3.5 stars. It is interesting to note that the things Michener speaks of in this slim book from 1970 are still so prevalent today. In a way, it is dish3.5 stars. It is interesting to note that the things Michener speaks of in this slim book from 1970 are still so prevalent today. In a way, it is disheartening to see that we, as a nation and as a society, have not really combated many of the pressing issues. While a bit dated, this collection of essays is a fascinating look at today through a lens of the past. ...more
A sweet and intimate look into one brief memory of Richard Burton's childhood. Surprisingly, the writing was excellent. The simple sentences in this sA sweet and intimate look into one brief memory of Richard Burton's childhood. Surprisingly, the writing was excellent. The simple sentences in this slim story reminded me often of how so many of my Christmas wishes as a child were never fulfilled, yet never made me feel dissatisfied about what I received. At least I never got a new sister-niece on Christmas eve. ...more
My heart is broken after reading this slim memoir about the firebombing of Hamburg in 1943. What makes me saddest is the realization that humanity hasMy heart is broken after reading this slim memoir about the firebombing of Hamburg in 1943. What makes me saddest is the realization that humanity has not learned anything from the atrocities of WWII. I pray that my children will never have to endure something like this. I wish I could pray that no child would have to experience this but I know that would be a fruitless prayer.
This is a great example of how creative non-fiction can be engaging and witty and artistic. That being said, this book would have been so much betterThis is a great example of how creative non-fiction can be engaging and witty and artistic. That being said, this book would have been so much better if it had cut 100 pages from its mass. ...more
A charming read that really could be about anything if the subject were inserted whenever the word painting is mentioned. Truly a wonderful book filleA charming read that really could be about anything if the subject were inserted whenever the word painting is mentioned. Truly a wonderful book filled with a soft philosophy that should be the goal of all. ...more
Simply put: AMAZING!! Although I have been a life-long reader, this slim book has shed some light on the dark areas of my mind that need to be exercisSimply put: AMAZING!! Although I have been a life-long reader, this slim book has shed some light on the dark areas of my mind that need to be exercised, put on a firm regime of mental calisthenics, which begins now with a reintroduction of my Bible, poetry of all ages, and the classics of Latin and Greek.
If you are looking to challenge yourself, read this book and form a new plan of attack for your literary consumption.
I am not going to bore you with an overview of this book. Suffice to say, it may not win any literary awards but it will make you rethink how you haveI am not going to bore you with an overview of this book. Suffice to say, it may not win any literary awards but it will make you rethink how you have previously viewed the elite warriors of SEAL teams.
The writing is awkward and clunky, push through this. The story is not about the words Chris wrote; it is about the emotions his words conveyed. At times, this story had me choking back tears. At times, I was appalled at Chris and his buddies' views on death and war. At times, it seemed as if chapters were lifted from the book and reset within the pages and given a minimal reworking because the same thing happened over and over and over again. All of this is okay because this style of storytelling really puts the reader in the minds of Chris and his team members.
Read this book. But think while you are reading it. Remember: it is not illegal to think. Not yet, anyway.
I have the current pleasure and privilege to be under the tutelage of Kent Meyers. He is helping me rewrite my book. I'm not surprised if you haven'tI have the current pleasure and privilege to be under the tutelage of Kent Meyers. He is helping me rewrite my book. I'm not surprised if you haven't heard of him...yet, that is. Before long, he will be discussed, openly in the classroom, quietly in the bookstore between patrons wondering who is this man, where did he come from?
If you haven't experienced Kent Meyers, take this opportunity now to find some of his earlier works. His command of language is mind-boggling in its simplicity. He seems to be able to find the exact word to match the exact emotion at the exact moment that emotion is needed.
THE WITNESS OF COMBINES is a collection of essays. More aptly stated, it is a collection of essays that focus on the prairies of the Midwest. Particularly Minnesota and South Dakota. Being a South Dakotan, I find immense pleasure in his words, at how he is able to describe this vast expanse of nothingness, make the reader feel as if they had always lived within this world.
Breakdown of essays:
WITNESS OF COMBINES (5 stars) - When Kent's father dies, Kent and his family are left to handle the harvest season alone. An overwhelming task for the veteran farmer, but an almost impossible task for the unskilled hands of two sons who were recently left fatherless. Instead of wallowing in the agony of losing their father, Kent and his brothers decide to bring in the harvest...but they are not alone. To their surprise, dozens of combines and trucks venture up their driveway, eager to help in any way they can. This will be the last harvest for the Meyers boys, they know this, the workers know this. What ensues is a magical display of neighborliness not often seen today. A truly wonderful piece displaying what really lies at the heart of man.
WINDBREAK (5 stars) - Kent's older brother, Kevin, built a windbreak for their cattle for a FFA project. It wasn't a perfect windbreak, as it should have contained spaces to let the wind travel through, not allow the snow to accumulate...this is the perfect metaphor for Kent's father, Wayne. Wayne was a man with strong convictions; convictions that shaped the way he thought and acted and treated others. Life is messy, wind needs to get through every once in a while or else the debris floating on the wind gathers, and over time this debris causes pain or worry or insecurity. Wayne was the perfect windbreak for his children. He taught them that to be human, one must act humanely, with dignity, integrity, and a even a bit of nobility. Fathers are a needed tool in developing a child, Wayne was a perfect tool for his children.
STRAIGHTENING THE HAMMERMILL (5 stars) - When one of the brother's breaks the needed machinery to feed their cattle, desperation and grief flow forth on a wave of panic. But, and this is not always the case, the answer to the problem before oneself lies not in the way you look at it, but in the way you visualize it. Kent was able to look at the broken machinery in an abstract manner, ultimately fixing the problem. But this essay was not merely about fixing a piece of farm machinery; this essay was about visualizing himself as a father while at the same time visualizing his own father, contrasting the differences between the two of them, and acknowledging their similarities. This essay was also an excellent personal reflection on the power of storytelling--with or without words.
CHICKENS (3 stars) - A unique look at how life can start with affection and turn to cruelty over the course of three months. This essay spotlights the question: How does a child go from loving a creature to being able to slaughter the chicken in so short a time? The answer seemingly is: They are only chickens.
MY MOTHER'S SILENCE (4 stars) - Kent's mother knew how to can a variety of fruits and vegetables. It wasn't that she was doing this arduous task for the nutritional value; she canned because that is how she was able to help life on the farm. But her canning was more than just the act of sustaining a reserve of food; her canning was an art. She knew the value of her work, never boasting, always underwhelming herself in this regard. Meyers takes this notion of silence one step further in this essay as he explores the mental makeup of his mother and her art. This essay shines with respect and love, but not on a doting level; rather, this essay seeks to understand silence by reliving moments from childhood that were never previously looked upon as enjoyable. That is the brilliance of this essay. How is it that when we experience something in childhood, label it as a unsatisfying, we take that same experience in adulthood and view it as remarkable?
THE CONVERSATION OF THE ROSES (3 stars) - This essay is really about how a mother and daughter are able to share thoughts and feelings and conversation as they stroll through grandmother's rose garden. And if you have ever tried to cultivate a rose garden in Minnesota or South Dakota, you know the time and skill and work needed to see those wonderfully fleshy petals come to life. And like the silky petals of the roses, conversation only comes from great cultivation: time and skill and energy.
MY GRANDMOTHER'S BONES (4 stars) - After reading this essay, I was instantly transported to a time when I realized that my grandmother, a woman who was as hardy and tough as a bag full of shiny nails when I was a child, was no longer the same stalwart woman of my youth. This moment crushed me. It also gave me some much needed perspective. And, like Meyers in this essay, that moment has never really left my memory. In fact, it opened a new world for me, a world where I could go to hear stories of a time only mentioned in outdated history books or TCM movies. I will always cherish the fact that my grandmother allowed me to mine her memories, explore secrets of people I thought I knew but really had no knowledge of.
Fellow Goodreader, Brian DiMattia, describes COYOTE V. ACME as " brilliant and hilarious...but only for certain senses of humor. It's random, high-broFellow Goodreader, Brian DiMattia, describes COYOTE V. ACME as " brilliant and hilarious...but only for certain senses of humor. It's random, high-brow, and intellectual. It's ironic, but obtusely ironic. It's requires a knowledge of, or at least an appreciation for, both literature and pop-culture and often cross-breeds them to produce bastard children of comedic brilliance."
I cannot agree more with this assessment.
Ian Frazier has taken often overlooked, mundane, or talking points that have been talked to death and resurrected them with an infusion of humor and deft criticism. To put it another way, oftentimes, when you are reading this, you'll shake your head in agreement and amazement, wondering why you had never looked at said topic like this before.
Some of these essays are absurd, just enjoy those ones.
Others are profound segments that look at banking, human connections, insurance, sports, what it means to be a New Yorker, what New Yorkers think about movies being made in New York, employment, and other various topics.
Allow me to elucidate upon some of my favorite essays:
"Last Segment": A farcical romp detailing what happens when a favorite long-running television program comes to a screeching halt. You know you've been there. But what we all think, albeit subconsciously, is what our beloved program will be replaced with. For myself, MacGyver, The A-Team, Ed, and Miami Vice were some of the shows I scheduled my life around. Sad, I know. It comes down to this: We, television watchers, have a tendency to blur the line between reality and fiction, which results in us making the fictitious characters come to life in a very unhealthy and exaggerated manner. Be honest, you've done this.
"Boswell's Life of Don Johnson": This one is probably appreciated by the true literary lovers (or those of us that are English grad students who thought we were more literary than others). Frazier parodies Boswell's THE LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON. And if this isn't hilarious enough, the things Frazier decides to highlight in Don Johnson's life make the essay gut-busting. Miami Vice. Don Johnson's music career. Too bad Nash Bridges came a bit too late.
"Coyote v. Acme": This is the funniest essay I have ever read. You remember all the times when you were watching the Roadrunner escape the devious plans of Wile E. Coyote, sitting there in front of the tv, shaking your head at how stupid Wile E. was, right? Well we had it all wrong. Wile E. Coyote was in fact a genius. It was all ACME's fault. Frazier knew this all along. In this essay, Frazier represents Wile E. in a lawsuit against ACME for malfunctioning products. Pure brilliance!
"Have You Ever": A sidesplitting essay that looks at the difficulties of writing a life insurance policy to soap opera actors and actresses, Frazier hits a home run with this one. Honestly, I used to watch Days of Our Lives when I was in college. It was the thing to do while you ate your lunch. Plus, I met a lot of women doing this. I digress. While watching Days, one character really intrigued me more than the rest: Marlena. This was one whacked-out lady. She is who I envisioned as I read Frazier's essay. How would an insurance adjuster write a policy for a woman that: has been possessed, was almost the victim of the Salem Stalker, faked her death -- twice!, has an evil twin sister, has suffered amnesia, and is constantly battling on again/off again arch enemy Stefano? You may have to read the essay and then youtube an old episode to fully appreciate this.
"Issues and Non-Issues": This essay may be the most prescient of the collection. Frazier makes a hilarious argument on how we have taken important topics and convoluted them so much that all we can do to understand them is to focus on the abstract or mundane or minutia of said topic. Although this essay was written in 1996, it sill resounds in 2012.
Overall, this is a great collection. Read them separately or in one sitting. Either way, you won't be sorry that you took the time. And, you'll laugh. A lot.
Before there was a “cop on every corner” in New York, there were some of the most interesting characters frolicking around, bounding up and down the sBefore there was a “cop on every corner” in New York, there were some of the most interesting characters frolicking around, bounding up and down the streets as if they were players in a real-life version of a very fucked up Wonderland. Pimps and prostitutes and transvestites and junkies and businessmen and children and you-name-it all blended together and somehow figured out a way to live a somewhat harmonious existence in this concrete jungle.
This was the land of Jim Carrol. And it was in this land that Carrol wrote THE BASKETBALL DIARIES.
It was within this surreal playground that a fourteen year old basketball phenom decided to record his thoughts as his life slowly unraveled because of heroin.
The diaries start in the fall of ’63. JFK is not yet dead. Nuclear holocaust is on everyone’s minds. But to Jim Carrol the only pressing matter is basketball and girls. As a white kid, Carrol is an unusual basketball standout in New York City. He is rated as one of the top twenty prep players in the nation…the world is his oyster. Then, Carrol experiences his first big party. Girls and drugs abound. His life has entered into a phase were the inhabitants of Sodom might be jealous. It is also during this time that Carrol finds his voice. The entries during this time are slowly built upon, giving the reader a unique insight into the vast array of New York City.
However, it also during this time that I have to question the veracity of some of Carrol’s adventures. I’m not going to say they never happened. But, I will be skeptical of how they happened. You see, to me, a diary is only the rebirth of previous memories. Sometimes these memories are shrouded in the fog of time; sometimes these memories have been tinkered with and are no longer a memory of what happened as they are a memory of what has been reconstructed. Regardless, Carrol’s memories of this time evoke a sense of innocence that is about to be corrupted in a manner that can never be uncorrupted.
As the diary progresses, Carrol begins to flirt more and more with H. Never buying at first, only using when others around him supply the deadly euphoric, Carrol begins a dance that starts off as a waltz but turns into a frenetic assemblage of hands and feet that no choreographer could put any semblance to. As the diary moves from year to year, Carrol’s decline becomes obvious as his basketball status slowly loses its luster. Folks know he has game, but they never know exactly what game is going to show up at any given time.
Besides the decline of his basketball prowess, Carrol notes, often in a sideway glance, what is happening in his beloved New York. It is within these segments that Carrol shines. As Carrol recounts how his relationship with his father is tenuous at best, the reader is given a sneak peak into the psyche of a child that only wants approval of the man he knows will never accept him. And as Carrol lets his hair grow long, and begins to travel with less-than-desirables, a war rages in a small country named Vietnam. To Carrol, this war is never a prominent fixture in his life, but to New Yorkers, who were constantly living in fear that the Russians would use this war as a way to attack the US, fear permeates through the streets. Kids, especially kids with long hair, are looked upon with disdain. War protestors were looked upon as if they were spies or insurgents. Sadly, during this time, Carrol was fighting this war; he just didn’t know that his battles came in the form of H and basketball and family.
When the diaries conclude, some three-and-a-half years later, Carrol is a shell of the person he could have become. But he is also so much more of what the man he is about to become. Let me explain. As his H problem increased, his basketball abilities decreased to a point where he was no longer looked upon in awe. But, also, as his H addiction increased, his will to adequately convey his journey through thoughts and images and words increased, too. Carroll remarks about this strange change, describing it as though he needs to write just as much as he needs to find where his next score is coming from.
THE BASKETBALL DIARIES takes Carrol from Harlem to Manhattan to Riker’s Island and everywhere in between. This is so much more than a story about being a junky or a disenchanted street kid from New York; this is a story about loss and real-life, about hope and the everlasting truth that hope is sometimes only found in the minds of those that are still crazy enough to believe in it; it is about finding the apparition of happiness within a world of phantoms.
Woefully, it is about knowing that life is not all about happy endings.
And as I sit here and type this review, I am still contemplating the last sentence of his diary. What does it mean? Was it his last confession? Did he know that his life was only going to get darker and decide that the reader was no longer invited on his journey? It was written in the summer of ’66 after Carrol had lost almost everything. “I just want to be pure…” he says.
So it might be a little cruel of me to review a book about Christmas when Christmas is off most of our radars, but, hey, there's still snow on the groSo it might be a little cruel of me to review a book about Christmas when Christmas is off most of our radars, but, hey, there's still snow on the ground where I live so I'm allowing myself this review.
Like most people, I have often laughed at the strange humor David Sedaris illuminates in his past books, Naked being the funniest, IMO. When I was given a copy of HOLIDAYS ON ICE I knew what I was about to get into, so it sat on my shelves for a few months. On a whim, I plucked it from the mass of unread books of mine and flipped to the front page. There was an inscription: For Lindsay in Japan, Christmas 2000 Love, Mom and Dad. For some reason I found this hilarious. I guess I never saw HOLIDAYS ON ICE as a book to give someone for Christmas; it is the type of book that is better gotten at a used bookstore or through a Secret Santa that is the workplace scrooge. Giving this to a loved one thousands of miles away struck a chord with me.
I proceeded to read The SantaLand Diaries and almost fell off my chair a few times because I was laughing so hard. Water came out my nose once. I think we've all been in a situation during the holidays were we needed some extra cash. I've had the pleasure of working three or four holiday jobs, mostly at warehouses or with UPS. I've never thought about becoming one of the unlucky ones to actually work as a department store Santa or as one of his minions. And after reading this humorous essay, I am inclined to say that I am going to push this opportunity onto my children when they come of age. Not because I don't love them, I do. I just want them to experience what it is like to work this type of job.
The other really good essay is Season's Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!! Sedaris nails the parody of Christmas newsletters perfectly. I would love to receive a letter like this one. Instead, I will most likely continue to receive the banal information of my friends and family: Little Billy is doing this; we redecorated our pantry; Joe sure likes college. I want something more. I want: Helen has finally beaten her meth addiction; Gary finally decided to start paying that overdue child support. I want real life. I want the details of what the year was really like. If I wanted Hallmark, I’d buy a card.
Sure these essays and stories are misanthropic and sometimes course, filled with crude humor and bleak holiday cheer, but they are funny. And funny is never out of season.
Oh, by the way, Lindsay, who was in Japan in 2000, if you’re on GR, Merry Christmas!