If they break this Union, they will break my heart.~Alexander Hamilton
If anybody had told me a year ago that I would be delving into an 800 page bio
If they break this Union, they will break my heart.~Alexander Hamilton
If anybody had told me a year ago that I would be delving into an 800 page biography on arguably America's least known Founding Father, first Secretary of the Treasury and he of ten dollar bill fame, I would have said they were crazy. But like so many people who will read this book in the coming years, it all started with a mad love affair for the Broadway musical. It's literally all I've been able to think about (or listen to) since April. It's consumed my waking hours in the oddest, most unpredictable, joyous of ways. Having now read Chernow's impressive, meticulously researched book, I am no longer surprised how it was able to inspire Lin-Manuel Miranda to write his extraordinary, beautiful, emotional, smart, searing, perfect musical (and that's all I'm going to say about the musical), because I really want this review to focus on Chernow's accomplishment and his fascinating subject -- Alexander Hamilton.
One of the things that really jumped out at me while reading this, is how easily Hamilton's remarkable life and stupendous achievements could have been erased and lost to history for good. He had many enemies -- many people who wanted to re-write history minimizing his role in it, and deny his many staggering contributions. Hamilton died relatively young as well (just 49), way younger than many of the other Founding Fathers who outlived him by decades (except George Washington of course). When you don't survive to live and tell your story, you are really at the mercy of others. Remember this line from Braveheart? "History is written by those who have hanged heroes."
Was Alexander Hamilton a hero? I think by most definitions he most certainly was. Flawed for sure, but nevertheless an extremely intelligent man, with confounding reserves of energy and ambition, and a deep, abiding inner moral compass of what was ethical and right. He also possessed an unsurpassed, formidable ability to synthesize large, complicated ideas into accessible tracts and tangible plans to build meaningful and lasting governments and institutions. And oh yeah, he also wielded his pen in a terrible and mighty way that would have made Shakespeare quiver in his breeches, producing mountains of passionate and fiercely written letters and pamphlets and essays.
I also have to believe Hamilton was truly a good man, because two very intelligent women, remarkable in their own rights (his wife Eliza and his sister-in-law Angelica Church), loved him beyond measure and sang his praises for a lifetime. How do you avoid getting written out of history by those who have hanged heroes? Write brilliantly like a maniac non-stop, leaving behind some of the most important historical tracts ever penned, and be survived by a loyal and dedicated wife who will outlive you by 50 years and spend most of that time fighting for your reputation and the preservation of your rightful place in history.
Reading Hamilton whilst the sturm und drang of the upcoming American election rages in all its frightful rhetoric and bitter partisan vitriol has made for quite an echo chamber of America's shaky, fledgling, post-Revolutionary days and just how tenuous the fabric that binds all the States together really is. It was never a marriage made in heaven, oftentimes held together by duct tape, threats and sheer iron will. America was a walking contradiction, with its State vs Federal, rural vs urban, North vs South, slaveholding vs free divides. Nobody knew (and feared) these fractures more than Hamilton himself. But he also knew a United States would be stronger and better than a dissolute nation of independents jockeying for power and control and consumed with self-interest.
I do believe Chernow has proven that no other Founding Father worked as determinedly with every cell in his body (and top-notch brain), to preserve the Union, and uphold the Constitution. There were many compelling forces, and influential personalities, with the capability to topple this marvelous enterprise with a single huff, and one good blow. But it was Hamilton standing vigilant, it was Hamilton who roared, and cajoled, and screed, not on my watch, and here's why. It's also no wonder then that on his death bed, surrounded by his family and friends, that Hamilton should utter with such deep feeling: "If they break this Union, they will break my heart."
Hamilton's life (all 49 years of it) reads like a Dickensian novel. More than once while I was reading I couldn't help but smack my forehead at the stranger than fiction details, and uncanny coincidences and twists of fate both tragic and ironic. That he began his life as a poor orphan in the Caribbean only to help fight for and build a nation an ocean away is something out of a movie plot. As is his infamous death by duel, at the hands of (then Vice President) Aaron Burr (sir).
Who dies in a duel?!! Hamilton does. And a few years prior to that fateful meeting in Weehawken, his eldest son Philip (using the same pistols!) would die the same stupid way. There were many times when I wanted to shake Hamilton, and kick him, especially when he was tomcatting around and cheating on Eliza with Maria Reynolds, but this final decision to duel with Aaron Burr absolutely infuriated me. It was SO UNNECESSARY, especially given the fact Hamilton still had a wife and young children who depended on him. Of course, it was a dueling era, and duels were pretty commonplace, and Chernow makes a strong case that Hamilton wasn't suicidal, and really believed he could survive the duel with Burr (as most participants do). However, there was also a part of him that knew he could die, since he was so thorough and conscientious in his handling of his affairs. And writing a poignant, final letter to Eliza (which if I had been her I'm sure I would have pulled my hair out).
Alexander knew how utterly devastated Eliza was to lose their son Philip -- so HOW COULD HE DO THAT TO HER AGAIN??? Eliza should have been crushed by the grief -- losing her mother, her sister, her son, her HUSBAND, all in a very short time span. Yet she persevered and would survive to accomplish many remarkable things in her own right, not the least of which was to ensure her husband's rightful, prominent place in the history books.
And now I'm off to listen to the Broadway cast album AGAIN. Because I can't stop.
A note about the audiobook -- I started listening to this one and it wasn't quite grabbing me. The text was falling flat for some reason and my mind wA note about the audiobook -- I started listening to this one and it wasn't quite grabbing me. The text was falling flat for some reason and my mind wandered a little too much. Debra Winger has a lovely delivery as the reader, but the audiobook just didn't work for me this time. So I abandoned it for the hardcover -- and finished it in one sitting I became that engrossed and enthralled, moved and inspired.
In June of 2015 I was lucky enough to attend the American Library Association conference held in San Francisco that year. Not only was it a thrill to be surrounded by 20,000 librarians from all corners of the library world, but the City by the Bay had been on my bucket list for years. It was a week of great food and much adventuring (including a day trip to Alcatraz), with thankfully no earthquakes. But the absolute highlight of the entire shebang was getting to see Gloria Steinem speak in person. Let me just say that at 81 years old, this woman has lost none of her charisma, style, and magnetic presence. She is as strikingly beautiful as she has ever been, and her generosity of spirit and kindness beam from her person like the warmth of a thousand suns.
Her latest book is a compilation of memories and reflection of a life lived on the road and what it means to be an "organizer" -- of social justice movements, of rallies, of connecting others. When most people think of Steinem they think "feminist" and "speaker" and "leader" but what she's spent most of her life doing is listening and that is what has made her so good at being all of those other things. To be a great organizer, you need to first listen, and from the listening will come empathy, understanding, knowledge, and new ideas. Now into her eighth decade, Steinem continues to listen, never one to believe she has learned all there is to know, or is now someone who carries all the answers to truth and justice and gender equality.
I was surprised to learn that Steinem is a nervous public speaker, and though she has spent a life doing it, still gets butterflies before getting up in front of a group of people. I can't imagine a life on the road as she has lived it, so very untethered. I am too much of a homebody to have ever been called to such a nomadic life, but there is a part of me that wonders what I've missed in the way of human connection and adventure. When she turned 50, Steinem finally purchased a home and began to nest, and though her nomadic adventures would persist at least now she had a place to return and rest and refuel. Maybe when I turn 50 I'll do the opposite and take to the road!
It's the surprise, the unexpected, the out of control. It turns out that laughter is the only free emotion--the only one that can't be compelled. We can be made to fear. We can even be made to believe that we're in love because, if we're kept dependent and isolated for long enough, we bond in order to survive. But laughter explodes like aha! It comes when the punch line changes everything that has gone before, when two opposites collide and make a third, when we suddenly see a new reality. Einstein said he had to be very careful while shaving, because when he had an idea he laughed -- and he cut himself. Laughter is an orgasm of the mind. ~Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road
I came to know author James Renner through his wacky, engrossing, bewitchingly unique novels - The Man from Primrose Lane and The Great Forgetting. An I came to know author James Renner through his wacky, engrossing, bewitchingly unique novels - The Man from Primrose Lane and The Great Forgetting. And while he has a noteworthy talent spinning wild and crazy tales of speculative fiction, Renner is also a dedicated true crime writer. In fact, the journalism and true crime writing came first. And now he's returned to these stomping grounds in a big way with his new release True Crime Addict.
What sets this true crime book apart from most is not only the exceptionally sharp, punchy, lucid writing, but that Renner very much writes himself into the story as an observer, participant and one could even argue collateral damage to the unsolved Maura Murray missing person case. We realize almost from the opening paragraphs, that this is going to be a very personal journey for Renner, where he not only loses himself down the addicting, obsessive rabbit hole of trying to solve the mystery of a young woman's inexplicable disappearance into seemingly thin air, he also lays bare his own personal demons, that include his young son's struggle with uncontrollable violent outbursts (and quite possibly prescient abilities). This book really is one man's unflinching look into the abyss, and what stares back at him.
Renner is not the only person to have fallen down the rabbit hole of the Maura Murray case (a quick Google search will prove that), but given his personality and dark obsessive tendencies that he comes by quite honestly, Renner is arguably the one who's fallen the hardest and most completely. The publication of this book is the culmination (and hopefully for him) an emotional catharsis of a very long journey that Renner has recorded in detail on his Maura Murray blog that he launched in June 2011.
This book really could not have come at a better time. We seem to be in the midst of a true crime renaissance with recent cultural watershed phenomena like Making a Murderer, The Jinx and the first season of Sarah Koenig's podcast Serial which I became obsessed with when it ran in the fall of 2014. And you might as well throw The People vs OJ on that pile too, because it was also fantastic and drew a huge viewing audience.
I want to thank karen for putting a copy of this book in my hands and it is with great enthusiasm I write this review in the hopes it brings even more much deserved attention to what Renner has accomplished here. ...more
I’m having one of those rare days where I love people and all of the amazing wonder they’re capable of and if someone fucks that up for me I will sta
I’m having one of those rare days where I love people and all of the amazing wonder they’re capable of and if someone fucks that up for me I will stab them right in the face. ~Jenny Lawson
I AM GOING TO BE FURIOUSLY HAPPY, OUT OF SHEER SPITE. ~Jenny Lawson
I've shamelessly let Rocket Raccoon carry this review space since last year, and he garnered me 54 likes, so thanks Rocket! (I'm sure he would approve of my blatant exploitation even though he's the one being exploited).
But enough is enough. And really, I'm sure Rory isn't too furiously happy either about having some other fabulous raccoon steal his thunder. (And now Rocket is going to be pissed I've called him a raccoon. He doesn't like that).
Jenny Lawson -- aka The Bloggess -- is a wickedly delightful, exhausting, a bit scary, kaleidoscopic array of frantic energy meets overwhelming anxieties and various anxiety disorders and sometimes .... debilitating depression. This book is her true confession, no holds barred everything you ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask look inside her precious crazy head -- Jenny wouldn't mind me using the word crazy either; because she's taking crazy back. She's taking it out of the dark broom closet where we store things we don't want to see or talk about and wearing the "crazy badge" with pride. And why shouldn't she? Jenny, along with countless others, are survivors -- of their pain, of their chemical imbalances, of their terror, and of their uncontrollable impulses.
Because not everyone survives. My sister didn't. Depression and mental illness is terrifying. It's the disease we never talk about and as family and friends of sufferers we feel helpless in the face of it, not knowing what to do or say, or how to help. Sometimes in our effort to help, we're actually making things even harder, setting up unreasonable expectations, getting angry as if the person is acting this way on purpose just to piss us off. I really, really wish my sister and I had had this book before it became too late for her. I'm not saying it would have changed the outcome, but I know it would have changed how I talked to her and how I tried to help her. I know it would have made her feel some solace, some comfort, that other people feel this crazy too, and that it's not something you just "get over." And it would have made her laugh, her big boisterous fuck you laugh.
In all her silliness and shenanigans and stunts aimed to make us laugh (and keep herself furiously happy), Jenny Lawson is doing something really important here. She's humanizing depression and mental illness, she's reaching out and making it relatable (rather than something shameful and embarrassing). It's brave, and hopefully with shows like You're The Worst and Jared Padalecki's Always Keep Fighting campaign tackling the same difficult subject matter - we've reached a beginning of an empathy and acceptance for mental illness that will become our new normal.
I can tell you that “Just cheer up” is almost universally looked at as the most unhelpful depression cure ever. It’s pretty much the equivalent of telling someone who just had their legs amputated to “just walk it off.” Some people don’t understand that for a lot of us, mental illness is a severe chemical imbalance rather just having “a case of the Mondays.” Those same well-meaning people will tell me that I’m keeping myself from recovering because I really “just need to cheer up and smile.” That’s when I consider chopping off their arms and then blaming them for not picking up their severed arms so they can take them to the hospital to get reattached.
I love that the cover looks like a blissed out, meth-crazed Rocket Raccoon!
(Pardon my squeeing giffiness but it had to be done).
Finally finished listening to this as an audio. Meh. I have my problems with it. I may or may not review it, we'll see.
Alright, I've given it someFinally finished listening to this as an audio. Meh. I have my problems with it. I may or may not review it, we'll see.
Alright, I've given it some thought and feel that I should try to capture some of what this book made me feel (and didn't feel as it were). This memoir is essentially two stories that sometimes intersect with each other but more often than not run parallel. One story is Cheryl's 90+ day 1100 mile solo hike of the Pacific Crest Trail when she was 26 years old. The other story is of the tragic death of Cheryl's mother from lung cancer four years previously. That story is one of all-consuming grief, anger, and a downward spiral into dangerous and self-destructive behaviors.
Even though it was the death of her mother which precipitated Cheryl's decision to solo hike the PCT, I felt like the two stories are so very different from each other that it just doesn't work to have both accounts in the same book. I found it jarring each time Cheryl flashbacks to a moment in her pre-PCT life.
Don't get me wrong, both stories interested me. I was eager to read about a crazy girl taking on this extreme physical challenge. I adore man vs. nature tales. And although I found it difficult and somewhat emotionally draining, I also wanted to read about the particulars of Cheryl's grief and the details surrounding her mother's death. I lost my own mother to cancer in July 2010 and I find myself inexplicably hungering for the accounts of other people's experience of such profound tragedy.
The problem I have with the book overall I guess, is that the two stories do not complement each other very well. Some sections in which Cheryl describes the horror of helping her mother die and the depth of the grief which followed are beautifully and honestly written. The scene involving her mother's horse is seared upon my memory.
These sections are at odds however, with Cheryl's account of her selfish, self-destructive behavior after her mother's death. We all grieve differently, and there is no right way. Cheryl's chronic infidelities, drug abuse, and finally her decision to hike the PCT totally inexperienced and extremely ill-equipped I did not find interesting. In fact, it pushed me away rather than drew me in. I felt turned off. It's one thing to do something wholeheartedly rash and stupid and dangerous when you are 26 years old, but to try and wax poetic about it in hindsight in your 40s is not cool. I felt like Cheryl romanticized her hike waaaaaay too much, a reminiscence with rose-colored glasses. Sure she talks about the blisters and the patches of dry skin, the weight loss, the hunger, the thirst, the heat. But she downplays the imminent very real dangers for a happy story that all worked out in the end.
Her PCT hike could have -- should have -- ended quite disastrously. She went about it very naively, with little or no real knowledge or hiking experience. Her mistakes were massive and at times ridiculous. You can choose to laugh about them in retrospect, but the message really should be: kids, don't try this at home. I felt like grown-up Cheryl should have been apologizing for her reckless stunt rather than almost ... bragging about it. Yes, there is a definite tone of bragging and conceit (that can't all be attributed to the audiobook's reader). Maybe that's what turned me off the most, and that is certainly a very subjective, personal response I know.
If you like reading about dysfunctional people as their lives spiral out of control this book may appeal to you. If you like to read about people doing crazy ass stunts then by all means, take on the story of this young woman as she haphazardly and with zealous abandon hikes into the woods with a mammoth pack on her back and boots that are one size too small.
Cheryl's story may inspire you. It did not have that effect on me. ...more
I don't cook, not really. I can make an okay omelet, an edible lasagna, pretty yummy mashed potatoes and gravy ... and that's about it. And it isn't t I don't cook, not really. I can make an okay omelet, an edible lasagna, pretty yummy mashed potatoes and gravy ... and that's about it. And it isn't that I'm SO INEPT, I just don't really have the desire to cook. I don't like it. It's not fun for me. But here's the thing -- I LOVE to eat and I LOVE to watch food being prepared. Yes, I'm a food porn addict. I watch the Food Network, I drool over online recipes imagining what things would taste like. But would I ever bother to gather all the ingredients together and assemble said dish in my own kitchen? No way man.
But I'm trying to mend my cookingless ways. Every now and then I'll pick up a larger-than-life gorgeously photographed cookbook with all the best intentions in the world of taking it home and actually putting it to use this time in the kitchen rather than just feeding my porn addiction as I drool over all the pretty pictures. Oh what dew-eyed, misplaced delusion and optimism one gal can suffer from. Countless cookbooks have made it onto my lap, but none have made it into my kitchen (at least not with me there).
I have a sneaky, tingly feeling that this is all about to change thanks to Ree Drummond and her pioneer cooking kitchen ways. Drummond was a city girl living in Los Angeles and on a trip home to Oklahoma was swept off her feet by a living, breathing, working cowboy (he had the boots and hands to prove it). Drummond married "Marlboro Man" and he absconded with her to his cattle ranch which is also a sanctuary for wild Mustangs. Miles away from sushi and double lattes, Drummond learns to cook for burly ranch hands burning 7000 calories before 11 o'clock in the morning -- not to mention a growing brood of ravenous children.
These are recipes I can get behind -- simple, easy, down home stick to your ribs (and your arteries) sumptuous awesomeness. Food all about the flavor; unpretentious fare that doesn't require trips to a specialty grocery store or a certificate from the Culinary Institute of America. Drummond's recipes are not only simple country fare, but she presents each dish step by step accompanied by splendid photography so that even an underachiever like me can get motivated (and succeed) in the kitchen.
Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) is seriously effed up, and that doesn't always equate with being seriously bleeping funny but in her case, this book w Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) is seriously effed up, and that doesn't always equate with being seriously bleeping funny but in her case, this book will S-L-A-Y you. I laughed so hard in parts I shed tears (and a little pee I think). Just sayin'. For anyone out there with some incontinence issues already.
Her frantic, stream-of-consciousness delivery (though punctuated with gems of insane hilarity) can get exhausting. Sometimes you just want to scream, "Jenny, will you just shut the *&%@# up already!" -- imagine being stuck in an elevator with a coked up Robin Williams who just also happens to be sipping on a Red Bull laced with vodka. As horrible as that sounds, Jenny Lawson makes it work. Despite her frantic crazy energy, she will make you laugh your ass off, teach you how to curse like a sailor (that woman loves to let the expletives fly), force you to appreciate all of life's absurdities, face tragedy with (enough) dignity, and be grateful for every single blessing that you have.
She also taught me that the most interesting person in the room is probably the one hiding under the table (or in the bathroom) hyperventilating. Only stupid people aren't locked and loaded for the zombie apocalypse (well d'uh, that one I knew already). That chupacabras are REAL. That people who tell you that acupuncture is painless are "complete fucking liars." And most important of all, Texas may be big and beautiful and have awesome BBQ, but it's also where all the bitey, stinging things live.
Today the exterminator came out to spray for scorpions again, and he left a note saying that he found an enormous snakeskin next to our house. Then I screamed, "EVERYTHING IN THE COUNTRY WANTS TO KILL YOU," and Victor told me to go lie down. But then I went to look at the snakeskin, and I was all, "This is a used paper towel." Then Victor said, "Dude. That's totally a snakeskin that's been shed. Look at the diamond scale pattern," and I was all, "That's a textured diamond weave to absorb more wetness. You can tell it's a paper towel because snakeskins aren't square. Or perforated." And I spread it out on the ground and then he was all, "Huh. That is a fucking paper towel. I think we need a new exterminator." We're probably not going to survive the year.