Mary Littell was like a less-famous version of Shirley Jackson, and both of them have an approach to childrearing that I can relate to. French ImpressMary Littell was like a less-famous version of Shirley Jackson, and both of them have an approach to childrearing that I can relate to. French Impressions:: The Adventures of an American Family cracks me up. Whether Mary is setting off the Great Mayonnaise War, inadvertently giving her two-year-old son hard cider, or running to the curb in her nightgown because she forgot to set the trash out, her adventures with her family in southern France never fail to cheer me up....more
This is a brilliant and devastating book. If The Glass Castle portrayed terrible poverty and neglect, Angela's Ashes takes that portrayal to another lThis is a brilliant and devastating book. If The Glass Castle portrayed terrible poverty and neglect, Angela's Ashes takes that portrayal to another level. It's hard to imagine hunger so devastating that you'd suck old newspapers stained with the grease from fish and chips, or poverty so inescapable that even charity can't relieve it, but with this book, you don't have to imagine it; you're there with Frank McCourt, reliving his childhood.
In a way, memoir is the art of the truthful lie. The earliest chapters of Angela's Ashes contain episodes that McCourt was either too young to remember or that happened before he was born, but are written as though he knew them well enough to repeat dialogue he'd never heard or describe details he didn't witness. On some level, these scenes have to be fiction--and yet you never feel as though he's making stuff up. If anything, he's elaborating on what *should* have been and what actually *was* and at the end, it's the truth, even if the details may not be.
Frank McCourt was the oldest son of two people who never should have married: Malachy McCourt, a drunk and a dreamer, unable to keep a job for more than three weeks; and Angela Callahan, swept off her feet by a sad-eyed mystery man from the North. Frank was conceived out of wedlock and Angela's relatives made sure he wasn't born that way, unfortunately for everyone concerned. Malachy is completely unsuited to raise a family, and Angela becomes trapped by the needs of her children (she bears seven, of whom four survive childhood) in an era when women supporting themselves was almost unheard of. In a true example of leaving the frying pan for the inferno, the McCourts leave the United States at the height of the Depression to return to Ireland. You know, because jobs were so much more plentiful there. They immediately discover that Malachy's Northern accent and mannerisms make him almost unemployable in southern Limerick; Angela's family is unwilling to help them (making sure she got married didn't mean they stopped throwing it in her face what a loser she married) and the few "charitable" institutions they qualify for are overwhelmed by thousands of other families in the same situation.
This is the setting of Frank McCourt's childhood. He loves his father and hates him, despises him as he grows older and more aware of just how thoroughly the man has abandoned his family. One of the saddest moments is when Malachy McCourt finally gets work in England during World War II, something that in every other case means being lifted out of poverty from all the money the man sends home. The reader knows full well that Malachy's never going to send anything, so the anticipation of his family is simply heartbreaking. Even sadder is the realization that except for being an unregenerate alcoholic, Malachy is a brilliant, imaginative man, capable of working hard and dreaming of a better life for his family. What a waste.
For me, the most enjoyable parts had to do with how Angela's family blames everything Malachy does wrong (or differently) EXCEPT HIS ALCOHOLISM on his being a Northern Irishman. Funny walk? He's a Northerner. Can't hold a job? It's the way of those shiftless Northerners. Doesn't go to Mass often enough? You know those Northerners are all tainted with Presbyterianism, not to mention being from the North. This amused me because my McShane ancestors come most recently from Northern Ireland, some of them Irish Celts and others Scottish Protestants shipped over by James I, and I imagine most of them were Presbyterians--my own grandfather was a Presbyterian minister. So now I know that everything that's wrong with me can be blamed on the genetic material that passed through Donegal all those years ago. (Strangely, every Irish person in this book calls alcoholism the fatal curse of the entire country. Those stereotypes of the drunken Irishman? Not all of them arose from bigotry.)
Angela's Ashes ends with Frank finally escaping poverty and going to America. Despite a little too much emphasis on teenage Frank's love of masturbation, the final chapters of Angela's Ashes left me wondering what path he would choose, once he was free to choose. It's a brilliant memoir and a brilliant story, very worth reading. ...more
Meh. Angela's Ashes was wonderful, lots of history mixed in with the memoir, and so emotionally engaging. This one was a lot more memoir and not so muMeh. Angela's Ashes was wonderful, lots of history mixed in with the memoir, and so emotionally engaging. This one was a lot more memoir and not so much history, and far too much detail about his sex life and frequent masturbation (though he does, amusingly, refer to the latter as "interfering with himself"). The beautiful Irish voice still comes through, so it's pleasant to read even when the subject matter becomes pedestrian, and there are a few brilliant moments: my favorite is when, as a first-time teacher struggling to teach English to a class of uninterested teens, he finds an old stash of essays the previous teacher had left in a closet. When these essays turn out to have been written by the kids' parents, uncles, cousins, etc., McCourt sets them to copying the decaying pages so they won't be lost--and connects the project to them by pointing out that their children might someday want to read about their lives. Based on this, I think McCourt's other book Teacher Man might be more my thing....more
This is sort of a companion to several movies Sykes made about Feynman, his life and work, accompanied by numerous photos, newspaper clippings, and leThis is sort of a companion to several movies Sykes made about Feynman, his life and work, accompanied by numerous photos, newspaper clippings, and letters. There's not much new here for anyone who's familiar with Feynman's work, though there were a number of new anecdotes, and I was impressed at the reproductions of some of his drawings, which I'd never seen before--the man really was good at everything he did. The recollections of family, friends, and fellow scientists add depth to the material, and I was moved by the account of his death and the events leading up to it. I'd recommend this as a starting point to anyone unfamiliar with Feynman, who was quite a personality as well as being a brilliant physicist, then move on to Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! or the less well known Tuva or Bust!: Richard Feynman's Last Journey....more