and strife in the Middle East, hatred between Muslims and Jews, comes down to this conflict in Palestine. And until it is resolved, nothing will get better....more
If you've ever read Tom Robbins, you're well familiar with his gallivanting across the field of language and experience. This book, which he insists is not a memoir, is no different.
It's a series of hilarious essays on a variety of topics. Robbins' stories of his childhood growing up in Appalachia, through his growing-up years and colorful relationships, are highly entertaining. Drugs, of course, made things more colorful!
This book made me want to go back and re-read some of the novels that made such an impression on me in my 20s...Jitterbug Perfume, Another Roadside Attraction, and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. Robbins is now in his 80s, but his voice and perspective (not to mention his author photo!) still seem to be in his 30s. Now he lives in quaint La Conner, Washington, a delightful spot. Wouldn't it be fun to go see him at a reading?
"A True Account of an Imaginative Life" of Tommy Rotten describes this book well....more
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....more
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....more
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. ...more
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.'”...more
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....more
This is sure to be near the top of my list of the year's top nonfiction reads. Canadian Amanda Lindhout grew up in a dysfunctional family and escaped by poring through National Geographic magazines, dreaming about exciting adventures.
When she grew up, instead of going to college, she opted to work for several months as a waitress at high-end restaurants and save all of her money...and then spend everything she'd earned on several months of travel. Soon she began taking photographs in the hopes of funding more travel. In addition to more "secure" countries, she also ventured to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, and Sudan and worked in Bagdad for an Iranian broadcasting company. She became addicted to travel...and the more daring and dangerous, the better.
Then in 2008, she decided to go to Somalia, the most dangerous country in the world (at least, at the time), primarily because no one else was going there and she wanted her big break. She convinced her Australian ex-boyfriend Nigel to go with her. Crazy? Yes! Naive? Completely. But she didn't deserve to get kidnapped, gang raped, and tortured. In spite of it all, she was able to forgive her captors and after her release after 460 days, she founded a nonprofit foundation, the Global Enrichment Foundation, to provide university opportunities to women in Somalia. She's since returned to Somalia a couple of times.
She and Nigel converted to Islam in the hopes of it protecting them, although it didn't really. I was particularly touched by the poignant interactions Lindhout had...exchanging notes and handmade gifts with her co-captive Nigel on Christmas, a desperate and tender encounter she had with a woman in a burkha on the day she and Nigel tried to escape (unsuccessfully), and the rare times she got to speak to her mother.
Lindhout doesn't always come across well--especially in her traveling days before the kidnapping--but her bravery is phenomenal. She kept herself grounded by meditating on hope. The book is beautifully written, and I'm surmising that is cowriter Sara Corbett's doing. It's been optioned for a movie, and Rooney Mara will portray Lindhout.
The saddest thing about this book, in the end, is that after all they endured together, Amanda Lindhout and Nigel are no longer in contact. Nigel wrote his own book with his sister, and it was highly critical of Lindhout and her family. They've fallen out and lost their shared connection through the greatest crisis of their lives.
Highly gripping, educational, and inspirational. I strongly recommend it! ...more
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 gMy 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!...more
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 booThis 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....more
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)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) 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....more
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!...more
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....more
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 necessaI 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?
What a wild ride Kate Bornstein's life has been. Born and raised as a man, Bornstein's journey through scientology--including her marriage and fatherhood--seems stranger than fiction. As another reviewer wrote, "In the first six pages we learn that Kate is an anorexic Jewish sadomasochist lesbian transsexual woman with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and lots of tattoos and a bionic knee and borderline personality disorder, who writes porn and used to be in a cult and wants to be cremated when she dies and managed to dodge the Vietnam war through a psychiatric deferment, all of which is considerably more than I know about the majority of my friends."
Bornstein reveals more than we really want to know about her, and she does it in an endearing, disarming way...but I have to laugh when she says she's writing this book for her (estranged) granddaughter! What person would want to read about his or her grandparent's S&M adventures? I thought the scientology bits were interesting and eye-opening, and I have to admire Kate's gutsy spirit. ...more
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....more
-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....more
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....more
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. ...more
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. ...more
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 ...more
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. ...more
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. ...more