I am definitely the wrong audience for this book, but I still liked it. I liked what Hartzler did with it, and I liked how he pitched it directly to hI am definitely the wrong audience for this book, but I still liked it. I liked what Hartzler did with it, and I liked how he pitched it directly to his audience; there are passages that read to me like a whistle only his target audience can hear. And, let me repeat, that target audience does not include me. I think the ideal reader for this book is a teenager from a very Christian family, someone who is struggling with faith and family that feels like a straitjacket.
Since I am actually a middle-aged Jewish lesbian parent mostly struggling with getting enough sleep *and* still getting everything else done, I was genuinely shocked by some aspects of this book -- like, as a single example, that the parents who gave their 16-year-old son a purity ring for his birthday met when one of them was a high school teacher and the other was a high school student. (After I read that bit, I irritably texted a friend about maybe at least remembering about the beam in your own eye before obsessing about the speck in your son's.)
But mostly I was impressed. Hartzler makes it very clear that his parents loved him deeply and sincerely, even though they fucked up, as all parents do. (Where those particular parents fucked up was assuming that they could protect their children by simply making every single decision for them, and by believing that the person their child was didn't matter. Parent the kid you've got, fellow parents!) And he makes it clear that in the end, he did have the power to make his own decisions. No one in here is a cartoon villain or a hero; just, you know, people, being people, trying to do stuff, making mistakes. I liked that.
Most of all, I really, really liked that this is a growing-up-queer memoir that doesn't center sex and coming out as the critical experiences of, well, growing up queer. Straight people tend to expect that, tend to expect a comfortable narrative where there is DOUBT and then STRUGGLE and then KISSING and then TELLING EVERYONE (always the most important step, to straight people) and then BEAUTIFUL BUTTERFLY EVER AFTER. This book avoids that trap. I appreciate that. It's messier and realer than the Traditional Gay Teen Narrative. I'd love it if there were a thousand more books like this, messy and honest, and I think the world would be a better place for it.
So, overall: I liked this. It was hard to read in places -- there's not just embarrassment but actualfax public humiliation -- but worth the pain. (Though I admit I skimmed the public humiliation, because no.) ...more
This book should be called A Punchable Dick, since it is putatively about Paris but is actually always and only about Ernest Hemingway, but it is stilThis book should be called A Punchable Dick, since it is putatively about Paris but is actually always and only about Ernest Hemingway, but it is still absolutely worth reading. Let me explain.
Hemingway was a gifted writer, but unfortunately he mostly used his talent to write dull, men's issues novels. Many of his short stories are good, though, and in this book, his style absolutely shines. This is a series of vignettes, which was his natural, best writing length, about his life in Paris between WWI and WWII, and it's sentimental and sweet and sad, the fascinating memories of a sick old man. His gift was never great narrative; it was always great sentences, and the sentences here are gorgeous and beautifully turned, just incredibly well-crafted.
The book is also catty as hell, which I enjoyed. Hemingway was clearly, by the time he wrote this, a past master in character assassination, and he lays waste to almost everyone he mentions in this, from Gertrude Stein (who he had technically reconciled with, but wow, spare me from any reconcilations like that) to F. Scott Fitzgerald. The two people who he doesn't skewer are Evan Shipman and Ezra Pound, and both of them become far more fascinating for it.
The danger of writing a book of memoirs is that it reveals a lot about you, and that's where the Punchable Dick title comes in. Hemingway shows himself for who he really is: a weak, susceptible, wandering asshole, judgmental of everyone around him, in love with his own self-image. (Also sexist and homophobic as hell, but we all already knew that.) So to read this, you do have to spend time with a jerk, but trust me: it's worth it. His sentences are lovely....more
So I think the primary lesson of this book is that the main problem with getting old is not, you know, the physical decline, but rather that you rememSo I think the primary lesson of this book is that the main problem with getting old is not, you know, the physical decline, but rather that you remember so many cool things. You're so busy wishing the world was somehow an amalagam of every perfect time and place you remember that you become a giant pain in the ass to everyone around you. Or, at least, that's the problem with Bill Bryson getting old.
What I'm saying is, this book is essentially the monologues of your grandfather who travels a lot and is remarkably cranky.
The funniest part is definitely the first bit, when Bryson is talking about applying for UK citizenship; once he starts traveling, it all becomes a bit samey. Bryson goes to a place! He sees a remarkably pretty thing and talks about how it should all be like this! He goes to another place! He complains about how everything is getting worse and people are so stupid and frankly he cannot even stand it! He goes to a third place, which should be better than it is! Repeat ad nauseam.
And then there's the -- well, I think the ablism is already quite obvious, but let me just slap on a big ol' warning for transphobia, here; he makes one of those deeply unfunny Caitlyn Jenner comments we've all grown so very tired of.
Reading note: ended up reading this one almost solely on my iPad. Very recommended way of doing it; you can google all the stuff he's talking about and see pictures! This enhanced my enjoyment immeasurably.
This is not one of Bryson's best books. Skip unless you're a serious Bryson completist....more
Three years after reading this, I'm still pissed off about it. It was educational, but not about not shopping or our consumer culture; rather, it perfThree years after reading this, I'm still pissed off about it. It was educational, but not about not shopping or our consumer culture; rather, it perfectly encapsulates a specific overprivileged mindset.
The idea is fascinating. The book is also fascinating, but only in the way a trainwreck is; the author announces she's only buying necessities, then decrees that everything is a necessity - the New York Times! Expensive haircuts! Basically, she spends the year not buying new clothes or dinners out. (And she manages to save $8000, which - wow, I do not spend 8k a year on new clothes and dinners out.)
That's problematic enough - seriously, I know people who never in their lives have bought even half the things she declared as essential; I know people who live on what she spends on dinners out and clothing in a year - but then there's the whining. Levine considers herself wildly underprivileged despite her two homes and three cars and new wardrobe every year, and she dedicates a lot of this book to explaining a) how she might look privileged, but she's not, because - she has to live in New York City (part of the time)! She'll die without real culture! (Which she refuses to pay for, and whines that the government should pay for, demonstrating a fascinating failure to understand where the government gets its money.) She has to have expensive clothes and glasses! They're part of her style and identity!
I just - especially now, thinking about how many of my friends have lost their jobs, and how they're really not buying it this year - I am so frustrated by this book that I could spit. I would like to see a person like Levine genuinely deconstruct her spending habits - force herself to stick to a tight budget, force herself to evaluate each item she spends. But she didn't have the guts to do it, and I'm only glad I didn't buy her book. ...more
I wanted to like this book. I expected to like this book. And I did like it. I liked about a third of it, to be exact.
In this book, Barbara KingsolverI wanted to like this book. I expected to like this book. And I did like it. I liked about a third of it, to be exact.
In this book, Barbara Kingsolver is preaching to the choir as far as I'm concerned; I agree with the importance of local, sustainable eating. That's one of the big reasons I expected to like this. But let's go back to that word "preaching" - I used it advisedly, because, wow, does she. She spends at least a third of her own part of the book preaching, using a tone anyone who has spent any time with a recent religious convert will recognize only too well, and then she brings in her husband (for more factual, less condescending preaching) and her older daughter (for basic recipes and some of the worst preaching of all, since Camille doesn't quite have her mother's knack for writing), too.
The thing is, that's not what I was expecting from this book. I was expecting the tale of how one family ate locally and off their own land for a year. If the entire book had been like the bits that actually discussed that - ideally, like the part with the turkey breeding, which was truly the highlight of the book for me - I'd have been fine with everything else. I would have been happy with the insane levels of privilege, the sexism-is-alive-and-well-and-living-in-Virginia, the random contradictions, all of it, if she'd just left the lecturing to her husband and daughter.
But she didn't. So I wasn't. And even though I totally agree with her, I really, really wanted to tell her to shut up. Or, more to the point, I wanted her to stop telling and start showing. When she finally does, the book is great. But you have to wade through a huge manure heap of the worst kind of telling to get there. ...more
I've been hearing about a friend's experiences working in Antarctica for more than a year now. The things she's said have made me cringe at the introdI've been hearing about a friend's experiences working in Antarctica for more than a year now. The things she's said have made me cringe at the introductions to most books about the place. This one, though - this sounds exactly like the stories she tells.
So this book is, as far as I can tell, authentic and honest. It's also funny. And it's basically a primer in mismanagement. If you want to laugh helplessly while simultaneously fantasizing about stabbing a bunch of managers in Denver in the face with a clue fork, this is definitely the book for you.
Which isn't to say that it's perfect. The editing and layout are disasters, and the book is somewhat disorganized. None of those was a serious problem for me, though - I even managed to ignore the editing problems, which should indicate just how readable this is.
More of a problem for me was the, shall we say, rugged and faithful recreation of Antarctic conversation, complete with a lot of racism, homophobia, and sexism (just a given in that environment, although most of the time the author reported it without seeming to condone it), plus a really disturbing focus on animal harm and death. The latter made me skim a number of pages, and took this book from four to three stars. (I'm not saying it shouldn't be in there, but wow did it affect my enjoyment of the book.)
However. Even though I cringed away from some of the pages, and even though there were stories that actually raised my blood pressure in sheer fury, I really enjoyed this book. Just, you know. With caveats, enough of them that I'd hesitate to recommend the book to just anyone. (But for anyone considering a season in Antarctica, this should be mandatory reading.)...more
Someone needs to write a book called How to Turn Your Blog into a Real Book, because a lot of the people who get blog-to-book contracts just...can't.Someone needs to write a book called How to Turn Your Blog into a Real Book, because a lot of the people who get blog-to-book contracts just...can't. Which is not really surprising, and yet. It's sad to read a book and think, "Huh. This would be better as a blog. Oh, wait." Obviously, that's what happened here. This book has all the usual blog-to-book flaws - it's structureless and vaguely empty, without much focus or discussion of events.
Plaut kind of wanders between the chronological structure that probably made sense to her because that's how the blog worked and some thematic groupings of stories sort of at random. In other words, this has structure only in the sense that it has chapters.
There's also not quite enough material here for a book - again, super common in blogs-to-books. She doesn't really relate anything she discusses to larger issues, which is optional in real books but often rather nice, especially if there's not enough story to go around. And Plaut can't quite decide whether or not she should include discussion of her non-cab-driving personal life, so she sometimes does and sometimes does not. The result is that I, at least, ended up knowing too little to care about her personal life and yet way more than I wanted to.
But my biggest problem was that I finished this and wished I'd read it in small chunks in Google Reader, where I would really have enjoyed it. As it was, it was just a null reading experience: not pleasant, not unpleasant, just something to kill time with while nursing. Not every blog should be a book. This one, even though it's a great idea, shouldn't have been. ...more
This book is kind of an unholy union. Half of it is an interesting memoir about Allen Shawn's family, his life, and his phobias (and the intersectionsThis book is kind of an unholy union. Half of it is an interesting memoir about Allen Shawn's family, his life, and his phobias (and the intersections of the three). The other half is a relatively boring summary of neurological and psychological aspects of phobias.
The memoir part of it is, well, like I said: really interesting. Shawn's family background is fascinating. That's a little disingenuous, because I honestly think that almost anyone could write a good book about their family and childhood if they wrote honestly and well. But. Still. The family stuff was good. Even better, though, was Shawn's description of the development of his phobias and how they affect his life. He does a fabulous job of describing what phobias feel like and how he, as what we might call a high-functioning agoraphobic, lives and copes.
Unfortunately, there's not a lot of that, because much of the book is dedicated to the science side of things. If he'd been writing in depth about that, it would also have been interesting, but as it was, he kind of skims along the surface. He doesn't go into a lot of depth, and what he does cover is the stuff most people already know. There's nothing new in this information, and he's not a science writer, so it's not presented particularly well, either. A lot of the time I felt like he was using the science portion more as filler than as content, which was a pity, because he could have said a lot more about his family and his life (or a lot more interesting things about neurology and psychology, if he was more of that kind of person).
So the melding of the two types of book was unsuccessful. Still - the parts that were personal were good enough to make me glad I'd read the whole book. ...more
I read this one because kristiinthedark made me. (Okay, she made me by saying, "Well, I liked it." But she said it in a very coercive way, trust me.)I read this one because kristiinthedark made me. (Okay, she made me by saying, "Well, I liked it." But she said it in a very coercive way, trust me.) And I did like this better than the last two books I read by Notaro. This one was truly funny in places, and not nearly so cringe-inducing in the places where it wasn't funny, and if I didn't exactly love it, I'm still giving it four stars because a) hey, it was funny, what more can I want? and b) my problems with it were more idiosyncrasies of mine than they were actual flaws inherent in the book.
But this is my review; I'm going to list those problems.
First, I've seriously, seriously overdosed on Notaro now. I'm DONE with her uneven narrative voice and her incredible self-loathing. I mean, I'm glad I read this, but, seriously: she's told me she's dumb so many times that I now totally and completely believe her, which makes me wonder why I'm bothering to read her books.
Second - um. I'm trying to think of a nice way to put this, but I can't, so I'll just go with it. Notaro's twenties looked just like my early teens: stupid. Filled with drugs (although I drank less and smoked entirely different things), random sex, bad bad choices, and stupid stupid friends. But, well, I grew up and stopped that shit. And we all know that no one judges you more harshly than someone who has been there but isn't anymore. So I had some judgment I had to get over before I could enjoy this book. (Like, a great desire to shriek, "STOP BEING STUPID.") It really helped, though, that this was not the first book of hers I read; I knew while I was reading this that she also grew up. (Thank god. Stupidsville is not somewhere you want to settle.)
Besides those two things - which, again, the problem is all me - this was about as good and about as funny as The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death. Which is the book that got me reading her in the first place. So I thank kristiinthedark for her encouragement/coercion. And I'm really, really, truly done with Laurie Notaro now. ...more
Previously, my rule has been that if a book makes me laugh out loud, it gets four stars, period. I value laughter, and comedy is hard. This book made me change that rule, because it was such a weird blend of laughing and, well, cringing. While reading these essays, I found myself really, really hoping this was all an exaggeration, that she was claiming to have said things she only thought, that she didn't really act that way. And even though I mostly think that's true, some of these stories still hit a squick I didn't even know I had, some close kin to my embarrassment squick. "You're an adult!" I kept wanting to say. "You have a job and major debt and a husband! Stop acting like a junior varsity football player who has a really good steroids connection!"
Still. I did laugh out loud from time to time, when I wasn't wincing away from the page. And I probably will buy another book by Notaro; her work is basically the print equivalent of cotton candy, which is, as it happens, exactly what I'm in the mood for right now.
I just wish it was cotton candy that didn't make me flinch every other chapter, that's all....more
Bill Bryson is always fun, and his switch from travel memoirs to autobiography isn't really much of a switch at all - this book is a natural for him.Bill Bryson is always fun, and his switch from travel memoirs to autobiography isn't really much of a switch at all - this book is a natural for him. But it will never be my favorite of his works.
That said, the book is good. Bryson's work is all about the narrative voice, and he's right at the peak of his ability here; he's honed and developed his voice and his style, but he hasn't reached what we might call the Dave Barry point, the place where a writer's current work becomes a caricature of his older, better work. So, for the sheer craft of it, this book is a great read. It's funny, it's light, it's fast.
Unfortunately, Bryson falls into basically every trap that waits for an autobiographer. He persistently mourns all the changes that have taken place since the '50s - oh noes! The world is different! And I remember liking the old things, therefore all this change is bad! He doesn't get that he remembers things as being shiny and golden because he had a happy childhood. Things look fabulous through a nostalgic lens, and it's the lens that matters, not the things themselves. If he'd had that same happy childhood in the 1900s, he'd be mourning the introduction of cars and women's suffrage.
Which is the other problem. Bryson was privileged, and he seems to have missed that - sure, he writes about McCarthyism and racism, but he doesn't seem to understand that his own perfect, shiny childhood was largely a result of his own privilege - and other people's lack of privilege.
Just in general, the section dealing with race is painful to read; he says he never heard anyone say anything racist (except his grandmother) even as he spouts every possible racist stereotype about the blacks who attended his high school. It's pretty clear that he doesn't really understand that racism is more than shooting blacks who try to vote. (And I'm not going to go into the sexism, largely because I suspect any honest memoir of a teenaged boy is going to be, well, hugely sexist.)
So, while this is a fun book to read, it's also uncomfortable in places - the places where Bryson exposes much more of himself than he intended to....more