This author spoke at my college graduation, and I read her book in anticipation of her appearance. The book details her teen pregnancy and subsequent...moreThis author spoke at my college graduation, and I read her book in anticipation of her appearance. The book details her teen pregnancy and subsequent shunning/abandonment by her family. Lots of zigs and zags, and a few gaps in the narrative, but I liked her story and her way of telling it very much.(less)
I felt a bit like a voyeur reading this book. It was interesting/creepy to see the relationship unfold. More interesting was seeing how a seasoned mem...moreI felt a bit like a voyeur reading this book. It was interesting/creepy to see the relationship unfold. More interesting was seeing how a seasoned memoirist handles a subject when that subject is as reclusive and uncooperative as Salinger. I can understand the controversy surrounding her decision to write about their relationship. On the other hand, Salinger willingly got involved with a young woman based on the fact that she wrote so honestly about her life. He kind of stepped into that one. A very strange coincidence: coming across my own name - Colleen O'Neill - as another woman Salinger became involved with.(less)
I read this along with several Brontë books for an immersion class I took. Like journals, a writer's letters give a sense of the person behind the pub...moreI read this along with several Brontë books for an immersion class I took. Like journals, a writer's letters give a sense of the person behind the published work. These were never meant to be published. In fact, a key irony is that two of Charlotte's most frequent correspondents were on the receiving end of very different communication, and with different outcomes. With her friend Mary Taylor, a bit of a free spirit and a radical, she shared her writing ambitions. Charlotte shared a more hidden correspondence with another friend, Ellen Nussey, never revealing that she had written and published. Even when Ellen began to suspect that Charlotte might also be Currer Bell, Charlotte denied it. Mary destroyed or lost her letters; I think only one survived and is printed in this book. Ellen saved everything, even after Charlotte's husband demanded she destroy any correspondence, or else Charlotte would be forbidden to write to her ( and it's interesting how Charlotte relates this information to Ellen by letter). Ellen promised, and lucky for us, broke that promise.
There are letters and bits of journals and "diary papers" from when the sisters were younger. Most of the correspondence belongs to Charlotte. She was the sister who lived longest, and she took it upon herself to hide/destroy/alter her sisters' papers out of protection of their privacy. There are also some pictures and illustrations, including a copy of a letter Charlotte sent to her married professor. He tore and discarded it, but his wife retrieved it, sewed the pieces back together, and saved it.
A sad piece is the ongoing thread that belongs to Branwell, the much-loved brother. Given every opportunity and almost coddled by his father and sisters, through the letters we witness his slow decline due to alcoholism and then illness.
There's so much here. If you're any kind of Brontë lover, or if you want to see the daily lives of a massively creative family, this is the book for you.(less)
This book explores the nature of biography, and how the biographer's agenda shapes our perception of the subject. The Bronte sisters have been written...moreThis book explores the nature of biography, and how the biographer's agenda shapes our perception of the subject. The Bronte sisters have been written about so many times since their early deaths in the mid 1800s. Their lives and work have been interpreted and reinterpreted hundreds of times, beginning with Mrs. Gaskell's effort shortly after Charlotte's death. Each new version serves as a corrective, of sorts, for the ones that came before. Part biography, part literary criticism, interesting all the way through. (less)
Loved it! I like reading memoirs, especially those written by women. Bechdel calls this a memoir about her father, but in the best of ways, it's equal...moreLoved it! I like reading memoirs, especially those written by women. Bechdel calls this a memoir about her father, but in the best of ways, it's equally her own story and her own unfolding as an artist and archivist. I can't wait for the next one, about her mother.
I read this little book in one sitting, on my ferry commute to work. I like this because it was written when she was living in Detroit with her husban...moreI read this little book in one sitting, on my ferry commute to work. I like this because it was written when she was living in Detroit with her husband and children, a retreat from public life and public work, but certainly not from her art (visual, poetic, musical, and otherwise). Yes, it's different from her music/lyric compositions, and it's different from the more straightforward-but still magical-memoir she wrote of her early artistic life with Robert Mapplethorpe, Just Kids. This one has moments that seem almost stream of consciousness channeling, and others where the narrative is almost beside the point, where the language and the imagery are key.
I especially love her reminiscences about her childhood with her siblings. If you've read other Patti Smith books (like Complete), you already know how they are a deep part of her core. Woolgathering reprints the lyrics of one of her songs, Kimberly. Only here, we get the backstory and see the kernel of the song, before it was a song.
I also love the photographs, although I don't see the connection between the pic of Johnny Depp's desk and the accompanying text. It's a mystery I don't mind pondering.
I love Patti Smith. I think of her as a pure, unvarnished American artist, so I'm admittedly biased. This is the kind of book I would pick up and read again and again, in smaller morsels this time, like I would a favorite book of poems.(less)
Well, Bechdel's mother says it—in these pages—after previewing several chapters—of this book— pre-publication: "It's a metabook." It's a book about—am...moreWell, Bechdel's mother says it—in these pages—after previewing several chapters—of this book— pre-publication: "It's a metabook." It's a book about—among many things—the creation of this book about her mother, and her mother is commenting on the creation of this book about her. How meta is that?
A dream sequence opens each section, and is usually revisited with greater insight later in the chapter. Psychology and psychoanalysis play a massive role here, with Alison's sessions with two different counselors giving us an intimate and ongoing look into her personal struggles. Parallel to this is her self-imposed (and almost obsessive) study of the work of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott. His books, his papers, his biography—all give her another lens to view her conflicted and evolving Self through.
Another Bechdel feature is how she refers to and draws on other literature and writers: Virginia Woolf, Adrienne Rich, and a fabulous aha moment with Dr. Seuss.
And mom. A gifted actor, a stunted writer of poetry, a woman married for many years to a closeted gay man, and a mother who learned from her own mother that "boys are more important than girls." There are some heartbreaking moments here (I won't share and spoil it). At times mom seems to purposely seek to diminish her daughter by referencing other authors, other memoirists, or other cartoonists, understandably triggering envy. And sometimes she seems to do this unconsciously. Not sure which feels worse when you are on the receiving end. On the other hand, there is absolutely a bond here. The two speak often by phone, visit, do a trip to the city together. So in their own ways, they do keep trying.
The book itself slips back and forth through time, and it's confusing at first to feel rooted in the narrative. Younger Alison looks very much like older Alison; a couple girlfriends look similar, even the two therapists resemble each other. Sometimes the action focuses on Fun Home, her earlier book about her father, and sometimes it's centered on this book-in-the-making. It keeps folding in on itself again and again, then opening back up, only to be refolded another way, like origami. Next thing you know, you have a beautiful and intricate crane. It all comes together in a spectacular way, so stay with it.
I've got to comment on the artwork. As I mentioned, each section opens with a dream. They end with a tight close-up in a thick black frame. The details in the cartoons—the personal artifacts on her desk, the tree outside the therapist's window, the book and movie titles—are worth slowing down for. And I love the addition of color here! All red and variations of that color. Bloody reds, clotted reds, muddy pinks, muted mauves, all very effective. When Alison talks to her mom on a land line, it's red like a Cold War presidential hotline linked to Russia.
It can't have been easy to write a book about someone you love who is still living. Her mother's sense of privacy is embedded in many of these pages, and this is a relationship that they are both continuing to co-create, off the page. This isn't a revenge memoir by any stretch. It's very thoughtful, very careful, and very brave. I'm sure it treads a space that makes both mother and daughter a little squeamish, at times. Ultimately, it's a loving exploration that ends on a sweet and generous note. I loved it. I even loved the dedication. (less)
A sweet diversion, but not a lot of insight here, and not many of celebrity tidbits, either. It reads pretty much as Diane Keaton speaks: a little ram...moreA sweet diversion, but not a lot of insight here, and not many of celebrity tidbits, either. It reads pretty much as Diane Keaton speaks: a little rambling, with tangents that go off here and there. A neat thing is that it's as much about her mother Dorothy Keaton Hall as it is about herself. There are letters, phone messages, and transcripts from Dorothy's journals. A really wonderful inclusion is mom's artistic journals, fabulous collages with magazine images, family photos, found texts, and personal notes. And there are many of them; it seems to have been a life-long endeavor, these journals. Honestly, I'd love to see some of those recreated and published.
Two major events happen, nearly at once: Dorothy is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and Diane adopts two infants at 50+ years old. So the author becomes an instant member of the "sandwich generation," tending both her mother in her diminishment and her young—and thoroughly loved—children.
This book was just a little too much on the surface for my taste. Maybe because I'm such a fan of Keaton the actor so my expectations were higher. Or maybe it's because I just read Are You My Mother by Alison Bechdel, another memoir "about" the author's mother. That one was deep and layered and simply amazing. (less)
I read this book when it first came out and loved it. When I found out it was available on disc, and read by Patti Smith herself, I had to get it. The...moreI read this book when it first came out and loved it. When I found out it was available on disc, and read by Patti Smith herself, I had to get it. There is something especially compelling about hearing the author's voice reading her own words. Such a treat.
This memoir focuses on Smith's intense bond with her lover/beloved friend/partner-in-crime, artist Robert Mapplethorpe. But it's also about her great love for NYC, and her own formation as an artist, poet, and musician. She went to New York, spent her first nights sleeping in a doorway, before meeting Mapplethorpe and discovering the city together. NYC in the 70s, and Patti was right in the heart of it. Hearing her voice telling her tale, she sounds like such an innocent, open to all experiences and to all the people she meets. Funny as it sounds, she seems to have been a kind of gritty, punk Forrest Gump, in the thick of every scene in the city, meeting and interacting with all the city's icons—before becoming one herself. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bruce Springsteen, Andy Warhol, William Burroughs, Grace Slick, and many, many more. And the places: CBGB's, Max's Kansas City, and of course, the infamous Chelsea Motel. It's all there. She recreates an era and shares it.
The disc ends with poems Smith wrote for Sam Wagstaff's memorial, for Mapplethorpe's memorial, and others, and again, it is such a gift to hear her read her own poems. There's a resonance in the words and phrasing that is different from merely reading them on the page. Do yourself a favor and get this book on disc!
I read a collection of Fox's essays and stories a while back and wanted to read this memoir. Fox was almost literally the baby in a basket left on the...moreI read a collection of Fox's essays and stories a while back and wanted to read this memoir. Fox was almost literally the baby in a basket left on the steps of the orphanage by her freewheeling parents. In her case, her grandmother scooped her back up and brought her home. And so begins a life lived all over the world, with all kinds of caregivers.
The book is divided in chapters marking each of the places she briefly calls home, starting in upstate New York, with a bachelor minister and his elderly mother, her beloved "Uncle" Elwood. This seems to be the home that gave her the most stability and love. Her father flits in and out of her life, and she has a clear, if conflicted love, for him. He's a screenwriter and an alcoholic, and seems to be pulled between his wife and duty (and some real affection) toward his child. It's pretty clear that they can't all live together for any significant stretch of time, although they do for brief periods. Even how she talks about her parents is telling: her father is "Daddy" while her mother is "my mother," and eventually, "Elsie."
This book is a small study of dysfunction and abandonment. The final chapters talk about her giving birth and giving up her daughter for adoption. When she had misgivings and tried to get her back (much like her own grandmother retrieved her as a baby) she wasn't allowed to. They reunited many years later, and the memoir ends with their reconnection, so it's hard to know how their relationship is playing out. That daughter, Linda Carroll, is the mother of musician Courtney Love. Theirs has apparently been a contemptuous relationship. And it seems to continue with Courtney's daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, who is estranged from her mother. Candelaria, Elsie, Paula, Linda, Courtney, Frances Bean . . . a long line of bright, gifted, and perhaps unmothered women.
But that's just a sideline to this story. Fox doesn't tell her story like a survivor, but more like a participant/observer. And I'm not even sure "survivor" is the right word, as she certainly doesn't present herself as victimized. True, she may not have had a traditional childhood, but she did have these rich experiences that have made her the person, and the writer, that she is.
After falling in love with Harrison's fiction (True North, the novellas in Legends of the Fall,) I was eager to read this memoir that a friend - anoth...moreAfter falling in love with Harrison's fiction (True North, the novellas in Legends of the Fall,) I was eager to read this memoir that a friend - another Harrison lover - loaned me. Why is it, when we are taken with an author's writing, we wish to know more about his/her life and background? Sometimes it confirms our speculations, sometimes it adds new insights to the writing, and sometimes it sort of muddies our ideas of "who" this author is. This memoir did all of this for me.
In his fiction, Harrison artfully spans years and generations, sometimes within a paragraph. You do have to pay attention, but you never feel lost or plunked from time to time or place to place. In the memoir, he trawls all over the place and goes off on tangents, sometimes returning to his running narrative with an abrupt "Back to the early days." Luckily, his tangents are interesting and worth the ride. He also switches back and forth from his first person telling to the "you" of second person. I don't know if this is a technique of distancing himself or if it is meant to make his experience more universal, but I found it a little jarring, as it pulled me out of the storyline.
But those are just quibbles. This guy has lived an extraordinary life of art, has traveled and eaten and drunk widely and gloriously, and his body of work - fiction, poetry, essays, memoir, and children's fiction - is just as wide and glorious. His most famous book is probably Legends of the Fall, made into an award-winning film. Harrison writes of his years as a screenwriter, trying to adapt his books. After many years of living and supporting his family on roughly $10K/year, he's suddenly in the money (and then out of it again), and offers his version of being swallowed by the Hollywood machine and spit out the other side. Dude knows a lot of actors, directors, producers and other industry types, and seems to have become close friends with many of them, most notably, Jack Nicholson. Nicholson believed in Harrison enough to bankroll his living expenses for a year, and their friendship seems authentic, a relationship between men who like to live large (in living experience, not necessarily in buying it).
I have thought of Harrison as an extremely "male" writer, as a man's man, and this memoir confirms that. There is a long and honest section about his "Seven Obsessions" - alcohol; stripping [watching, not performing]; hunting, fishing (and dogs); private religion; France; taking solo road trips; and his immersion in nature and identification with American Natives. These preoccupations are carried throughout this book, and I've noticed his fiction abounds with these same thematic touchstones. Interestingly, he talks about hunting and fishing not as manly pursuits, and how that judgment came (from others) as our country became more urban/suburban. He offers many, many of these kinds of anthropological/sociological insights. I'd say the guy is a true observer, hence his chosen title.
But I'll stick with my sense of his über-maleness anyway. The man is exceedingly well-read, but of the dozens and dozens of authors he has read, met, admired, obsessed over, or otherwise referenced, the ones he names are nearly all male. Reminds me of an older male professor I had who worked at the public library in his town during the summers. He said women would read anyone, male or female, while men would only read other men. However, Harrison does note Native American author Linda Hogan, and mentions the novellas of Katherine Anne Porter and Isak Dinesen as influencing his decision to write his own novella, Legends of the Fall, so I'll give him points for that and bump it up to four stars. (less)
This is the most exquisite book I've experienced this year. I say "experienced" because it goes beyond just reading pages. The book is smaller than a...moreThis is the most exquisite book I've experienced this year. I say "experienced" because it goes beyond just reading pages. The book is smaller than a typical hardbound book, reminding me of a personal bible or missal. The cover has embossed birds in flight, white on white, and the endpapers are drawn feathers, tier after tier of black-tipped feathers. Just lovely. There is a tiny silhouette of a bird in the margin of each right-facing page; rifle through the pages for the most elegant flip-book.
So that's just the book as a physical object, just gorgeous. But the prose is at least as gorgeous. I came to this book knowing about Tempest Williams, but never having read any of her other books (that will soon change). The starting premise here is that the author's dying mother left her her journals, to be read only after she was gone. When Williams was ready to read them, she found they were all blank. In brief vignettes, she explores different memories and topics, letting them lead her to possible meanings of the blank pages. Throughout, she interprets and reinterprets the message: My Mother's journals are an act of defense. My Mother's journals are a transgression. My Mother's journals are a creation myth.
I kept putting sticky notes on pages, wanting to go back to lines and passages to read again:
"It is winter. Ravens are standing on a pile of bones—black typeface on white paper picking an idea clean."
"What I came to appreciate was how the transgression of Eve was an act of courage that led us out of the garden into the wilderness."
And, quoting from a speech her mother delivered, "There are two important days in a woman's life: the day she is born and the day she finds out why."
I borrowed this book from the library, but it's one I want to own. I want to have it on my shelf and read it again and again.
This was a treasure to read. The core of the memoir is Wood's father's death when she was nine years old, and how her family coped with that sudden lo...moreThis was a treasure to read. The core of the memoir is Wood's father's death when she was nine years old, and how her family coped with that sudden loss. Her mother, with two grown children and three young daughters at home, comes to revere Jacqueline Kennedy, another Catholic widow with young children to raise. A side story involves Mrs. Wood's beloved baby brother, a Catholic priest revered by the family and the community at large. He tries desperately to fill the void in this father-less, man-less household, all while dealing with his own so-called "nervousness." As was typical in the 1960s, the children were gently shielded from Father Bob's alcoholism, and left to wonder why he's making sock monkeys in the hospital; in reality, he's doing a detox stint in a drying-out hospital.
The setting for Wood's story is Mexico, Maine, a rural mill town, like many that used to be found all along Maine's many rivers. The dynamics of the paper mill community, where so many of the fathers, including Wood's, made their living, is an important part of the story. Times are changing, efficiency is king, jobs are eliminated or combined, and workers go on strike. In time, many of the mills close or consolidate, one by one. It's an important piece of Maine's history, and Wood presents it from an observant child's view, but with a sense of foreboding, as this crucial livelihood will dwindle and go by the wayside in coming years.
The author is wonderful with revealing her characters; nothing feels forced or overly explained. What a cast: her mother, napping on her daughters' beds in her grief, and gathering strength when she identifies with the newly-widowed Mrs. Kennedy; older sister Ann, a young teacher and a calming influence in the shattered family; her developmentally disabled sister, who's done second grade three times before one of the nuns gently tells her mother Betty would be happier at home; beloved Father Bob and his weekly visits; the Vaillancourt family, who practically take young Monica in as kindred; and the Lithuanian landlords with their arcane rules and garbage-spying quirks.
A cartoonist newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder - what better topic for her to explore and share. Forney had always embraced the archetype (or mayb...moreA cartoonist newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder - what better topic for her to explore and share. Forney had always embraced the archetype (or maybe, stereotype?) of the crazy, tortured artist, and counts herself among them. At first, she resists medication, fearing she'll lose her creative edge. A good chunk of the book deals with her years of attempting to find the right meds, the right balance. Alongside this, she delves into that idea that art and depression and/or bipolar disorder are linked. She lists two pages of famed artistic depressives, including a key to those who were hospitalized, those who attempted suicide, and those who succeeded.
I love this form, the graphic memoir, probably perfected by Alison Bechdel, and Forney does a good job of bringing us along on her pretty harrowing ride. I never thought that mania could be as frightening as depression, but that's the sense I got here. The constant medication trials and adjustments (and the horrible side effects) seem exhausting. But she shares her story with a great deal of humor. Dare I say, it's a fun book to read. (less)