Other reviewers have mentioned the odd point of view in this memoir, where the author presents a level of detail and perspective that would be impossiOther reviewers have mentioned the odd point of view in this memoir, where the author presents a level of detail and perspective that would be impossible since these events happened when she was a baby, or even before she was born. It IS somewhat distracting. Another thing, especially at the beginning of her narrative, is the constant back-and-forth in the chronology. I suppose she does this to set up a backstory, or multiple backstories. It's confusing at first, trying to figure out what is happening when.
But I settled into Coleman's rhythm, especially since I found her story so compelling. I got pulled right along, and pretty quickly put everything else aside to find out what would happen next. Coleman was a child of the back-to-the-land movement of the 1970s, the daughter of two who moved to downeast Maine, right next door to Scott and Helen Nearing, the revered authors of Living the Good Life, and early gurus of sustainable living. The Colemans built their own little house off the grid, started growing their own food, and raising their young family. Those two were Eliot Coleman, who would soon become an organic farming guru in his own right, and Sue, his—it's fair to say—long-suffering wife.
It's the Good Life, but it's also a hard life: constant chopping and gathering of wood, a root cellar to fill with hundreds of jars of canned vegetables, uprooting of tree stumps and clearing of land for more gardens, all by hand, at least at first. There is an outhouse, but it's no one-seater, but more a hole in the floor that one squats over, using sphagnum moss gathered from the woods instead of toilet paper. I found the details of Coleman's life completely fascinating.
"Guru" seems a pretty accurate description, as soon enough, young acolytes are flocking to the Coleman's homestead almost as often as to the Nearing's. There are lithe, naked farm workers everywhere, sleeping in tents or a teepee or cabin elsewhere on the property. Eliot seems to expand over time, going off to Europe each year with apprentices to learn about organic practices there, speaking eagerly and passionately with reporters who come to write about him and the farm, and glowing with the wider acclaim these articles bring to him. He thrives under the attention. Sue, meanwhile, recedes into herself, left home with the young children, grinding her grain for the morning porridge, writing in her journal, and often "checking out," as the author calls it. It's hard to know if she suffers from depression, or if she's simply exhausted with the physical and emotional labors of her life, especially as her husband seems to pull further away. And then there is the tragedy that is the core of the story, which only solidifies the estrangement.
I moved to Maine many years after the back-to-the-landers came here, but I find the whole cultural movement very interesting, and Coleman relates it in fresh, lovely language. Several years ago I saw the Coleman farm and the Nearing place on a garden tour; both are stunning. So my interest in this book is partially because of proximity, and because of my own admiration of Eliot Coleman's gardening philosophy. But there are many stories here, of a family's homesteading effort, of the larger culture of the times, of a child bearing witness to it all, and certainly about how this family comes undone in the aftermath of the worst kind of heartbreak. ...more
This feels like a winter read. Right now , just a couple weeks past the winter solstice, the days are short, but grow almost imperceptibly longer. TheThis feels like a winter read. Right now , just a couple weeks past the winter solstice, the days are short, but grow almost imperceptibly longer. The "blue nights" of the title refer to the time right after the summer solstice, but I still think of this as a good book for winter: quiet, introspective, somewhat dark. It's about the death of Didion's only child, Quintana. But really, it's more about Quintana's childhood and Didion's grief. As much, it's about Didion looking back at her parenting, and examining her own aging. It makes me think of my children growing up, my parenting, my aging. Winter subjects...
A passage: "When I began writing these pages I believed their subject to be children, the ones we have and the ones we wish we had, the ways in which we depend on our children to depend on us, the ways in which we encourage them to remain children, the ways in which they remain more unknown to us than they do to their most casual acquaintances; the ways in which we remain equally opaque to them." And, "Their actual subject was this refusal even to engage in such contemplation, this failure to confront the certainties of aging, illness, death...Only as the pages progressed further did I understand that the two subjects were the same. When we talk about mortality, we are talking about our children." Winter's contemplations...
There is an interesting theme of recurring phrases, things that Quintana said that are particularly lodged in her mother's mind. We all have these small sayings or mis-sayings from our children's lives that we recall to them and to ourselves again and again. But with Quintana gone, these words - Quintana's own words - are the truest, most solid things that remain. These phrases keep circling back around throughout the book and build on each other in a way that gives us a deep sense of this mother's daughter.
What isn't here, oddly, is anything about Quintana's illness or how she died. I didn't even realize that until I'd finished the book. This isn't a linear narrative, or a blow-by-blow telling of Quintana's decline and death. But it doesn't matter. Didion's writing is exquisite, and I read this book straight through in a night and an early morning and closed the book satisfied. ...more
I'm a fan of graphic memoirs, and this one's a pip. Cartoonist Roz Chast digs deep into the difficult realm of watching one's very aged parents get clI'm a fan of graphic memoirs, and this one's a pip. Cartoonist Roz Chast digs deep into the difficult realm of watching one's very aged parents get closer and closer to death, while they pretty much refuse to talk about end of life decisions - hence the title. They are relatively healthy and fiercely independent. They have no profound or life-threatening illnesses. They pretty much just suffer from late-stage living: declining health, garden-variety dementia, an inability to live on their own coupled with a deep, deep denial of just how fragile their situation is. It sounds grim, and it is, and Chast doesn't hold back: bedsores, broken bones, incontinence, and a harrowing case of eruptive diverticulitis. But it's also funny and poignant and very thought provoking. You think you want to live to a ripe old age, but at what cost?
I was attracted to this book after hearing Huston interviewed on Fresh Air and learning she'd spent much of her childhood in Ireland. And what a childI was attracted to this book after hearing Huston interviewed on Fresh Air and learning she'd spent much of her childhood in Ireland. And what a childhood. Huston's Ireland is very much like Downton Abbey transported to County Galway. There's a picture of the place, St. Clerans, a massive stone structure called the Big House. All of the rooms are named—the Grey Room, the Red Sitting Room, the Gun Room, etc.— and lovingly described. Other reviewers found this tedious, but I think it gives a good sense of the privileged class in Ireland. These people are NOT a bunch of boggers.
No, this is how the one-percenters live in Ireland, at least as they did in the fifties and sixties. There are butlers and a "succession of housekeepers, cooks, maids, and menservants," and a nurse, called Nurse. There is artwork and cultural artifacts from all over the world, including a bargain-basement Monet Huston's father purchased with gambling winnings. There are trips to London and Paris to go shopping to get more beautiful things for their beautiful home. There are stables with fine horses (Huston is an expert horsewoman) and fox hunts, complete with Huston and her brother being blooded—"a ritual that involved having one's face painted with the bloody brush of the recently dismembered fox" and yes, the "brush" is the tail of the animal. Huston calls the women she rides with "women of the county—the exiled daughters of the British aristocracy, whose forebears had established a great holdings and new titles in Ireland in the eighteenth century, under George III, and were fighting hard to hold on." She goes on to write, "And yet they were more than tolerated in modern Ireland. The Troubles did not extend to the West Country until later, in the seventies." I can't help but wonder if this is just a young girl thoroughly unaware, due to the remove of money and entitlement, of how the aristocracy is perceived by the common people around them.
Other bits of oblivious privilege: she and her brother travel to Dublin for their polio shots, being "among the first children in Ireland to receive the vaccination." Of course, they were. And Huston naively relates the story of how she "took a pound from Dad's bureau...and bought eight black babies from Biafra. For two shillings and sixpence, you could christen them any name you liked, and keep them fed for a whole year. I named most of my babies Anjelica Mary." It's oddly sweet and offensive at the same time.
But for all that, I liked reading her version of Ireland, her version of childhood. After all, this is the daughter of John Huston, the revered director, so her childhood was unlikely to be common. Huston has a lovely way of writing, an easy way with words and metaphor. She is not so great with narrative, though. Rather, she flits from anecdote to anecdote, rarely landing or digging deep, even in matters having to do with that famous, sometimes distant, sometimes absent father. Maybe it's privacy or self-protection, but this is what I would have liked to learn more about. What we get instead are hints and a lot of surface description. This book could almost be titled "A Story Lightly Told." Since this book ends when Huston is only in her twenties, we'll see what the next chapter brings, and yes, I'll be reading the next book when it comes out. ...more
I got this book for my husband. He loved it and kept sharing bits from it, so I read it as soon as he turned the last page. It's part memoir, part rocI got this book for my husband. He loved it and kept sharing bits from it, so I read it as soon as he turned the last page. It's part memoir, part rock-and-roll tell-all, part cautionary tale, and part insider's view of "the business." It sounds like it comes straight from Levon's lips, an Arkansas boy's telling of how it all went down, how I'd imagine he'd sound if he was telling it while sitting at his own kitchen table. I love The Band, and I loved The Last Waltz, and it was hard to read of Helm's bitterness as The Band as we knew it best ended (Robbie Robertson's unilateral decision, according to Helm). Worse, Robertson—again, according to Helm—walked off with the profits from making The Last Waltz, after partnering with Martin Scorsese and brokering a deal that seems to have left the other band members in the dust.
Lots of drugs, lots of alcohol, lots of nookie, but mostly, lots of music, from Helm's start with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks (side note: Helm kept talking about Hawkins doing his famous "camel walk." Google that and see where Michael Jackson might have picked up some of his moves) to other future Band members coming on board with the Hawks to backing Bob Dylan during his electric, boo-inspiring tour to coming into their own as such an iconic "American" band (all but Helm were from Canada).
There are also profound losses along the way, Richard Manuel, then Rick Danko (so very hard to hear the bile Helm has for Robertson related to Danko's death). They all continued to make music in various side projects, as well as a Robertson-less Band that toured and recorded, but never to the kind of audience the original band enjoyed.
The book was originally published in 1993. This edition has an afterword and epilogue that shows some sweet vindication for Helm: the Midnight Ramble concerts at his Woodstock barn (with daughter Amy in the band), performing with a rotating list of prime musicians who joined him, and winning several Grammy awards for best Americana album. Especially sweet since he regained his voice after throat cancer—raspier, but still that authentic Levon twang.
There are some things that are distracting. There are long quotes from band members, friends, or others in the music business that are kind of shoehorned into the storyline with an intro like: "Rick Danko remembers how it went down..." or "Let me introduce you..." And Helm seems to get over his heroin addiction in two sentences (really?). And it seems pretty biased. But then again, it's his story so he gets to tell it his way. In all, it's a compelling read by a man who saw it, lived it, and survived it. Best enjoyed with a chaser of a viewing of The Last Waltz.
This is a good introduction to Jewett's life. The jacket copy calls it "in-depth" and suggests that it discusses her "Boston marriage" with friend andThis is a good introduction to Jewett's life. The jacket copy calls it "in-depth" and suggests that it discusses her "Boston marriage" with friend and companion, Annie Fields. I found it to be more of a surface report. Maybe it's in-depth compared to the biographies that came before.
No matter. Jewett was an interesting woman, and it's a pleasure to read more about her life, even if the jacket copy led me to expect more. ...more
I haven't seen or read The Vagina Monologues, but certainly I'm certainly aware of Eve Ensler. This book is about her experience with uterine cancer,I haven't seen or read The Vagina Monologues, but certainly I'm certainly aware of Eve Ensler. This book is about her experience with uterine cancer, woven into pieces of her activist work in the Congo. The brutalities committed against women there, including systematic rape of the worst kind, leave injuries and bodily functions that are coincidentally very like the symptoms and after-effects of Ensler's cancer. She also revisits relationships and estrangements in her family, and has a lovely healing with one family member who rarely leaves her side through the ordeal of surgery and recovery.
Not a book for the squeamish. Twice I had to close the book and take a few breaths. It's very graphic, and Ensler doesn't hold back. It's also not a book to read in the middle of the night when you've woken and need a nudge back toward sleep. I'm bleary-eyed this morning, after finishing it in the wee hours.
Her story is deeply personal, diary-like, but well-formed, with short chapters/vignettes full of metaphor that doesn't feel forced or inappropriate. There is also a good bit of humor, or gallows humor, anyway. And I love how she is so surrounded with women, and a few men, who love and guide and feed and massage her throughout her experieince. The only thing that I didn't like was the final chapter, which struck me as a bit preachy after the much more intimate story that came before. But maybe that's a sign that Ensler is ready to reenter her warrior-activist role, and take the reader along to fight the good fight. ...more
(This is not the revised version, but the original edition from the library)
I have another of Armstrong's memoirs, but wanted to read this one first,(This is not the revised version, but the original edition from the library)
I have another of Armstrong's memoirs, but wanted to read this one first, which tells of her early search for a deep connection with God. For her, that meant serving as a religious sister, or nun. She began her formal religious training at 17, and this book is about her seven years of convent life, first as a postulant, then as a novice, and then as a professed nun.
Armstrong is a clear and gifted writer, giving intimate detail of what it really means to give one's life over to God and church, to take those vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience at an age when one hardly understands the repercussions. Before entering religious life, her teacher and mentor, a nun of the same order, warns her that it is "a very austere order," and that "becoming a nun is like signing a blank check," as it's impossible to know what one is giving. She also happens to enter in 1962, on the cusp of changes that will come with the Second Vatican Council. As it was, most of her superiors were strict about perfect obedience, sometimes exceedingly so.
There are so many aspects to such a life: but the main ones seem to be the spiritual search, the dogma and rules of the Catholic church (so much stricter for a nun than a "secular"), and the utter selflessness that is required. Armstrong braids these together seamlessly, as they are constantly interconnected. Different readers will come away with different questions and conclusions, depending on their religious bent. As for myself, I kept wondering, when the young nun is faced with a challenge dictated to her from above is, Is this what God wants or is this what the Church wants (like being permanently parted from one's family, with letters read and censored)? Is this what the Church demands, or what this particular order demands (like the medieval "discipline", or self-flagellation)? Is this what the order demands, or is this what a certain superior demands (like scrubbing stairs with a nailbrush)? A nun can never question, only obey, and this is the constant struggle for Armstrong as a young sister: her striving toward religious perfection set against a bright, questioning mind. When she goes from postulant to novice, a sign on the wall greeted her, the saying of a saint: "I would grind myself to powder if by doing so I could accomplish God's will." And that's pretty much what is required of Sister Martha and the small group of young novices - smaller all the time, as they understandably leave the order one by one - as they progress to full committed nun.
Armstrong eventually leaves religious life, a decision in part brought on in part by her required scholastic work at Oxford, where she is required to use her mind in ways that don't directly serve God, where she must exercise her will, form written arguments - pretty much the opposite of the cloistered life. In an afterword, Armstrong relates that the order is not so strident anymore, that the loosening of rules due to Vatican II brought changes that extended to those governing nuns, including a higher age of entry to formal religious life so that these young women must "live in the world" for a few years before making such a huge decision. Good thing.
Fabulous book...raises lots of questions, and gives a good sense of one young woman's search for God in cloistered life, and what she experienced in that search.
The Only House, Margaret Wise Brown's island getaway, is a couple miles or so through the woods from my own home. That little bit of "local connectionThe Only House, Margaret Wise Brown's island getaway, is a couple miles or so through the woods from my own home. That little bit of "local connection" drew me to this book as much as her creativity and career.
This book is a bit on the academic side, perhaps a little dry in the telling, but quite thorough. There is a lot about the history of the Bank Street school and the Writer's Laboratory, pioneered by Brown's mentor, Lucy Mitchell. In that lab, Brown wrote her first children's book, and went on to have a prolific career. A running theme throughout was her lifelong desire to write "serious" books for adult readers. At times she is a keen advocate for excellence in young children's literature, while at other times she seems to diminish her talent, calling her works "baby books" (and hearing the same from others). How sad that she never knew the long, far reach of such iconic classics as Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny.
She was certainly an unconventional woman for her time, and I loved reading about her many travels (often alone), her pet flying squirrel, her crazy dog, her various homes, her antics, and her general joie de vivre. Her growing connection with Maine, from her first visit in 1938 to when she purchased and named The Only House, was particularly interesting to learn about. She partnered artistically with many of that era's great illustrators, but didn't find a satisfying romantic partnership until she was in her 40s, just before her death. Another very sad thing.
The last moment of her life is pure MWB, and heartbreaking.
I love the idea of this book: a long-divorced woman in her mid-60s places an ad in the high-brow New York Review of Books personals looking "to have aI love the idea of this book: a long-divorced woman in her mid-60s places an ad in the high-brow New York Review of Books personals looking "to have a lot of sex with a man I like." Not your typical long-walks-in-the-rain kind of personal ad. I wish I liked the actual book more.
The title, the subtitle (My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance), and the jacket copy lead you to expect a saucier book when, in fact, it's pretty much an older woman's memoir with a bit of cross-country sex thrown in. So there is a lot of backstory: her high school and college years, her bad marriage, her weight gain/weight loss/80s-era aerobics classes, her five years of psychoanalysis (and her crush on her analyst), her teaching career, her volunteer work at the prison, her singing in the chorale group, her relationship with her mother (including a free-standing essay her sister asked her to write), her relationship with her father, etcetera and so forth.
That wouldn't be so bad - after all, it's good to root the present in the formative past - except that the narrative is pretty disjointed. The chronology jumps around, and sometimes the individual chapters jump around so that it's sometimes unclear where we are in her story. Some of the writing seems off-the-cuff, like it was lifted directly from her personal diary without changing a word. There are lots of parentheticals that detract from her story. Tighter editing would have helped tremendously. The story is there, it's just a little too scattershot.
There are parts of her reminiscences that seem to push the bounds, for instance, her teaching methodology, where she threatens to kiss the high school boys who are misbehaving in class. Or she'll mouth the words "I love you" to a miscreant, or tell a shrill-voiced ninth grader not to speak in class again "until your testicles drop." Or when she brags about having students read Playboy, Hustler, and Penthouse in her Women in Literature class. Sometimes she comes across as a bit smug, like she's saying, "Look at me pushing the envelope!" It's part of her voice, and part of her humor, and some of it IS funny, but sometimes it comes across as plain icky. In one instance she writes about being fourteen years old and driving at night with her father in his convertable, top down, starry night, Tommy Dorsey on the radio. It's one of those rare moments when a child, one among many, gets to share time alone with a parent and feel special. It starts out lovely, but then she compares her happiness to "a nice kind of sex." Ewww. Worse, she follows that with, "Not all the sex between me and my father was so pleasant" and continues with a story that has nothing at all to do with sex. Why? Sometimes it seems like she really wants to push this balls-to-the-walls persona, and for me it can go too far.
I like a woman with moxie, and Juska has that to spare. I admire her willingness to travel hither and yon to meet some of the men who respond to her ad, to put herself out there and ask for what she wants. Yes, she has sex with a few. Some she rejects, and some reject her. She has interesting correspondence and meetings with these men, which sometimes revolve around literature (LOVED the bit about Margaret Fuller). She certainly gets extra points for bedding a guy half her age. That takes a particular kind of bravery. Juska seems like a hoot, and she's written a fun memoir. But in truth, I liked the premise of the book more than I liked the book. ...more