I read memoirs to get some insight into what others might have learned from life. Wether it be something major, like how a parent's influence has resuI read memoirs to get some insight into what others might have learned from life. Wether it be something major, like how a parent's influence has resulted in a career that they love, or maybe hate. Or how a realization of a certain strength of character has enabled them to overcome some kind of difficulty.
Unfortunately, this book shows none of that insight. He was raised by a professional wilderness guide in the Sawtooth Valley of Idaho. It's obvious that he loves his father, and admires his ability to make a living in the harsh environment of the Northwest. But he doesn't really go into detail about that admiration, doesn't really spell things out very much. Sure there are great descriptions of learning how to hunt, and fish, but it all just left me cold. By the time we get to the teenage years, he details some really questionable activities. The sort of thing that a lot of people learn from and see what path they should go down once they start to leave their family home. But why does he think he did what he did ? He really doesn't try to examine or find out. I have my own theories, but who knows if I'm right? I think he was starting to realize that while he loved Idaho, he wasn't so sure if he fit in. He had an interest in Literature, but didn't really know if that would be a viable career in Idaho. Am I right, am I wrong, I don't know, he doesn't say and doesn't give any indication if that's the reason.
Also, and this is especially annoying and mysterious, his older brother appears for about three sentences. Who was he, why is he barely mentioned ? Did he ask to not be included in the book. This is especially annoying since the brother went off to fight in Vietnam, and the author did not. Why ? I have no idea. This is the one major event for teenage boys in the late sixties. It was an all encompassing, consuming thing. Go to Vietnam, wait to get drafted, or maybe try to figure out how to get out of it all together. His brother went to Vietnam, and he did not. And that's the end of that decision, let's move on.
By the time we get to his adult years, we hear about how he is now a teacher and not quite happy with his job. Why ? And what happened to his brother by then ? Was he back from Vietnam ? And wait a minute, what about his Mother too ? She's mentioned a few times, but not nearly as much as the Dad. Why is that ? Again, I don't know.
There's a review from Tim O'Brien on the back cover praising the "spare prose". That is true, plenty of spare prose, but I'd say it was too spare for me. The review has two stars, but only for the detailed description of what it was like to grow up in Idaho, which I really knew nothing about. I'm sure if I had read something else about Idaho before this, even that one good thing about the book would be familiar to me and this book would end up having just about nothing good going for it. ...more
John McPhee is one of my favorite writers. I think he is one of the writers who revolutionized the way non-fiction is written, along with Joseph MitchJohn McPhee is one of my favorite writers. I think he is one of the writers who revolutionized the way non-fiction is written, along with Joseph Mitchell, A.J. Liebling, and Truman Capote. His work has a style that is uniquely his, he can make even the most mundane subject interesting, and he usually manages to insert himself into his work without being distracting.
However, this particular book is just average. It could be that since it is a collection of magazine pieces, rather than a book length work of non-fiction, some of the pieces are now a bit dated. Some of the pieces here are very good, like the one on whisky. But some are relics of the 70's, like the one on road kill hunting in georgia, or the travel piece on Atlantic City. Still worthwhile to read, but maybe for McPhee fans only at this point. ...more
Can I give the rare FIVE STARS to a book that took me about an hour to read ? Sure, why not! This book is much better than a lot of the turgid, humorlCan I give the rare FIVE STARS to a book that took me about an hour to read ? Sure, why not! This book is much better than a lot of the turgid, humorless memoirs out there, and there's a lot of amusing oddball drawings too!
It might be because we were both born in the mid-60's that so much of what he writes about is very familiar to me. The clock on my parent's kitchen wall that didn't work, and was still left on the wall for more than 20 years. The anticipation of watching the Saturday afternoon 'Creature Feature', though in my case it was actually called 'The Creature Double Feature'. And you just had to see both movies because everyone in your third grade class would be talking about what movie they showed at school on Monday. If you missed it you were like some kind of strange misfit. You missed it because of piano lessons, what a weirdo! That strange Halloween candy that no one liked. Fights after school, that were actually brief shoving matches and were over in about five seconds. The only vegetables were from cans. Wonder bread! Spaghetti-O's! Drive-in movies! Those odd TV shows they showed in the summer when they had nothing else left to show! So much more...
And yet it's more than just a pile of amusing stories about those odd things from a mid 70's childhood. It's also a touching remembrance of parents. Parents who really did try to do the best they could, even when they were so exasperated that they sat the kids in front of the TV for hours. Or left them in the car so they could go into the supermarket by themselves. Never, never looking or acting like any of the parents of the families from those perfect TV sitcoms. By the time they are teenagers both the parents and the kids are driving each other crazy. Yet, as the kids of the 70's grow older, we return to those parents when we are adults. We return and we take care of our parents as they age, and as they continue to drive us crazy, and we drive them crazy too.
This is what it was like to grow up in the 70's. The title is "I Was a Child", and by the end you'll see why he's not a child anymore.
What an odd book! I admire this guy a lot, for the things he went through to get to where he wanted to be. And yet, I still have some major questionsWhat an odd book! I admire this guy a lot, for the things he went through to get to where he wanted to be. And yet, I still have some major questions as to what motivated him to try to join the British Army as a German Jew.
Even though he had not been in Germany in some time, having lived in France as a student, he was still German. That was his heritage and ancestry. Why did he want to fight what may have been his former classmates from his younger days ? He doesn't really go into detail on that. If I was in his situation, I'm not sure if I would be able to join the fight against fellow Germans, even if i did not like the current government.
He also doesn't really go into much detail on his battle experience. There's some funny anecdotes about how you can really hit your head in a lot of places in a tank, but what did he do in that tank ? It did seem as though he left a lot out in favor of writing something that might have been amusing. Did he agonize about having to fight fellow Germans ? I'm not entirely sure if he even was in any battles or not.
His P.G. Woodhouse style starts off as amusing, but then seems strange. Why the complete transformation from a German teen to a witty Brit in just a few years ? Maybe he was ashamed about being German ? Afraid his Jewish heritage would cause too much trouble for him, even in England ? I don't know. He even goes so far as to change his name, to something more British sounding, and then keeping that name after the war.
While not a bad book, there are lots of interesting stories, especially about his time as an translator and interrogator at the end of the war. This gets three stars just for being funny often enough. There's just too much left out to be entirely satisfying as a memoir of a German Jew who fought for the British during WWII. ...more