When her marriage ends, Isabel Gillies finds herself and her two young sons back in New York, living with her parents. Her memoir, A Year and Six Seco...moreWhen her marriage ends, Isabel Gillies finds herself and her two young sons back in New York, living with her parents. Her memoir, A Year and Six Seconds: A Love Story, recounts her struggles to put the pieces of their lives if not back together again, at least together enough to take on a new shape.
Gillies’ voice is that of a close friend, and the memoir reads as if the reader and Gillies were catching up over a cup of coffee. The tone is engaging. Memoirs can often read as if the author is dumping all her dirty laundry onto the page for readers to revel in and for the author to take pride in. Although there’s something to be said for the “no shame” approach, Gillies takes a different tack.
She retells the initial days of moving back to the family home with the right mix of full disclosure and privacy. She cops to feelings of embarrassment about living with her parents and how it affects their lives, but doesn’t dwell too much on it. This is not a “woe is me” memoir. Gillies never panders to her readers, offering clichéd advice about surviving divorce or jumping into the dating pool again.
Instead, Gillies matter-of-factly describes the events of the year after her marriage ended, without excessive hand wringing or wallowing. She doesn’t whitewash events either. She’s the first to admit when she’s incapable of rising above feelings of jealousy, anger and complete sorrow. The emotions of the past are still fresh in her mind, but the perspective of time lets Gillies write about them with a slight sense of distance.
What comes through most of all is her love for her two sons. The move from a suburban college town in Ohio to Manhattan couldn’t have been easy for the family. But Gillies and her parents make the most of it for the boys. Whether it’s turning getting dressed in winter gear into a game with waiting chairs or finding the perfect nanny through Craigslist, Gillies writes with honesty about single motherhood. She has a strong support system and acknowledges it as helping get her through the year.
Details of the marriage’s end are left to Gillies' previous book, Happens Every Day: An All-True Story.A Year and Six Seconds spends its time looking at how divorcing parents try to remain a family across state lines and how Gillies is able to accept that reconciliation is out of the question and she wouldn’t want it anyway.
The six seconds of the title refers something a friend told Gillies – it takes six seconds to fall in love. As she explains, six-second love isn’t “a fleeting through about how someone is hot, and I’m not talking about a crush; I’m talking about knowing with certainty that you could spend your life with this person. In an instant, not only are you down the aisle, but you have had the babies, you have reached old age, and you are buried side by side under a tree for all eternity. In six seconds, you see it all. And you feel it; you feel the love that will make your whole life shift. Six-second love is real, but it doesn’t always get you to happily ever after.”
Gillies gets a second chance at six-second love toward the end of the memoir, about a year chronologically after her first marriage ends. This isn’t a spoiler: Gillies tells readers up front that there’s a second love in her life. But the memoir doesn’t follow Gillies on madcap adventures in dating. She talks about her first post-marriage kiss (a true New York moment) and some of the dates she went on, but they’re not important to who she is now and Gillies rightly leaves details out of the memoir. Some readers may want more from the book in this regard, but the love story of the subtitle is really about Gillies’ love for her sons and (as corny as it can sound) for herself.
If the memoir had ended before Gillies' second marriage or even before she met her husband, you have the feeling she and the boys were going to be okay. And you look forward to the next time you can get together over coffee.(less)
Once upon a time, a little girl and her father wanted to know if they could read aloud for 100 nights in a row. When they reached that milestone, they decided to keep going. Eventually, when the little girl went to college, the nightly reading stopped after 3,218 nights. The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma uses those nights of reading as the frame for an episodic memoir that covers life in the Bronzina household from when Ozma is in the third grade to present day. Her father is a elementary school librarian, and his love of literature is evident the name he gave his younger daughter. Ozma begins each chapter with a quote from a book she and her father would have read around the time of the incident that anchors the chapter: The Giver for a chapter about the death and funeral of her beloved beta fish; Charlotte’s Web for a chapter about watching spiders and summer storms on a porch; Dicey’s Song for a chapter about the awkward father-daughter conversations about a growing daughter. A reading list at the end of the book details most of the books the two read during what the referred to as “the streak.” It’s full of classic children’s books that most readers have encountered at one point or another. The episodic nature of the book is, in part, the book’s downfall. Ozma never spends enough time with pieces of her life that, in a different memoir, could serve as a centerpole. Her mother leaves the family, but it doesn’t seem to affect Ozma and her father much other than the two of them trying to figure out what would make an acceptable Thanksgiving dinner. Her older sister pops in and out of the book but doesn’t seem to be part of the family. At times, this isn’t a problem. After all, Ozma is telling the story of her relationship with her father. At others, however, the episodes rush by before their importance in Ozma’s life is clear. The Reading Promise is Ozma’s first published work, and the pacing shows that. You want to stop her as she’s writing and encourage her to put more words on paper, to spend more time with an episode. The scenes are probably vivid in her memory, and her writing is engaging so readers want to spend more time with the scenes. Unfortunately, Ozma is on to the next one far too quickly. One of the stronger points of the book is her writing style. In the beginning chapters, the voice is that of a younger child, capturing who Ozma was at the time. Sometimes, she can come across as precocious, one of the kids you only see in sitcoms, but by the end of the book, it’s clear that Ozma was an intelligent child and, although some of the dialogue may be a fantasized version of how she spoke as a child, it fits with the picture of who the author is. Readers expecting a close discussion of children’s literature and how it affected Ozma may be disappointed. The nightly reading is just a framework for stories about growing up. What does come through is her father’s love of reading and the importance both he and Ozma place on reading to children and making a place for literature in the home. Ozma ends the book with a sudden, almost academic paragraph on the need for a commitment to reading in modern life. It feels out of place; after she had done a decent job in showing the need, she doesn’t need to explain it. (less)
Almost everyone in the United States knows the story of the Wizard of Oz. Whether you’re familiar with it from TV reruns of the 1939 MGM classic or fr...moreAlmost everyone in the United States knows the story of the Wizard of Oz. Whether you’re familiar with it from TV reruns of the 1939 MGM classic or from reading the books, chances are you’re well acquainted with Dorothy and her quest to follow the Yellow Brick Road.
What you may not know is that like Dorothy, her creator, L. Frank Baum, experienced a tornado when he was young. Or that Baum’s interest in spiritualism informed his creation of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion.
In his Oz books, Baum clearly followed the old adage: write what you know. He may not have physically been to Oz and walked through the Emerald City, but he used everything from his life to inform his creations. Rebecca Loncraine (www.rebeccaloncraine.come) takes a detailed look at Baum’s life and its ties to his fiction in The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum.
She begins eight years before Baum’s birth with a glimpse at the growing fad for mediums who could contact the dead and the effects of a diphtheria epidemic on Baum’s family. Her attention to detail is great, and a reader comes away from the early parts of the biography with a full understanding of growing up in the latter half of the 19th century. At times, the level of detail can frustrate a reader, who wants to get to the good stuff, when Baum comes into his own and begins writing.
Patience is a virtue as each chapter detailing Baum’s young life sets the stage for the next chapter. His family newspaper, created when he was a child, holds the seeds of his later fiction. As does his interest in theater. In 1882, Baum married Maud Gage. His close ties with her family would lead him to follow his brother-in-law to Dakota Territory where he experienced droughts and conditions similar to those Dorothy Gale would face before her fateful tornado ride. He also wrote about reports of Sitting Bull’s ghost dancers in his Aberdeen Saturday pioneer, a newspaper he acquired in 1889.
Baum began working on The Wizard of Oz in 1898. He drew on his memories of Civil War amputees, his fear of scarecrows, the Chicago World’s Fair and a powerful imagination to create his world. His niece, Dorothy Gage, was born one month after Baum started writing. She would die five months later.
Once The Wizard of Oz is published, Loncraine’s book picks up momentum. Oz becomes a incredible success, allowing Baum to write other fairy tales and to further explore Oz. He creates a stage musical of the book, which dazzled audiences with its use of electric light and stage trickery.
Financially successful, Baum continues the Oz series, using the books to create a world that should be, rather than the world rapidly growing in the 20th century. Uncle Henry and Auntie Em face bankruptcy in an Oz sequel so Dorothy arranges for them live in a utopian Oz.
Loncraine follows Baum through the wild success of Oz and his alter ego pseudonyms, his financial highs and lows, all the while emphasizing Baum’s love of children and childhood and his dedication to imagination. The book continues past his death in 1918to Maud’s attendance at the 1939 MGM premiere.
The Real Wizard of Oz isn’t just a biography of L. Frank Baum, but a biography of Oz. The two are intertwined, perhaps just as Baum would have it be(less)
On Sept. 11, 2001 , Thomas Flynn worked for CBS News. When the second plane hit the World Trade Center, Flynn rode his bicycle to the site as a journa...moreOn Sept. 11, 2001 , Thomas Flynn worked for CBS News. When the second plane hit the World Trade Center, Flynn rode his bicycle to the site as a journalist, following his muse of curiosity. “If this coming event were a mythical beast/…my muse would not counsel caution/…but push me closer to the flame,” he writes in the third canto.
Flynn uses Dante’s Inferno as inspiration for style and form in translating the unspeakable experiences of that day into free verse that allow the reader to believe he knows what it was like in lower Manhattan on what Flynn calls “this forever September morning.” We can’t, unless we were there. And even if we were there, the interpretation of sights, sounds and smells is unique to each person experiencing them.
What Flynn does is take the reader inside his experience and memory of September 11th. He takes us along on his transformation from journalist to participant. It is a first-hand account like none other that should be shared with as many people as possible.
We walk next to Flynn and his bicycle as he watches the first tower collapse and during his panicked flight from the scene. We wait with him in a parking garage buried in the rubble and take every dust-laden step that carries him away the inferno. Some would likely call Flynn a survivor of the attack. He agrees, but uses a different definition.
Survival is not a rapturous rebirth, not a glorious cloud-bursting return to life. Survival is the absence of death. … It’s a middle place… But it does have an advantage over death. I live to talk about it to relate the tale as it happens, not only its extremities and cruelty, but also the goodness that flourishes too.
Although some may believe that poetry isn’t for everyone, that it eludes a common dominator that popular culture does not, that it is best kept for academia in its ivory towers or elitists secure in the supposition that their reading habits elevate them above the mythical common man, I don’t agree.
At its best, and Flynn meets these challenges ably, poetry makes the intangible tangible. Metaphors and imagery translate the indescribable. When done well, poetry pulls you in, wrapping you in its arms of rhythm, letting meter carry you from one image to the next. It allows the words to take root in your mind and transform back into the indescribable that is now a part of you.
Take for example, the cantos dealing with Flynn’s observations between the planes’ strike and the towers’ collapse. We’ve all seen the news footage and heard the reports of people who jumped from the towers. Flynn saw them as more than a segment on the news.
That one, who finally gives up, who leaps from the fiery window, is at peace with her life as she contemplates its entirety. Her desk mate, now death mate, recently reconciled with a long lost friend, but still fights with her mother. How will that mother live the rest of her life?
In the days and weeks to come, Flynn passes the pictures of the missing, all labeled “Have you seen ….” “Yes, I believe I have seen . . . ./I’ve seen him soaring/I’ve seen her dropping.”
Flynn devotes a significant part of the poem to his initial shelter in nearby parking garage as he flees the “boiling/brimstone avalanche cascading from the tower.” There is no light as the dust clouds force a small group further into the garage. Rubble from the tower piles up at the entrance. “It is/becoming clear my sanctuary/is to become my tomb,” he writes.
As the group explores the garage by touch alone, one manages to break a window and the others follow his voice into cool air. “I roll through from the hell I did not expect/to escape into a purgatory of lost souls,/I among them,” Flynn recounts, adding that his eyes have no need to adjust after leaving the dark garage. No sunlight pierces the dust. Streetlights that turn on too early for the hour are of no use.
…Here, out of the tomb, it is still less than night and less than day. I take in the morning air, a dense and mourning air.
The descriptions of sights and sound stay with you after the poem ends. On Flynn’s tip uptown, still pushing his bicycle:
The walkways are a counterpane of ash, each footfall muted in the soft, dry coverlet, the commingled dust of sinner and saint blanketing the ground, lending it a leaden hue….
And later, after Flynn’s reached the river:
None of the usual clicking of Wall Street wingtips do we hear, none of the clacking of women’s heels … We walk on a blanket of death in mortal silence. (less)