I knew I would like Wendy from page one because: a) she quoted Lewis Carroll before every chapter (because really, North Korea was its own version of aI knew I would like Wendy from page one because: a) she quoted Lewis Carroll before every chapter (because really, North Korea was its own version of a nonsensical wonderland [and I use the term wonderland loosely]) and b) in her dedication she thanks Kim Jong-un “…for being batsh*t crazy enough to make this book possible.
Wendy does a great job recounting her bizarre experience and after 10 days and 9 nights, she is thoroughly befuddled by the country. And no wonder, she encounters contradictions and propaganda at every turn. In an attempt to define her overall impression of NoKo, she describes, “…an environment that is a combination of The Truman Show, Nazi-occupied Germany, any sitcom from the 1950’s minus the fun and funny, and what I can only imagine would be the amalgamation of solitary confinement, regular prison, and a psych ward…”
It’s a shame she was unable to take comprehensive notes and was very limited on what pictures she was permitted to take. But Wendy’s humor and the various photos she was able to include make this entertaining armchair tourism.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.
I can appreciate a good memoir extolling one’s reading experiences, but this one fell a bit short for me. Miller’s self-depreciating humor was only miI can appreciate a good memoir extolling one’s reading experiences, but this one fell a bit short for me. Miller’s self-depreciating humor was only mildly charming and though I can relate to his quest to set reading goals, I found many of his selections to be somewhat obscure. Perhaps his taste reflects his Englishness, but these were not titles that I, as an American reader, was familiar with. Sure, there were a few obligatory classics, and he and I are on the same page with our admiration of War and Peace. But there were several chapters that were skim-able especially when they pertained to books I had not read or had no familiarity with whatsoever (The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, Absolute Beginners, etc). And this is coming from a widely read English major. And there were intriguing books on his list that he never elaborated on (Frankenstein, American Psycho, etc). The chapter I liked best compared Moby Dick to DaVinci Code and that elicited a few chuckles. Otherwise, there were a few anecdotes I enjoyed, but by the time Miller finishes his “List of Betterment,” I was less than enthusiastic. He even pulls a Tolstoy when he uses the epilogue to philosophize on the future of the physical book, and by then I was just glad to be finished with Miller’s little project.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. ...more
I went into this thinking that Doughty would expose all things sordid and gory about the death industry. While there were plenty of anecdotes illustraI went into this thinking that Doughty would expose all things sordid and gory about the death industry. While there were plenty of anecdotes illustrating the grim realities of cremation and body disposal (I wouldn’t recommend reading the chapter about dead babies during dinner), it wasn’t quite as in-your-face as I anticipated. I give the girl props – to immerse herself in the business of dying as a profession takes gumption. Her morbid curiosity of death and the macabre comes off as purposeful, if quirky. Her humor isn’t knee-slapping hilarious, but Doughty is clever and witty. This book is really her own crusade to alleviate the stigma surrounding death and to advocate alternative practices in the funeral industry. The standards we have come to believe as “normal” in the 20th century aren’t necessarily a requirement. It was definitely an insightful and compelling perspective that engages the reader to consider their mortality. ...more
November 6, 2013 (Vine Review) The Death of Santini – Pat Conroy *****
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I would read anything Conroy writes,November 6, 2013 (Vine Review) The Death of Santini – Pat Conroy *****
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I would read anything Conroy writes, even if it’s a grocery list on used toilet paper. I love his prose and I think he expresses emotion so exquisitely. I couldn’t help but make comparisons to another author memoir I recently read: Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie. Both men are highly skilled at their craft, and both authors have been the victims of unfortunate circumstances. Rushdie’s talent led to the fatwa against him and Conroy’s fatwa was his father. Conroy succeeded in turning his pain into incredible literary works, and eventually repaired his strained relationship with his abusive father, Don. Regardless of their repaired adult relationship with their father, the Conroy kids were effed up as a result of growing up in his household. His sister Carol is especially exasperating (doesn’t she realize she is just as narcissistic and vile as she claims everyone else is?).
Conroy doesn’t go into much detail about his childhood as it was already laid bare in The Great Santini. He never addresses anything too personal about his own life, and though Conroy mentions numerous times his debilitating “breakdowns” he never specifies the source of these demons, nor does he attempt to articulate the nature of them. This is primarily a book about his family and the great losses he endured (mother Peggy from cancer, youngest brother John to suicide, and finally father Don to cancer). It feels like this book was a coping mechanism for Conroy. To write about the events that so deeply affected him, he is exorcising the terrible weight that so encumbered him. And he does it beautifully.
I received a complimentary copy of this book via the Amazon Vine program....more
Though this book did not offer new or revelatory insight into the murder of Meredith Kercher and the subsequent trial, it was compelling to finally reThough this book did not offer new or revelatory insight into the murder of Meredith Kercher and the subsequent trial, it was compelling to finally read about the circumstances from Amanda's perspective. In addition to the details of her life in Italy and her involvement in the investigation and legal proceedings, she describes her time while incarcerated and her emotional state during the traumatic 4 years. She admits to her mistakes and attempts to justify her behavior without sounding like she's making excuses. I thought Amanda's transformation from a naïve twenty year-old into a stoic and mature young adult was apparent. She was obviously deeply affected by her interrogation by police, which led to her one crime of slander, accusing an innocent man of Meredith's murder. Amanda doesn't come off as a saint, she admits she doesn't believe in God, she understands her own flaws, and I think she addresses that in this book.
Mind you, Amanda is not Shakespeare, but her writing is articulate and engaging. She presents the events and facts in a rational manner while conveying her own emotional reaction to her ordeal. For readers like me who have been following this story for the past several years, this is what we've been waiting for and it doesn't disappoint. ...more
I am in a unique position to review a book by a woman who has become my friend, and it was fascinating getting to know her through her memoir. HarmanI am in a unique position to review a book by a woman who has become my friend, and it was fascinating getting to know her through her memoir. Harman writes with confidence about her unique life, first as a hippie activist attempting to live a sustainable life in rural Minnesota, then as a part of a commune in Ohio as a young mother with a growing family, and finally as an empty-nester dealing with the drama of working within the medical establishment. This memoir is really Harman’s reflection on her own evolution. Sections of the book are divided by seasons, and I found that her life seemed very cyclical like the seasons. The spring of her youth takes place in a tiny log cabin with her lover and her first son. Her summer is communal living with her husband and sons when she realizes her calling is to help women through the struggle of childbirth. Autumn is the challenge of her profession and the fading light of motherhood as her sons disperse and grow into their own families. Harman also loves winter, so I expect that the next season in her life with be warm and cozy, with the brilliance of a fresh snowfall lighting up her new role as novelist (The Midwife of Hope River was fantastic).
More than anything, I thought this book was the perfect example of how ideals fall away when priorities change. With age and wisdom comes responsibility, but Harman still knows how to let her hippie light shine through. Some may call her a sell-out because she became a professional, but her overall goal to help people is admirable. Her authority on midwifery and the strengths of her beliefs is inspiring.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author. ...more
Sollecito delivers a first-hand account of the murder, investigation, and trials that have been so highly sensationalized in the media. The writing isSollecito delivers a first-hand account of the murder, investigation, and trials that have been so highly sensationalized in the media. The writing is nothing special (understandable, as English isn’t his first language), but he occasionally offers some eloquence when recounting his experiences. From his days as a student with boyish innocence, falling hard for a pretty American girl, to an accused criminal isolated behind bars for four years, he becomes a changed man upon his eventual freedom. He details every bad decision made: Amanda Knox’s questionable behavior, the police mishandling the evidence and crime scene, and prosecutor Mignini’s outrageous abuse of power. He admits to his own mistakes and how he learned to navigate the frustrating logistics of the Italian judicial system.
I have been anticipating hearing this story from Sollecito’s perspective, and I thought he did a great job with his narrative. He discusses becoming a non-entity in Amanda’s shadow, his time in prison, his relationship with his family, and his sympathy for the Kercher family. He presents the outcome of his ordeal with relief and regret, knowing he will never be the same again. He acknowledges that though he and Amada will always be linked by their nightmare and will maintain respect and support for one another, they will move on with their lives separately. This is a fascinating book for anyone who’s read the headlines and followed the story and I hope Sollecito has success and finds some modicum of peace. ...more
This fascinating book was not only a memoir about Martin’s bizarre decent into opium addiction, but a treatise on the history of opium smoking throughThis fascinating book was not only a memoir about Martin’s bizarre decent into opium addiction, but a treatise on the history of opium smoking throughout the world. His extensive knowledge originated with his obsessive collection of antique opium paraphernalia. An expat in Southeast Asia, Martin had a curiosity for all things oriental, and he figured the subject of opium was esoteric enough to corner the market. But amassing a huge collection of opium accoutrements inevitably means sampling the wares. What began as “research” into technique became an addiction that ruled his life. He luxuriated in the idea that the methods he followed were all but forgotten and he uses his experimentations in antiquity as an excuse to fuel his habit. I thought Martin told his story very well, incorporating captivating historical tidbits and even some humor. His experiences were certainly unique and he did a great job keeping me engaged.
I received a complimentary copy of this book via the Amazon Vine program....more
It took me over a month to get through Rushdie’s memoir, but it was well worth it. I took the time to read it very carefully to savor the exquisite laIt took me over a month to get through Rushdie’s memoir, but it was well worth it. I took the time to read it very carefully to savor the exquisite language. I enjoyed the device he used; I had never read a memoir in the third person and it really worked here.
Of course the central element of Rushdie’s existence is the fatwa after the publication of The Satanic Verses, and I think the following quote perfectly demonstrates what the man went through: “To hide in this way was to be stripped of all self-respect. To be told to hide was humiliation. Maybe, he thought, to live like this would be worse than death… To sulk and hide was to lead a dishonorable life. He felt very often in those years, profoundly ashamed. Both shamed and ashamed.” And yet he felt the need to defend himself: “His attempt to hold the line, to insist that he was the victim, not the perpetrator, of a great wrong was being received as arrogance.” But Rushdie is often able to infuse humor into his predicament, reminiscing about his addiction to Super Mario Brothers during his confinement. And he can appreciate the absurdity of the rhetoric posed by the Islamists condemning him and the measures they took against him: “Ayatolla Sanei… increased the bounty money to include ‘expenses.’ (Keep your receipts, assassins, you can reclaim that business lunch).”
The profound sadness he felt at the loss of life due to his ordeal is apparent, one example being the five people killed during a demonstration in Pakistan as fundamentalists stormed a U.S building (ironic since Rushdie was an Indian-born Brit). The notion that the weight of his words caused death was deeply troubling for him. There is much description of all of the protection issues, which may seem redundant, but was a sad reality of Rushdie’s life for a decade.
There is plenty of name dropping, especially fellow literati like Ian McEwan, but there are some fun pop-culture tidbits that I really enjoyed. Rushdie paints Roald Dahl unfavorably (lecherous and unkind). Upon meeting Jerry Seinfeld, the comedian inquires whether the author found the Sal Bass episode funny. He is invited to the Playboy Mansion, but is barred from BookExpo America. He inferred that had the newly founded Bloomsbury published The Satanic Verses, it, “…would never have survived to discover an obscure, unpublished children’s author called Jo Rowling.”
Rushdie is very candid about his relationships and is quick to admit his mistakes. His four marriages are laid bare (holy cow, his second wife’s behavior was exasperating) and he honors his sons with his beautiful words. He praises his friends and supporters and humbles himself before his readers. This is a moving account of an unusual, often unfortunate, but occasionally blessed life. ...more
What makes this book so terrifying is its reality. Witnessing Susannah’s decent into her bizarre illness is effing frightening, but what’s even more dWhat makes this book so terrifying is its reality. Witnessing Susannah’s decent into her bizarre illness is effing frightening, but what’s even more disconcerting is that people throughout history have probably suffered from her condition but have been misdiagnosed as autistic, schizophrenic, or even possessed. This type of autoimmune disorder is becoming more identifiable, but much about it still remains a mystery, especially since the broad range of symptoms so resemble mental illness.
Cahalan’s background as a journalist enables her to reconstruct her ordeal despite not forming memories for a month-long period. She interviewed her family members, doctors, nurses - anyone who witnessed her seizures, her slurred speech, her neurotic, paranoid delusions, and her awkward, uncontrolled movements. She deftly narrates a period of her life that changed her forever, as her body attacked her brain and she completely lost all control of herself. But she also successfully brings awareness to her readers. So if I start exhibiting strange behavior in the next few weeks, it’s probably psychosomatic sympathy symptoms.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher....more
This little memoir is more than just Patchett’s reflections on her own writing experiences. It offers advice to would-be writers in a way that engagesThis little memoir is more than just Patchett’s reflections on her own writing experiences. It offers advice to would-be writers in a way that engages the reader and empathizes with their struggles. She offers up her own practices and then admits that everyone has their own writing process. By defining what works for her, she is in no way setting guidelines, yet she illustrates how discipline is the key factor to getting words and ideas on paper. There were so many aspects I could relate to, having studied writing in college, and being taught by eccentric but inspiring professors. I have yet to fully submit myself to the craft, but I know I can always turn to Patchett’s words in The Getaway Car when motivation is ever needed.
I received a complimentary copy of this work from the author. ...more
I was so deeply affected by this book and utterly amazed by Bauby’s fierce determination. Left completely paralyzed by a debilitating stroke, he dictaI was so deeply affected by this book and utterly amazed by Bauby’s fierce determination. Left completely paralyzed by a debilitating stroke, he dictated his memoir by basically blinking the alphabet. I can’t even fathom the isolation he must have felt to be of sound mind in an utterly useless body. It is incredibly tragic and moving and I am completely in awe of this man’s legacy....more
It is heartbreaking reading a memoir when you know the tragic outcome, but it’s so worth it for the beauty of Patchett’s writing. Her devotion to herIt is heartbreaking reading a memoir when you know the tragic outcome, but it’s so worth it for the beauty of Patchett’s writing. Her devotion to her friend Lucy is evident, even when Lucy is exasperating, needy, or desperate. They fostered one another’s talent, each becoming famous in her own right, but they dealt with their own ambitions in completely different ways. Patchett often refers to herself as the Ant and Lucy as the Grasshopper from Aesop’s fables. Lucy’s physical insecurities (stemming from cancer treatment, removal of jaw bone, constant reconstructive surgeries) manifested into despair and loneliness, but Patchett remained a constant source of support. It was a remarkable friendship, having endured decades, but the end result was devastating. Patchett doesn’t linger over her personal grief; she simply presents the relationship to her readers as a thing of beauty to be admired. ...more