I am on a Dorothy Allison binge. This is the fourth book of hers I have read and the third in a row. I have given five stars to the first three.
Her bI am on a Dorothy Allison binge. This is the fourth book of hers I have read and the third in a row. I have given five stars to the first three.
Her books seem to cover similar territory: she is a feminist, a queer, a storyteller, and had a brutal beginning in life. So far I have not minded the repetition because her stories are done so well and she writes about her roots from both a fiction and nonfiction style. Sometimes it is not clear which is which.
One thing that is added in Two or Three Things I Know for Sure is black and white photographs. You get to see the people you have been reading about, always an interesting experience for me to compare the reality with my mind’s eye. I have listened as Dorothy called herself “white trash” but I look at these photos and just don’t see any white trash.
If you have read any of my other reviews of Dorothy Allison books, you will notice that this review is different. I copies great gobs of the other books into the reviews. I figure this gives readers a chance to experience some of the actual book. And besides I couldn’t really put in my own different words and say it better than the author.
Two or Three Things I Know for Sure is a small book, smaller than 5” x 8” and less than one hundred pages in the hardback. At the back of the book there is an Author’s Note.
Two or Three Things I Know for Sure was written for performance in the months following the completion of my novel, Bastard Out of Carolina. First performed in August 1991 at The Lab in San Francisco, the piece has been performed in a variety of cities and has changed with each production. For publication the work has been substantially revised.
So this is the same story I have been reading over and over with some modifications. But, you know, I am not tired of the story yet. Each time it comes to me a little differently but just as powerfully. This woman has made her life into a work of art and let all of us get to know her intimately in the process. She is worth meeting. I hope you will consider getting to know her in at least one of the venues. Bastard has also been made into a movie if you want to search it out.
”Oh, but that’s why I got to cut his throat,” she said plainly. “If I didn’t love the son of a bitch, I’d let him live forever.”
This statement writte
”Oh, but that’s why I got to cut his throat,” she said plainly. “If I didn’t love the son of a bitch, I’d let him live forever.”
This statement written by Dorothy Allison in Bastard Out of Carolina and spoken by Alma is often quoted in reviews. Words in the Boatwright family are not always logical and rarely without passion. By the time you read this book you will have had enough experience with the large dysfunctional family to know that.
I remembered Aunt Alma’s direct look this afternoon when she’d talked about loving Wade, about wanting to kill him. I didn’t understand that kind of love. I didn’t understand anything.
A twelve year old shouldn’t have to understand that, let alone feel it herself. She would have to be an excellent example of growing up too young, a Boatwright family specialty.
Before I started reading Bastard Out of Carolina, I found the 1996 movie streaming online and watched it. (If you go to http://search.ovguide.com/?ci=424&... , you will find where you can watch the movie for free.) Immediately after I watched the movie, I was not sure I wanted to read the book! The movie had some horrific, violent scenes and I thought the book might go into these scenes in more detail. I was quivering from the movie so I took a break. I wondered how the actors in the movie, especially the young ones, managed to maintain their mental health portraying events that I had trouble even watching. As I often find for myself, the images on the screen were more intense than the words in the book. In a book I am sometimes shielded from the content by my admiration of the writing, of the choice of words. The film is more vivid and in my face, pummeling me.
I was a child protective services (CPS) worker in the mid 1970s dealing with child abuse and neglect. These societal concerns were receiving increased public attention and academic study at that time and CPS was just coming to term and being born. The Battered Child Syndrome certainly applies to Bone, the girl child we watch grow up in an abusive home in Bastard Out of Carolina. This book is a lesson in traditional old time, country living. The story is told by the girl, Bone.
They did what they could. The sisters sent Mama a wedding present, a love knot Marvella had made using some of her own hair, after Maybelle had cut little notches in their rabbits’ ears under a new moon, adding the blood to the knot. She set the rabbits loose, and then the two of them tore up half a dozen rows of their beans and buried honeycomb in a piece of lace tablecloth where the beans had flourished. The note with the love knot told Mama that she should keep it under the mattress of the new bed that Glen had bought, but Mama sniffed the blood and dried hair, and shook her head over the thing. She couldn’t quite bring herself to throw it away, but she put it in one of her flower pots out in the utility room where Glen wouldn’t find it stinking up their house.
The Boatwright family is hard living, hard drinking, fighting; Bone is proud to be a part of it:
We’re smart, I thought. We’re smarter than you think we are. I felt mean and powerful and proud of all of us, all the Boatwrights who had ever gone to jail, fought back when they hadn’t a chance, and still held on to their pride.
Bone suffers abuse that is graphically portrayed: emotional, physical, sexual:
“Nobody wants me to have nothing nice,” he’d complain, and then get in one of his dangerously quiet moods and refuse to talk to anyone. He brooded so much that Reese and I patrolled the yard, picking up windblown trash and do turds – anything that would make him mad. Every new house made him happy for a little while, and we tried to extend that period of relative calm as much as possible, keeping everything clean and neat. . . . His left hand reached for me, caught my shoulder, pulled me over his left leg. He flipped my skirt up over my head and jammed it into that hand. I heard the sound of the belt swinging up, a song in the air, a high-pitched terrible sound. It hit me and I screamed. Daddy Glen swung his belt again. I screamed at its passage through the air, screamed before it hit me,. I screamed for Mama. He was screaming with me, his great hoarse shouts as loud as my high thin squeals, and behind us outside the locked door, Reese was screaming too, and then Mama. All of us were screaming, and no one could help. . . . He never said, “Don’t tell your Mama.” He never had to say it. I did not know how to tell anyone what I felt, what scared me and shamed me and still made me stand, unmoving and desperate, while he rubbed against me and ground his face into my neck. I could not tell Mama. I would not have known how to explain why I stood there and let him touch me. It wasn’t sex, not like a man and a woman pushing their naked bodies into each other, but then, it was something like sex, something powerful and frightening that he wanted badly and I did not understand at all. Worse, when Daddy Glen held me that way, it was the only time his hands were gentle, and when he let me go, I would rock on uncertain feet. . . . Two weeks later we were back home with Daddy Glen. Nothing had changed. Everything had changed. Daddy Glen had said he was sorry, begged, wept, and swore never to hurt me again. I had stood silent, stubborn, and numb.
This is the story of abuse everywhere. But not too many people can write about it like Dorothy Allison has. And you ask what was happening to Bone’s younger sister, Reese? Very often there is a special child who is the object of all of the abuse while others are untouched. Bone was that special child in her family. The emotional damage done to Reese is undoubtedly severe even though she was spared the physical and sexual abuse. Child abuse has a strong blame-the-victim component. Daddy Glen would beat Bone and her mother asked, “What did you do to make him do that?”
Allison explains her writing about abuse:
The need to make my world believable to people who have never experienced it is part of why I write fiction. I know that some things must be felt to be understood, that despair, for example, can never be adequately analyzed; it must be lived. But if I can write a story that so draws the reader in that she imagines herself like my characters, feels their sense of fear and uncertainty, their hopes and terrors, then I have come closer to knowing myself as real, important as the very people I have always watched with awe. . . . By the time I taught myself the basics of storytelling on the page, I knew there was only one story that would haunt me until I understood how to tell it—the complicated, painful story of how my mama had, and had not, saved me as a girl. Writing Bastard Out of Carolina became, ultimately, the way to claim my family's pride and tragedy, and the embattled sexuality I had fashioned on a base of violence and abuse. Source: http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defco...
Reading the online essay from which those paragraphs are taken, will tell you much about Dorothy Allison and her writing. The phrase ‘semi-autobiographical’ will become clear to the reader.
It hurt to read parts of this book. Bone’s reaction to being abused is so typical and so distressing. “It was my fault, all my fault. I had ruined everything.” But there were also some good parts. It made me remember being a child and playing with a gang of kids in my neighborhood. It reminded me of the strength within a family, even within a troubled family.
The Boatwright clan of Greenville County, South Carolina has to be your stereotype of an extended family with boatloads of hate and more boatloads of love. To call them a dysfunctional family is too neat and tidy a summary. Their interactions with anyone outside the family are limited, at least according to Bastard Out of Carolina. Lots of parents and grandparents and sisters and brothers and in-laws and nieces and nephews and cousins populate this book. The outsiders are medical people we meet at the hospital when the Boatwrights hurt each other enough, a nearby family with an albino daughter who vie for an oddity award, the law for when a Boatwright gets involved in something illegal (common but still the family tries to deal with its own infractions), the people in the diner where Mama often works. There is a family album with the newspaper articles about the family – mostly things that you might not think people would be proud of. The newspaper photo of the pick-up truck that a drunk Earle drove through a barber shop window is a good example.
There are still real Boatwrights in a real Greenville County, SC. The book will tell you, of course, that this is a book for fiction and any resemblance is coincidental! I don’t know how exactly how that works when a book is acknowledged to be semi-autobiographical.
(view spoiler)[ One of the most difficult questions left unresolved is Bone’s relationship with her mother who chose abuser Daddy Glen over abused daughter Bone. That choice is made shortly after the mother observes her husband raping and beating her twelve year old daughter on the living room floor of a sister’s house. This is the sister who loved her husband so much that she wanted to cut his throat with a razor. The implication is that Bone forgives her mother although the mother and step-father move away from the area and Raylene, the gay aunt, says her mother will never forgive herself. Raylene knows this from her personal experience of having a lesbian partner choose her baby over Raylene. This is divulged at the conclusion of the book. Nothing should be a surprise since Raylene is, above all, a Boatwright. If Bone is Dorothy Allison, the psychiatric bills must be immense. But she did become a pretty good writer – at what cost, I ask. The book is dedicated to Ms. Allison’s mother, so I guess there must have been some reconciliation at least mentally. (hide spoiler)]
You get to know Bone and her family real well. You feel yourself right there in the midst of their craziness. As a result of my child protective service experience several years after I got out of college, I am very sensitive to what Dorothy Allison writes. She is a remarkably courageous person to expose herself as she has. Even after all these years, I came face to face with the stress that made me transfer out of that CPS job after two years.
This is a very well written book even beyond its confrontation with the horrors of child abuse. You want to be more positive but the conclusion hammers home the damage done by the events, however fictional, in the book. Finally, Bone says, “I was who I was going to be, someone like her, like Mama, a Boatwright woman.” This conclusion seems sad yet realistic. You just want to give her a hug. And that is what Raylene does.
Yikes! Five stars. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
In politics in 2012 there is a lot of talk about the lack of compromise, the hardening and inflexibility of positions. As a person predominantly on thIn politics in 2012 there is a lot of talk about the lack of compromise, the hardening and inflexibility of positions. As a person predominantly on the left for most of my adult life, I have experienced that inflexibility in my own life. I have opposed all war. I have boycotted grapes and lettuce and Wal-Mart. I have voted for third parties and donated money to radical causes like the War Resisters League and Planned Parenthood. (Just so you aren’t confused, where I live now Planned Parenthood is a very controversial organization.)
So I picked up this book based on the title thinking I would see what the war makers think. I have been reading a lot of war books, especially about Vietnam, in recent years. I am a part of the generation that fought in Southeast Asia or refused to. With a little luck, I refused, and managed not to be drafted when it was my time. I did inhale and I didn’t go to Canada. I thought I could be open-minded and hear what one particular soldier thought and experienced. I already had a lot of prejudice against people who supported war and the military. But I thought reading the experience of one soldier might humanize that one person for me and give me a broader view.
So I start to read Shooter and this is the first paragraph:
In another time, on another battlefield, my radio call sign had been “Gabriel,” because the archangel and I have a lot in common. Legend says Gabriel’s trumpet will sound the last judgment. I do the same sort of thing with my rifle.
The title of the second chapter is “Thou Shalt Kill” and says, “Through the powerful telescope on my rifle, I see the expressions on the faces of my victims at the moment I quench that spark of life in their eyes.”
This is not going to be easy. Shouldn’t I just put the book back on the shelf? Well, not right away. This is titled an autobiography and I hope that there will be a broader view that shows how this self described killer became the person he is.
Mr. Coughlin was interviewed on the NPR Fresh Air radio show in 2005 when this book was published. You can listen to that fifteen minute interview here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/st... “I don’t take any pleasure in killing anybody,” he says in the interview. “No one values human life more than I do.” Read the book and listen to the interview: then you decide which represents the real Jack Coughlin.
I just found the book frightening. Maybe it was the ghost writer who took the take-no-prisoners attitude and our warrior is more human. But the adulation of killing is loud and clear. Talk about Rambo! Many of the reviews on Goodreads are sophomoric and very rah rah. They probably love violent video games too. As Arlo Guthrie sang in Alice’s Restaurant, “Blood and guts and veins in my teeth…”
You probably can tell that I am as anti as they are pro. I am not sure how we could come to terms or compromise when the issue is killing and war. I think it would be gridlock. It gives me a sense of hopelessness for ever finding a solution when I know that “War is not the answer.”
I suspect that there is a whole shelf of gung ho war books that glorify war and make it quite manly. I haven’t read many of those books. In fact, maybe this is the first. I don’t think I will try to find any more.
The author, Gunnery Sgt. Jack Coughlin, USMC, said at the end of the book:
We had accomplished what we had come to do, which was to liberate the people of Iraq. … I maintained a stable mental plateau by being totally convinced that I had done the right thing and that I had saved a lot of people by killing the enemy. It is much better to think of lives saved than human beings killed.
Rating this book is tough. Although the quality of writing is not high, the book is understandable in making its points. It exposes me to the thoughts of people who I already know exist who support empowering and expanding the military. There are plenty of people in the world who think, like Jack Coughlin, “If I don’t kill him, he is going to kill me.”
Two stars. Because I can barely tolerate the pro-military attitude displayed in this book. But I did finish it! I must admit that I might give it four stars if it was only based on directness of presenting its point of view. But I am not basing it on that. So there! ...more
Michael Harrington died of cancer in 1989, the year after his autobiography The Long-Distance Runner: An Autobiography was published. He was a writerMichael Harrington died of cancer in 1989, the year after his autobiography The Long-Distance Runner: An Autobiography was published. He was a writer of many political and social science books and was proud to wear the label of liberal. He was a democratic socialist, a philosophical Marxist working for many years within the left wing of the Democratic Party. He spent the last fifteen years of his life as a tenured professor of political science at Queen College, Long Island, NY.
Harrington has more than two dozen books listed on GoodReads including his best known The Other America: Poverty in the United States. He has not attracted very much attention on GoodReads possibly due to the fact that all of his books are over twenty years old and lean in a socialist direction. Harrington writes as an insider in most of the book, a person directly involved in his subject. His experience was often in depth and unique.
Raised as a Catholic with a Catholic school education, Harrington left the church but remained close to the Catholic culture.
As a young man, he was interested in both leftwing politics and Catholicism. Fittingly, he joined Dorothy Day's Catholic Worker movement, a pacifist group that advocated a radical interpretation of the Gospel. Above all else, Harrington was an intellectual. He loved arguing about culture and politics, preferably over beer, and his Jesuit education made him a fine debater and rhetorician. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_...
Searching ‘catholic worker’ in GoodReads yields a number of books about the Catholic Worker Movement. As with Harrington himself, these books have not attracted much attention among the GoodReads readership. GoodReads does not seem to be a magnet for radical politics or thought.
This book is the story of a man who wore his heart on his sleeve and proudly stood up as a ‘bleeding heart liberal’ throughout his short sixty-one year life. It is told in a personal and intellectual way, but also with emotion.
This book, then, will deal primarily with the meaning of my encounters with the political and social movements of the Left during the seventies and eighties, nationally and internationally. I will, however, try to convey the experiences of my public self’s daily life: teaching at Queens College in the City University of New York; moving to the suburbs after thirty years in the Bohemian heartland of Greenwich Village; and what it is like to be a writer. And there is one experience I will describe that simply refuses to be reduced to its sociological dimensions: facing up to premature death through cancer.
I theorize too much. Ultimately, the most important thing I want to say about being a long-distance runner is that, prior to all the books and music and movies, there was in me a hunger and thirst for justice. For me this was a second nature, a drive more powerful and lasting than romantic love or sexual desire. And in a profound sense I feel that I showed no morality, no will, in actuating upon that instinct, because I could not have done otherwise.
You will be exposed to leftwing and socialist organizational development (DSOC, DSA, NAM, CLUW) that may numb all but the most historically connected and experienced progressive. But you will also be reminded of the struggles of Left organizations to respond to the new feminist demands of the seventies and eighties for equality between men and women.
Michael Harrington was significantly involved in New York politics, and specifically NYC politics in the era of Bella Abzug, Ed Koch, an early Mario Cuomo and Ruth Messinger in the 1970s. He writes of his personal and political relationships with these significant players in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Harrington was a political party builder and strategy person behind the politicians. (A lesser person might have become a party hack.) He was always pushing for the left liberal position as he saw it.
There is no doubt that “life” plays a conservatizing role in most biographies. Those blinding, all-encompassing radical certitudes, which sometimes are the epiphanies of youth, are not so dazzling any more. Instead, the complexities and shadows come into view. At the same time, marriage and parenthood are indeed two of the great forces making people bourgeois.
Still today we hear the complaint that Democrats “throw money at problems.” Harrington does his best to dispel this false ‘truism’ that is referenced over and over, even to this day.
The amount of money actually spent on the poor by the War on Poverty and Great Society was distressingly modest and, in any case, most of the programs that had been funded, such as Head Start and job training, had done reasonably well. The really massive increase in Washington’s outlays had gone to Social Security and it was rightly so popular that even the conservatives were loath to attack it. When Nixon charged that the sixties liberals had “thrown money at problems’ – spent wildly and ineffectively – he was being as loose with the truth as he was during the Watergate cover-up.
Harrington had something of a knee jerk philosophy. He supported unions, among other things, automatically. I like that in a person!
When I had my brief stint at a “straight” job – as a writer-trainee for Life magazine in 1950 – I was told by a friendly co-worker that the management didn’t like people who joined the American Newspaper Guild. I signed up immediately.
And I like his resume. For example, he went to the Catholic Worker in 1951 and the Socialist movement in 1952. Harrington writes, “I became a professor of political science in 1972 because I wanted to get health insurance.” He had a wife and children. Thus he enters the world of academia and says, “The experience changed my life.” Being the intellectual that he was, it was a perfect match for Harrington. Learning and teaching at the college and university level was his career for the rest of his life.
Harrington writes about his move from Manhattan to a relatively affluent suburb of NYC, Larchmont. This is a story that emphasizes the personal aspects of decisions that are often used or misused for political gain.
The chapter on the Socialist International (SI) will interest you if you are interested in the history of the multi country (mostly European initially) aspects of socialism. This organization served at that time to give the flaccid U.S. socialist movement a small amount of pride as a part of a group that included countries that actually had active socialist political parties involved in governing. He carries the history of the SI into its involvement in the Caribbean (Jamaica, Grenada) and Central America (Nicaragua, El Salvador). Harrington was an active and influential part of the Socialist International during that period and his account reflect that personal involvement.
You will read personal portraits of Willie Brandt (Germany) and Olof Palme (Sweden) by Michael Harrington based on his own experience with these world leaders who also happened to be socialists.
I said at the onset that The Long-Distance Runner: An Autobiography was published the year before Michael Harrington died of cancer. He knew that he was dying and wrote about that in the last chapter of the book.
However, before he got around to dying, he took the opportunity to write about his experience having his dozen books reviewed after his first book The Other America was such a success. In this reviewing the reviewers segment he refers to Proust among other literary giants and makes some literary comments that I can in no way claim to understand. He cemented my view of him as an intellectual, beyond hope of my understanding in many areas. But there is some wit that I could enjoy.
Then he got to dying. I had some hope of understanding since I had read On Death and Dying and had, after all, some experience as a social worker. My younger sister also died recently of another form of cancer so I felt a special relationship to the event. Proust comes up again somehow, but I just smile and pass it by. His description of his experience with cancer is written with a combined seriousness and humor. Most importantly, I can understand it so actually enjoy reading it. It took him five years from the discovery of the lump to his death. It takes thirteen pages in the book.
The ethical humanist in me is cheered by the fact that facing death, he finds that he wants to maintain his atheism.
There is an Index that is mostly people and organizations. And, in fact, that is just what the book is about. Most of them just happen to have some connection with socialism.
Under normal circumstances I would give The Long-Distance Runner three stars. But I am going to give it four. My reasoning is that this is the first review of this book on GR since it was published 23 years ago and the first rating as well. Maybe is someone sees it got four stars they will consider buying it from a used book dealer online and reading it. They might pass it by if it only has three stars. For me it was a book worth reading. Anyone who is interested in organizing and recent socialist history will find this book interesting. There might even be a five star review waiting out there in the future.
Michael Harrington died just at the beginning of the computer and electronic age. He is a little bit old fashion. Like Marcel Proust, he still has something to teach us. ...more
Mostly because I am of a particular political persuasion, I have known about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for many years. They are martyrs in the causeMostly because I am of a particular political persuasion, I have known about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for many years. They are martyrs in the cause of justice denied in the McCarthy years of the early 1950s. The Rosenbergs were executed in 1953 for allegedly being communist spies for the Soviet Union. They could have avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty. They had two young sons, age 6 and 10, when they were killed by the government. The boys'last name was changed when they were adopted and became part of another family. But they knew from whence they came and it affected their lives. An Execution in the Family is told by the younger of the sons, Robert, looking back at his life from the vantage point of being in his fifties. The book was published on the 50th anniversary of the execution.
The book begins by following the daily life of Robert as he grows up, marries, makes career decisions and has children. It can be downright mundane, noting for example the death of a pet cat by being frozen to death. It is not a “deep” book unless you examine it at an anthropological level and even at that it is merely one example of life for a person touched by notoriety and struggling not to be consumed by that notoriety. If Robert was not a son of the Rosenbergs, you would not be likely to be reading this book. Probably it would never have been published. The first forty percent of the book is the story of a man trying to live his life anonymously, and succeeding. Not much to write home about other than musings about daily life and occasionally about going public. There were personally significant life events as there would be with anyone. Then a book The Implosion Conspriacy is published in 1973 that becomes a best seller and forces his hand about being public about his identity as one of the Rosenberg boys.
On page 117, An Execution in the Family changed, for me, from a three to a four star book. The book became one about being an issue organizer, one of my major life experiences. The middle third of the book deals with Meeropol’s conceptualization and work of the RFC, the Rosenberg Fund for Children. The RFC provides benefits and services for children who are suffering as a result of the activism of a parent.
The RFC celebrated my parents’ resistance; it did not proclaim their innocence. This focus was consistent with the RFC support for the children of targeted activists. We never claimed that the parents of our beneficiaries were either innocent or completely virtuous.
The book concludes with the author’s expansion into working against the death penalty and how he tries to combine that with the RFC work. The book includes some self congratulation and second guessing from Robert Meeropol about his past decisions and actions. The use of the benefit of hindsight humanizes the book as Robert goes through his evolving beliefs about the guilt or innocence of his parents as well as his strategic decisions impacting the still strong legacy of his parents’ trial and execution.
An Execution in the Family is the story of one person’s journey to activism. He gets attention and draws an audience because of what happened very publicly to his parents almost sixty years ago. While the book is readable it is not that well written. Too much mundane detail takes away from the human drama. However, because it resonates with my life, I give it four stars and recommend it to progressive social activists and anyone with an interest in the Rosenberg case. ...more
Do you remember 1988? Sacred Cows and Other Edibles was published in 1988. It was a leap year. On January 8th the Dow Jones falls 140.58 points, or 6.Do you remember 1988? Sacred Cows and Other Edibles was published in 1988. It was a leap year. On January 8th the Dow Jones falls 140.58 points, or 6.85%, to close at 1,911.31. In February the Winter Olympics are held in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. In March Jesse Jackson wins several Southern state primaries. In April The Last Emperor wins nine Oscars. In May after more than 8 years of fighting, the Soviet Army begins withdrawing from Afghanistan. In June a celebration of the 70th birthday of imprisoned ANC leader Nelson Mandela is held at a concert in Wembley Stadium. In July the Democratic National Convention nominates Michael Dukakis for U.S. President. In August the Iran–Iraq War ends, with an estimated one million lives lost. In September large, militant protests against the World Bank and IMF meetings take place in West Berlin. In October Super Mario Brothers 3 is released in Japan. In November George H. W. Bush is elected President. In December Pan Am Flight 103 is blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.
OK, that was a smattering of what happened in 1988. Some of the chapters and references are about issues that were current back then. Some are funny. But some I just don’t get: “…being Black carries a special responsibility in this recession” gets my attention but I am not sure if it is tongue in cheek or just offensive. And the section decrying handicapped parking and mandatory seat belt use must have been prescient in 1988. But not funny.
So, now I am wondering what others thought of Sacred Cows so I consult GR. This book is not well represented on GR: one review and 20 ratings. Fourteen of the rating gave it a four or five. Not bad but a small sampling. So this book clearly came and went before GR began. (Note that her book The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni gets 109 five rating out of 221 total ratings. Many readers obviously think she has done some very good writing.)
My eight year old has what she calls “opposite days.” When she says yes, she means no. When she says she likes something, she doesn’t like it. Nikki Giovanni is having an opposite day in the first dozen or so pages of Sacred Cows. I just didn’t get it. I could not hear the sarcasm or see the wink. Given the book title, I must be dense to have missed it.
See what you think of Giovanni’s mix. Deadly serious and humorous?
I am totally shocked by the Cincinnati father who raped his five-month-old baby while his wife was out shopping. Guess that will teach his wife to ask him to baby-sit. I’m shocked that child molesters now simply open day care centers to which unwitting parents take innocent children. I’m shocked that people, estimated in the millions, will die of starvation on this earth; that people sleep in the crevices and corners of the streets in our major cities; that mass murderers and presidential assassins get to plead mental anguish. Talk about a headache! I’m disappointed that Ronald Reagan thinks that trees pollute and that the Democratic Party nominated Walter Mondale. But hey! Who asked me?
But then she comes around the corner. In her autobiographical “Reflections on My Profession” on writing, Nikki Giovanni is truly a wordsmith. Her pages are packed with words: vibrant; serious and thoughtful and thought provoking mixed with some backhanded humor. In her prose you can imagine her poetry. Condensed prose. My early impression of two stars is moving up as I read.
Now before you say, “But I can’t read this book because my parents don’t have it on their book shelf like yours did,” let’s look at the online used books. There you are: dozens of hardback and paperback copies for under $2 plus shipping. For some wonderful reason, the hardbacks are often less expensive and will look better on your book shelf for someone to find in the future.
This seems to happen a lot to me: probably 30% of this book gets two stars but the other 70% gets four stars. Having read this book of prose, I am looking forward to reading some of her poetry in the future. I give this book three stars, thinking it is more like 3.5 stars. Nikki Giovanni was born on June 7, 1943; she is about three years older than I am. So we have lived in the same historical time period so that adds to me interest level. But, honestly, if you want to read Nikki Giovanni, read some of her books of poetry instead of this prose work from over 20 years ago.
I mentioned handicap parking and seat belt use earlier as maybe issues where Ms. Giovanni was saying the opposite of what she meant. But having read her diatribe about non-smokers trying to limit the right to smoke, I am not longer certain. Ms. G- is a smoker. Don’t mess with her when she says, “Non-smokers have gone way over the brink about clean air.” I think she meant it. So maybe handicapped parking and mandatory seat belt use rile her up too. Put this in my 30% category. In fact, put the beginning and ending of this book in the 30% category. The middle is pretty good. But her poetry is better. ...more
Have you seen the review of the newly published Mark Twain autobiography in the NY Times by another storyteller, Garrison Keillor? Interesting to readHave you seen the review of the newly published Mark Twain autobiography in the NY Times by another storyteller, Garrison Keillor? Interesting to read his point of view. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/19/boo... From the review: "He speaks from the grave, he writes, so that he can speak freely — “as frank and free and unembarrassed as a love letter” — but there’s precious little frankness and freedom here and plenty of proof that Mark Twain, in the hands of academics, can be just as tedious as anybody else when he is under the burden of his own reputation." I'd say Garrison gives this book two stars: It was OK....more
This is NOT the Mark Twain Post 100 years Autobiography that everyone is talking about. This book was copyrighted in 1959 by the editor Charles NeiderThis is NOT the Mark Twain Post 100 years Autobiography that everyone is talking about. This book was copyrighted in 1959 by the editor Charles Neider. The 2010 Autobiography of Mark Twain. Vol. 1 is found elsewhere on GRs.
Neider's most important book, however, was arguably The Autobiography of Mark Twain (1959), in which he fashioned a chronological structure that was lacking in the original material and included never-before-published passages. Certainly the most widely read version of Mark Twain's autobiographical writings, that book has played a major role in shaping the public image of Mark Twain the man. Source: http://faculty.citadel.edu/leonard/js...
This 1959 version is hardly an autobiography in the born-lived-died sense. In fact, it took me about 50 pages before I figured out that I was going to be disappointed if I continued to look for that kind of an autobiography. This book is really a series of short stories told as if a Mark Twain impersonator was standing up in front of you on stage. With Mark Twain it is always hard to figure out when he is telling the truth. His name is even fiction. His speaking style is often as if he is telling a story. Twain tells stories about his years on the lecture circuit traveling the U.S. and the world telling stories. He is known as an amazing storyteller.
If this was a book of short stories and that was what I was looking for, I would probably give this book three stars. But I was looking for something a little more like an autobiography. I though that it developed more of a coherent whole feeling toward the end. More like one big connected story rather than a random selection of short stories. I am wondering how the new 2010 autobiography will handle my quest to read something about the life and times of Mark Twain; maybe it will have to be a biography. Please let it not be Wikipedia! ...more
I gave Fire in the Rain…Singer in the Storm three stars. One was for all the nostalgia that it gave me. I can see why it only has one other entry on GI gave Fire in the Rain…Singer in the Storm three stars. One was for all the nostalgia that it gave me. I can see why it only has one other entry on GR to date. Holly Near is more descriptive than prescriptive. She has probably changed the world, but I just can’t sing like her.
Holly Near was born in 1949. She had a “vision” that she would die at the age of 35; that would be in 1984. About New Year’s Eve in 1983 she writes: “Now I was tired. I was ready. I had done a lot in thirty-five years. Enough is enough.” So I thought it was going to be a short autobiography. But the book was published in 1990, so she must have made it past 35. I was relieved. I hadn’t heard about her for a long while and thought maybe she hadn’t made it. Obviously I was not paying attention; Holly has released 10 albums this decade.
When I paid attention to Holly Near in the 1980s she was a radical feminist, lesbian singer whose politics were somewhat like mine, focused on women’s liberation, disarmament, Central America, anti-Reagan, anti-capitalist, anti-war. The 70s and 80s were important times for me. My bookshelf includes: Reunion by Tom Hayden; Sixties – Years of Hope, Days of Rage by Todd Gitlan; Democracy Is in the Streets by James Miller; And a Voice to Sing with by Joan Baez. So when I came across her book last year, I bought it on half.com and added it to the shelf. I have finally just read it. I am glad I read it. I will be glad to move on to something new.
Great literature? No. Interesting? Probably only for someone who lived through those years or who has a relationship with Holly’s (and my) issues. Holly was an insecure girl from a very progressive family who started singing at the age of 7. She was a Hollywood film actress at the age of 20. She is a name dropper so get used to hearing a lot of names of people who sang, organized, or slept with her. (Is Holly a sex addict or a liberated woman? Read the book and decide for yourself.) She kept a journal.
She was in the Broadway play Hair and had an abortion before she was 21. She was part of the Jane Fonda anti-war tour (Free the Army) to military bases in Japan and the Philippines and recorded her first album at 23. She acted in the film Slaughterhouse Five and on the TV show The Partridge Family. She volunteered in the defense committee office of the Pentagon Papers trial. She traveled to Vietnam during the war for concerts including one in Hanoi. All this time she only had heterosexual experiences, several of them. At 25 she had her first crisis of sexual identity and began a 3 ½ year relationship with singer Meg Christian. She came out at the 1st Michigan Women’s Music Festival in 1976 in front of “1500 dykes.”
In 1977 she entertained at the International Conference Against Atomic & Hydrogen Bombs in Tokyo. Her running her “lesbian feminist” record company Redwood Records was ongoing. She was urged into anti-nuke action by Three Mile Island in the spring of 1979. In 1984 she toured to Central America during the time of the Sandinista and Contra activities. She was the 1984 Ms. Magazine “Woman of the Year.” She wrote of 1984: “I had made three albums, been in 11 countries, and suffered a broken heart – all in one year.”
Sexual identity continued to stalk Holly. Family and friends and fans all had a role in this. “I still thought of myself as a lesbian, which was not altered by sleeping with men.” She worried about lesbians thinking that she “was going to pull a tennis-player-or-entertainer-takes-new-boyfriend-on-national-TV-talk-show-and-says-it-was-a-phase-and-a-big-mistake.” Holly’s reconciliation of her sexual identity is too complex to discuss here. But readers of the book will travel with Holly as she sorts out her options and feelings.
Holly suffered from serious back problems and depression. She almost retired and maybe considered her own death by suicide. But she came back, as they say, stronger than ever. You can tell because she starts dropping names again. Daniel Ellsberg, Dr. Spock.
What might her self-description be?
“What is the word for a friend who shares a holistic and revolutionary perspective on the world; who is simultaneously humbled and empowered by music and dance, film, and art; who has seen my weakest moment and strongest self only to love me more; who has been or is or could be a lover and yet it doesn’t define the friendship; who strives for a coming together of all that is woman including the part of us that is man; and who stands in the wings ready to held her friend, the singer?”
And what is her style of community organizing?
“Whenever new ideas emerge, songs soon follow, and before long the songs are leading.” And “Instead of being aggravated that we haven’t become mainstream enough or thinking we’re not needed once the mainstream has what we looked at fifteen years ago, it is simply time for the cutting edge to move on. And we are. We did what we set out to do . . . we moved the world forward . . . and that being a task never completed, we are not finished.”
In 1987 the cutting edge moved on to the 600,000 person gay and lesbian National March on Washington and the AIDS quilt.
“Women had been too successful and the right wing was raising its head hard and heavy against the new order being embraced by both nuclear and nontraditional families. Equal pay, child car, support of women on welfare, better education and health services, intervention in domestic violence, sex education, safer birth control, lesbian rights, programs to stop rape, criticism of pornography, shutting down the sale of dangerous baby formulas being sold to Third World mothers, opening up drug and alcohol clinics for our children, and expanding low income housing were among the issues that women worked for in the seventies and eighties while Reaganomics pulled the rug viciously out from under our feet. “
This book has a co-writer, Derk Richardson, listed on the title page and on the spine of the book but not on the jacket. Although I hate to think it of our politically correct Holly, this seems a little two faced. Seems like your standard big-name-gets-someone-else-to-write-a-book-for-her/him deal. I hope Holly had more to do with this book than reading a draft, making comments, then signing off on the final version. There is still plenty of bad writing so maybe she wrote it herself. Interesting life, Holly, and you clearly didn’t do it all for the money. As far as I am concerned, being motivated by principles is an excellent thing and not common enough in the entertainment industry.
Although this book is out of print, it is still available at the online used book vendors for $1.99 (for a ‘signed’ copy from Bookfinders in Ohio) and for $.99 plenty of other places. Couldn’t find a price under $.99! But you can pay more if that would make you feel better. ...more