I love the way that Solnit thinks, and I love the way that she writes about what she thinks. I heard her read aloud from this book on her recent book...moreI love the way that Solnit thinks, and I love the way that she writes about what she thinks. I heard her read aloud from this book on her recent book tour, and the themes it takes up -- story, empathy, Alzheimer's and the loss of self, metamorphosis, and different registers of intimacy with those near and the far -- resonated with me on a number of levels. The book pulled me in immediately with tales of apricots and her mother's steady decline. The further the stories moved away from that centering tale, the less captivated I was by the narrative. It was still all interesting. Just not captivating. I may have wanted something from it that it was never prepared to give.
Things I particularly loved about it: the deft and masterful interweaving of many kinds of stories, the nuanced and considered attention to both Buddhist and Christian thought and practice, and the ongoing meditation on the self. I hadn't expected the flat affect of Solnit's voice, and I found it unsettling throughout. I'm not sure if that's a weakness or a strength. It certainly illustrated the sense of being "faraway nearby." Regardless, it's masterfully crafted.
I put the book down several times during summer busyness and then came back to it last night in a fit of insomnia. The final chapters returned more directly to the apricots and mother/daughter relationships and I was again captivated. I struggled with whether or not to give this book 4 or 5 stars, and I first went with 4 simply because I don't think I'll reread it even though several sentences and paragraphs are surely worth it. Instead, I want to read more of Solnit's other works. In the final analysis, however, I decided to give it 5 stars for sheer artistic brilliance in composition. (less)
With Mitt Romney running for President, Mormons are in the media spotlight, and this is how I encountered Terry Tempest Williams. I heard an interview...moreWith Mitt Romney running for President, Mormons are in the media spotlight, and this is how I encountered Terry Tempest Williams. I heard an interview with her on one of my favorite radio shows (OnBeing). The interview was so compelling that I looked for her books at a used bookstore, and this is the one they had. Now that I'm well into a few other books by her, this one seems like as good a place as any to start. Terry Tempest Williams is a conservationist,a writer, a daughter, and a Mormon living in Utah. No doubt she is more than the sum of these three roles, but these are the ones that interest me. In this book, her Mormonism is more of a backdrop than an explicit topic of conversation.
In Refuge, Terry Tempest Williams writes about the year her mother died (1983) which also happened to be the year the Great Salt Lake rose to record heights and threatened the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. The book weaves stories between the changes her family must confront and the changes in the lake and the bird habitat. Although they are sparse, my favorite parts of the book were TTW's brief summations of lessons learned in the face of death. She writes, "I am slowly, painfully discovering that my refuge is not found in my mother, my grandmother, or even the birds of Bear River. My refuge exists in my capacity to love. If I can learn to love death then I can begin to find refuge in change."
The book is as much about her family as it is about the Great Salt Lake area. I learned a lot, and I began to acquire a smidgen of literacy about birds. I appreciate the book for focusing my awareness on these songsters. The Epilogue - "The Clan of One Breasted Women" - is about the high incidence of breast cancer in her family and bears witness to the toxic effects of decades of atomic testing in Utah and Nevada. (less)
It has been more than a decade since I read anything like a graphic novel. At age 6, I taught myself to read with comics (well, not completely self-ta...moreIt has been more than a decade since I read anything like a graphic novel. At age 6, I taught myself to read with comics (well, not completely self-taught, but I was impatient with the Dick and Jane approach, and the graphic form really worked for me). It was so fun to return to this genre as I rolled over the 40-year-old mark. I've known of Bechdel for years, but I had never read her (Thanks for the little push, Katie King!).
In this book, I particularly liked her engagement with Freud and Winnicott. So many of her explorations about her relationship with her mother resonated my various therapies and journeys to individuate ... or is that too simple of a translation of what she was doing? At any rate, the references to Alice Miller's Drama of the Gifted Child and to object-relations therapies (via Winnicott) were right on target. I also loved getting to know lots of tidbits about Winnicott's personal life. Lots of pleasurable moments in this read.
Bechdel has mastered the tensions inherent in writing a memoir while one's family members are still alive. Her mother is not remotely enthused about being the subject of the book, yet the dialogue between mother and daughter about the topic of memoir was one of my favorite strains in the book. I enjoyed the book enough that I might just have to read the previous memoir she wrote about her relationship with her father. And if I can eek out a bit more time, I'll check out the oh-so-popular Dykes to Watch Out For. (less)
Best memoir I've read. Ever. Completely relate to the narrative of recuperating when you're a queer person who has been damaged by bizarro versions of...moreBest memoir I've read. Ever. Completely relate to the narrative of recuperating when you're a queer person who has been damaged by bizarro versions of Christianity. The adoption/abandonment story was also amazing and intense. Need to reread before I can offer more sustained reflection.(less)
This is an incredibly well-written, inspirational, and poetic memoir. It's one of the best of this genre I've read, and I've read many. The book is st...moreThis is an incredibly well-written, inspirational, and poetic memoir. It's one of the best of this genre I've read, and I've read many. The book is structured around the epic hike she accomplished on the Pacific Coast Trail a few summers after her mother died. This story forms the red thread for other stories about loss, grief, and finding one's inner strength in life. I'm in the midst of writing something more academic and theoretical about the metaphor of life as a journey, so my senses were highly attuned to the way she put many stories together. I also love Adrienne Rich's poetry, and her book of poems, Dream of a Common Language, forms an almost invisible sub-structure to the book. If you're familiar with these poems, you'll encounter several registers of added resonance.
I pretty much love everything that Anne Lamott writes - especially her non-fiction stuff. However, this one was not my favorite, and I'm not sure why....moreI pretty much love everything that Anne Lamott writes - especially her non-fiction stuff. However, this one was not my favorite, and I'm not sure why. (1) It might be me. (2) It might be this book. Or (3) It's a combo of the two. My most honest response is #3. I'll elaborate.
Since first reading Operating Instructions and Bird by Bird about 20 years ago, I fell in love with Annie and her writing. I could completely relate to her. I was surprised that I liked Operating Instructions as much as I did because I never wanted to have kids. I think her honest and humorous approach to navigating the tricky passages of life both resonated with me and offered me a role model of sorts. I also latched onto one of her early fiction books, Hard Laughter. I related to the main character's struggles with alcohol and self-hatred, and I particularly appreciated the lesbian episode as I was in the midst of coming out to myself when I read it. I didn't know it at the time, but looking back, I was looking for models who had figured out how to have both a writing life and be true to themselves. Anne Lamott was one of the few stars in my universe at that time.
In my own current journeys, Lamott's writings on Christianity continue to feed me the most. These are the books I revisit: Traveling Mercies, Plan B, and Grace (Eventually). I always want more of that Anne Lamott. I was excited to read this one because I've grown very attached to my 3 young nieces in the last few years, and I am hungry for thoughts on extended family.
Some Assembly Required delivered little pieces of all the things I love about Lamott, but it left me feeling more hungry than fulfilled. Most of the time, the journal entries ended just when I was wanting more. I wanted more about Sam, more quasi-philosophical reflections on what it means and feels like to be a grandmother, more on why it mattered so much to her that Jax get baptized in her church (she just states that it did matter), that kind of thing. Also, I understand that Sam & Amy broke up, but there was nothing about that in the book. In trying to understand why, I imagined that there are privacy issues here, and yet, Lamott usually does such a great job with these things.
I found lots of the self-depracating humor here that I've always appreciated, but I wanted her to stop hiding behind it and be more real with the reader ... in a way that I thought she was in Operating Instructions. It's very possible that this review says a lot more about me than it does about Anne Lamott ... maybe I'm hungry for different kinds of food in my journey ... maybe she's still doing the same thing and doing it well, but it just doesn't feed me anymore. Still, I can't shake the sense that there was too much distance between the reader and the main subjects of the book ... I felt like I was only getting to know a very mediated version of Sam and Jax and Amy, and if I couldn't get more of them, I wanted more substance from Anne. Maybe this is the wrong genre (the journal/memoir) for that. I'm glad I read it, but mostly, I'm hoping she writes more about faith.
addendum: I just re-read some of the passages I highlighted, and I think most of my critiques are more about me than they are about Lamott / the book. There's some great gems in here ... check out my favorite quotes for examples.(less)
Before I read this book, I knew a bit about Mapplethorpe mostly through the lens of the NEH and the Christian Right's discussion of "standards of dece...moreBefore I read this book, I knew a bit about Mapplethorpe mostly through the lens of the NEH and the Christian Right's discussion of "standards of decency" in the early 1990s (aka the Piss Christ controversy). I knew nothing about Patti Smith, although I had heard her songs, "People Have the Power" and "Because the Night." But that's not why I read the book. I read the book because I heard an interview with her and a friend offered to loan me the book. The last 6 months, I have been too scattered to focus much on reading, but in some senses, I think this book chose me.
The first few pages of this book awakened in me a desire to know everything about Patti Smith. I don't really care that much about what happened to Mapplethorpe, though he's an interesting enough character. The way Smith writes about him conveys something almost religious for me, and yet, for me, this conveyance has nothing to do with Mapplethorpe, the man. Perhaps I was drawn in by her rendering of Mapplethorpe's death in the Foreward. Her recollection of childhood experiences with prayer compelled me. After those first 10 pages or so, the book's magic dulled just enough to move me out of my reverie and to devour it as a thoroughly inspirational memoir. I have friends who loved the book because of what it evoked about New York City during a certain era, and I have other friends who love Patti Smith's role in 1970's punk rock or her connection to Andy Warhol and other artists. Me, I love this book because of the way that Patti Smith writes.
A few more tidbits to convey. Reading this book, I quickly learned that Smith grew up in a Jehovah's Witness family. There's nothing particularly "Jehovah's" about her style (at least not that I can identify), but I definitely see her as a kindred prodigal sister. I think her way of threading themes both religious and secular in all of her work is what I love the most about her style and content. I also love how committed both she and Mapplethorpe are/were to the importance of being artists and to doing art, quite broadly conceived, as their life's purpose. Mostly, I loved the excerpts of her other writings that were sprinkled throughout the book. I particularly appreciated how vivid her words conveyed her love for Mapplethorpe and the things they held dear.
Although I read this book rather quickly, I stopped before finishing the last 10 pages and saved them. I knew he died in the end, but I wasn't ready to read about that death. When I finally returned to the book, I cried my way through the last few pages. And then I put the book on my desk waiting to have the energy to write this tiny review. Here it is. Rereading those last few pages, they read to me like a funeral elegy that doesn't capture but comes very close to describing the beauty and art that is life and death as we know it. Or, at the very least, as I have known it. In the last paragraph, Patti Smith writes, "Why can't I write something that would awake the dead? That pursuit is what burns most deeply." me too.
For Christmas this year, my nieces gave me a gift certificate to a local bookstore. I immediately used it up on two more of Patti Smith's books that haven't received nearly as much acclaim. The first is her memoir of her early years, Woolgathering. The second, Auguries of Innocence, is a book of her poetry. I look forward to reading them. When I get around to it, I'll review here. (less)
I read this for a class I TA'd. Most of my students thought it gave them a better understanding of the Jim Crow era than the textbooks did. Interestin...moreI read this for a class I TA'd. Most of my students thought it gave them a better understanding of the Jim Crow era than the textbooks did. Interesting the way in which a first-hand account functions as "evidence" ... not that I disagree with the usefulness. It's just that I understand the memoir genre to be as constructed as the textbook, but that's my dissertation creeping into everything else I'm doing. :-) Anyway, it was a good read. A few sections get a little tedious, but overall, a well-written and educational book. It shows how poverty and race are/were so intricately connected, and it highlights the importance of the murder of Emmett Till in galvanizing the Civil Rights movement. There were a few times when I couldn't stop reading. (less)
I read and taught this book for a class I just finished TAing (Intro to Native American Studies). Written in a compelling memoir style, it provides ta...moreI read and taught this book for a class I just finished TAing (Intro to Native American Studies). Written in a compelling memoir style, it provides tale of Mary Crow Dog's journey from being a typical "drinking and fighting" Indian on the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota to her eventual embracing of the AIM (American Indian Movement) and the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee. I enjoyed this book not only as a teaching tool but also as a work of quality literature ... and I learned much along the way.(less)
I read this over the Christmas holidays during my own visit "home" at a mid-life point. At first, I thoroughly enjoyed it and found myself laughing ou...moreI read this over the Christmas holidays during my own visit "home" at a mid-life point. At first, I thoroughly enjoyed it and found myself laughing out loud at several points. However, as the book progressed, I enjoyed it less and less. I wanted to get to know the author better, but it seemed that she was trying too hard to be witty and yet was holding the reader at more than an arm's length. The wry jokes and references to her husband leaving her for a guy he met on gay.com were only funny for a little while. I wanted to know more about what she was thinking ... just a bit too surface-y for my taste in memoirs. Nonetheless, I enjoyed certain sections of the book, for example the discussion of the proverbial virtuous woman vis-a-vis ways of understanding the author's mother.(less)
A wonderfully written memoir on the politics and poetics of both gay marriage and regular marriage from the perspective of a couple of self-described...moreA wonderfully written memoir on the politics and poetics of both gay marriage and regular marriage from the perspective of a couple of self-described second-class citizens (Dan and his boyfriend/partner, Terry). I enjoy Dan's witty, sarcastic humor and his bold perspective. I share many of Dan and Terry's critiques of the institution of marriage and their simultaneous desire for ... not so much just recognition in the eyes of the law but also the privileges that seem to accompany legal recognition. I think I even worked through a few of my own issues while "thinking with" Dan during this mostly pleasurable read. Contemplating writing more on that in my blog. Also thinking I will check out some of his other books. One caveat, if you don't enjoy Dan Savage's tone and/or his rants, this book is probably not for you. (less)