When I have daydreams about packing up and moving to a new country, Spain is always the one that comes to mind. We visited in 2010 and just l2.5 Stars
When I have daydreams about packing up and moving to a new country, Spain is always the one that comes to mind. We visited in 2010 and just loved it. We felt welcome everywhere we went, the people seemed happy, and it just fit. Plus, my husband's bilingual. At least one of us could speak the language.
When I saw this as a free nook book, I had to download it. Here is a couple who did exactly what I would never be brave enough to do. And they aren't just moving to the city, which would probably be easier, but they're completely changing gears and buying a farm to breed alpacas. I'm not clear what the author's career was in England, but his wife was a dance teacher. Kudos to them!
I enjoyed the book well enough--it was cute--but I just felt that it needed to be edited a bit more. It is presented as a finished book, but it felt like pages from a journal. It was a bit disjointed with the flow being more along the lines of, "We did this, then we did that, then we did this other thing," with very little transition or filler.
And they have the worst luck with the alpacas! He kept saying that alpacas are supposed to be easy but I have to say, my grandparents and now my uncles have a small family farm with a few head of cattle. They have never had any kind of trouble like what I read about in here! I felt terrible for Alan and Lorna and the alpacas. They just had terrible luck.
Being so isolated out in the country, there's not a whole lot of commentary about how different things are. Well, there is, I just wanted more. Alan and Lorna are pretty self-sufficient with their farm and their animals, so it's not like they're making daily trips to the market or getting completely submersed in the culture. At least that's not what I took away from the book.
If you're looking for a cute enough read about some really cute animals and their brave owners, do go ahead and give this one a try. I personally just wanted a bit more depth and polish to the story....more
So, we all learned something about the Lewis & Clark expedition in school, right? They were the first official group to travel all the way to theSo, we all learned something about the Lewis & Clark expedition in school, right? They were the first official group to travel all the way to the Pacific coast and back, with brave Sacagawea leading the way, papoose strapped to her back. That's honestly pretty much all I knew. But there's got to be so much more to it than that. I wanted to know the real story so I grabbed this at the library.
Eh. I did learn a lot but this book is primarily a biography of Meriwether Lewis. I'm not clear how you separate Lewis from Clark when their names are so inextricably intertwined, but there you go. I was disappointed by that. I'm not being fair to the book--the subtitle does clearly state its about Captain Lewis--but I wanted more.
It read like hero worship. The author has retraced some of the routes the group followed many times, has obviously read a lot about Lewis and the rest of the Corps of Discovery and knows his stuff. But there were frequently statements that amounted to (NOT a direct quote; I've returned my copy to library already), "Can you imagine? He's practically an uneducated heathen but he discovered three new species on this day, eleven on this day, and stayed up late to take celestial observations that provided the most accurate maps known up to that time! And then wrote 2000 words about it! Holy smokes!" Am I exaggerating? Yes. But that's how it felt. Also, by focusing on Lewis so exclusively (again, that was the point of the book), it started to read like the rest of the men were just along for the ride. Lewis could have done it all by himself. I still couldn't name very many of the other men. Legendary Sacagawea is barely mentioned. Even when the Captain made some questionable decisions (granted, this did seem to be pretty rare), the author managed to explain them away with some sort of rationale. "Well, if he hadn't chased down those young Blackfeet, they might have run away and brought the rest of the tribe down on the group, and they all might have died!" Maybe, maybe not. But I wanted the facts, not the what ifs.
This book contained quite a bit of speculation for something that's nonfiction. I just wanted the facts in a readable format. Just in case the story of 30 or so men trekking across 7000 miles of uncharted wilderness wasn't dramatic enough, there would suddenly be something along the lines of (again, I'm paraphrasing), "It all worked out this time, but what if it hadn't? What if the trouble-making Sioux had decided to attack and kill the whole group? The expansion of the American West would have been delayed by years and years because Jefferson wouldn't have had time to mount another expedition and his successor thought the whole purchase was folly anyway." And then there was Lewis's moodiness. Maybe this is an accepted theory among historians but it bothered me to read (paraphrasing), "Perhaps Lewis was bipolar. His father suffered from terrible mood swings and Lewis did too. We'll never know. But if he was, the success of the expedition is an even bigger accomplishment!" That just bothered me. I think it was what I perceived as the lack of evidence to back such a claim up. He functioned admirably for a couple of years during this expedition. He got moody. Anyone living in such tight quarters with 30 other men would do the same. He either didn't keep journals for large chunks of time or they're lost to history. That doesn't add up to a bipolar diagnosis to me, but I can't claim to know very much about it. Had I known how Lewis died before reading this (I didn't), I might have bought it, but by the time I found out, it was too late and I was irritated.
I've dwelt too long on what I didn't like. Meriwether Lewis was truly an amazing man; a tireless, curious explorer; and a gifted leader. I did learn a lot about him and even the whole expedition. I just wanted so much more than what I found in these pages. If you're looking for a Lewis biography, by all means, grab this. If you want to know more about the Corps of Discovery in general, I'd recommend that you look elsewhere....more
Rick Bragg grew up poor in Alabama. His daddy was very rarely in the picture and his momma did the best she could at whatever job she could find to keRick Bragg grew up poor in Alabama. His daddy was very rarely in the picture and his momma did the best she could at whatever job she could find to keep her three sons fed. She mostly did the back-breaking work of picking cotton for very little pay. It wasn't easy to be a single mother in 1960ish Alabama but she did her best. In this memoir, Rick Bragg writes with deep love and hard truths about the sacrifices his momma made for him and his brothers and the life he was able to build because of her. He left the cotton fields of Alabama to become a Puliter-prize winning journalist for the New York Times. This is their story.
All of that up there sounds deadly serious but mostly what I took away from this book is humor and grace. Somehow Rick Bragg's first memoir is the last one I've read and I have literally laughed 'til I cried in every one. I've read my family members bits here and there and retold stories I remember and made everyone listening to me laugh too. Maybe they're just humoring me, but I don't think so.
Reading the other books first, I expected this one to be more about momma. (It's impossible to call her anything else. I went to an author signing and the first question anyone asked him was, "How's your momma doing'?" We were supposed to be there for his biography of Jerry Lee Lewis. Who wants to know about celebrities? We wanted to know about momma.) Which is stupid. They're all about momma. She is the heart of all these stories. So I guess what I mean is that I expected it to tell more of momma's own life story. It does but I still just want to know more about her. She probably doesn't want anything like that written about herself though. I can just imagine if I told my Mama that I was going to publish a book about her life. She'd pitch a fit. I imagine Rick's momma would feel the same.
I love the tales of Rick growing up and the old family stories but I also enjoyed reading chapters about Rick's career as a reporter. Those could be pretty harsh. The parts about Haiti were just awful. I read about riots in Miami and asked my husband how he ever made it out of there alive, only half joking. As much as I love the humorous stories, Rick Bragg can make you feel like you're in the middle of any scene he wants, and sometimes that leads to some terrifying places.
I love reading Rick Bragg's writing. I hear it more than I read it, even as my eyes are moving slowly across the printed page, savoring the language. I don't know how it reads to anyone else, but his Alabama words read like home to me. He writes the way I talk and I love it. Apparently it's more about the Appalachians than it is about the state we're from because I'm a North Carolina girl but it all rings true. I listened to the audio version of his second memoir, The Prince of Frogtown, read by the author, and I loved it. I can't say which format I enjoy more.
Just go read this. It's a book with a lot of heart and sometimes those feel like they're hard to find. You'll be glad you took the time to read this one....more
In this graphic novel memoir, Alison Bechdel explores her relationship with her father, who later admitted to being homosexual; his suicide; her childIn this graphic novel memoir, Alison Bechdel explores her relationship with her father, who later admitted to being homosexual; his suicide; her childhood; and her early years after coming out as a lesbian.
I really kind of hate reviewing these kinds of books. They're so intensely personal. Who am I to judge the work of someone who has effectively bled his or her heart out on the page? Any negative comments feel like personal attacks when I write them. So here's the best I can do.
Let me first get what I didn't care for out of the way. The tone of the book is so very earnest and introspective and intellectual, ultimately drawing parallels between Joyce's Ulysses and her relationship with her father. Holy smokes. I only think that way in lit class. It's appropriate and relevant, I get that. It's just not my way of dealing with crap and so I don't really relate to it.
At the same time, I admire Bechdel for her bravery in putting her story out there. I'm sure it's a form of therapy for her, getting what she feels out on paper and working it out for herself. But it also help others who may be going through something similar.
I liked the artwork a lot. The stark black and whites matched the somber tone of the book perfectly. Some of them will be too graphic for some readers though.
I think that the summary alone will tell you whether this is a book for you or not. If you're interested, I do recommend it. ...more
Malala Yousafzai was only fifteen when she was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban for speaking out for education for everyone around the worlMalala Yousafzai was only fifteen when she was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban for speaking out for education for everyone around the world, but especially for girls, and especially in Muslim countries. She miraculously survived and now has an even larger audience for her message.
I think I'd heard a little bit about Malala before this book came out but only a little. Then I just happened to catch her on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart one night and I was blown away. This young lady is intelligent, well-spoken and seems to be fearless in speaking her mind. I can't remember if Jon Stewart asked if he could adopt her or vote for her (probably both) but I echo that sentiment. I knew I had to have this book after seeing her speak.
The Malala in these pages is everything I expected her to be. She makes it clear that she's not perfect but her conviction rings throughout the book. She knows it is one of her basic human rights to get an education. She has a brain and she wants to use it. She is disturbed by the spread of a version of Islam that she doesn't recognize. She doesn't want the Taliban keeping the populace in ignorance and gaining even more control. She thinks we should all make an educated choice in our beliefs, whether those beliefs are personal, political, or religious.
She begins by painting a picture of Pakistan as she saw it before the Taliban started gaining control. It sounds like a beautiful place with a troubled past. Then she tells about all the ways, both little and big, that the Taliban started to affect daily life. This was the scariest part for me. It felt like it could happen anywhere. It seemed to begin with a radio show and a man who slowly gained power by starting with small statements that a lot of people agreed with and then slowly getting more and more fanatical until he had too much power for anyone to stop him. It was scary. Then Malala's valley is evacuated as the Pakistan army and the Taliban finally fight for control.
Throughout all of this, Malala's father was an outspoken opponent of all the radical changes. As the owner of a school, he was especially outspoken about every child's right to receive an education. Malala wanted to join him in that fight since it directly affected her. Her father started receiving death threats and losing friends as they were murdered for similar beliefs. He carried on though and Malala did too.
As I read, I wondered what I would do in their shoes. I'll be honest: I'm more of a keep-my-mouth-shut-and-my-head-down-and-hope-I-make-it-through kind of person. But that's how these crazy agendas gain so much ground; they count on the majority of people having exactly that reaction. When we wonder how one person can ever make a difference, we can always find an example of one person who already has. To that list, we can add Malala Yousafzai. She's one of our bright hopes for the future. Pick up this book and find out why....more
Mariatu Kamara was twelve years old when she was caught up in the civil war in Sierra Leone. Most of her village was killed in a raid. Boy soldiers cuMariatu Kamara was twelve years old when she was caught up in the civil war in Sierra Leone. Most of her village was killed in a raid. Boy soldiers cut off both her hands but let her go. She shares the story of how she learned to cope in the new world she found herself in.
Holy cow. I just can't imagine living through the things this young woman has experienced. And she was so young when everything happened! I just shudder to think of it.
But she's a strong girl. She knows from the beginning that she must learn to live on her own. From the time she turns down the first helpful stranger's offer to feed her a bite of mango, she struggles to live her new life on her own terms.
Her story is inspiring and heart-breaking and important. I know I as an American sometimes forget that most of the world doesn't have it as good as I do. I get caught up in the day-to-day of "I can't believe I have to deal with this at work," or "Traffic is a nightmare, I hate this commute," and forget that in some places in the world, children are killing and maiming each other in wars they don't understand. I for one need a reality check like this from time to time.
Anyone who reads this should also read A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. Mariatu avoids demonizing the boy soldiers but it's still a good idea to get their perspective as well. They were also victims in this terrible conflict.
This is by no means an easy read but I highly recommend it. ...more
As the "gay marriage debate" was heating up back in oh, 2005, Dan Savage and his boyfriend (they dislike the word partner) were in the middle of theirAs the "gay marriage debate" was heating up back in oh, 2005, Dan Savage and his boyfriend (they dislike the word partner) were in the middle of their own debate. Should they or shouldn't they? They'd been together ten years, they'd adopted a son together, neither had any intention of leaving the relationship, they fully believed that gays and lesbians should have the right to get married, they just weren't sure that marriage was for them. They talk it over, going back and forth, receiving lots of input in favor of marriage from Dan's mom, and against marriage from their 5-year-old son.
Honestly, I read this for a book challenge I'm trying to complete before the end of the year. I think I saw Dan Savage once on Real Time with Bill Maher but other than that he's not on my radar. I keep my political opinions to myself. Has anyone ever changed the mind of someone else in a political argument? I think not. So let's just say that I'm a happily-married heterosexual female who thinks that gay people should be allowed to get married. And that's all I'll say about that.
Savage's memoir is, for the most part, hilarious, brutally honest, and straight to the point. He points out the fallacies in the tired old arguments trotted out against gay marriage, takes some potshots at its most vocal opponents, and chronicles his own personal debate within the debate. I laughed most of the way through it.
It did irritate me that Savage has no compunction about casting people around him in broad stereotypes, but at least he admits that he's a close-minded liberal (or something like that anyway). Apparently the entire population of South Dakota is fat, wants to kick his butt simply because he's gay, and doesn't have the mental capacity to read the New York Times. I shudder to think what he says about us Southerners.
If you have the ideology to enjoy this, go ahead and read it. It was entertaining but also a little sad to see that we haven't made much progress in the eight years since this was published....more
Mitch Moxley hits a personal low in his mid-twenties. His career is pretty much nonexistent and he's tired of the cold, gray Toronto winters. He startMitch Moxley hits a personal low in his mid-twenties. His career is pretty much nonexistent and he's tired of the cold, gray Toronto winters. He starts looking for jobs overseas and stumbles on a job working for a state newspaper in China, the China Daily. He applies and lands himself a one year contract.
He heads on over, knowing that he isn't really prepared for life in Communist China but not really understanding what that means. He has issues with censorship at the paper almost from the beginning and quickly gives up trying to change anything or doing any actual reporting. He makes some friends, offends some people, drinks a lot, and starts heading down that tired old expat path.
Luckily, he does change directions. He finally goes into life in China with a bit of a Yes Man attitude and finds himself in some unbelievable situations. He watches all the buildup for the Olympics. He starts doing some serious reporting. Through it all, he slowly slides closer to the Chinese side on the Foreigner/Chinese scale.
I like reading books about people who are brave enough to pack up and move away from everything they know, not just to another city, but to a whole different country. I can't even begin to imagine the culture shock, especially going from Canada to China. I have been disappointed a couple of times in other books when the author chooses to write about his or her experiences partying and drinking. That is not even remotely what I'm looking for when I pick up this kind of memoir.
Mitch started down that path and I got worried but then he turned himself around and started writing about life in China, not life in bars. He started getting out and experiencing things that I can't even conceive of from my armchair in the States. "Rent a White Guy." Seriously? They do that? Human trafficking. Chinese dating shows. The Beijing Olympics. Chinese music videos. I found it all fascinating, occasionally scary, and sometimes hilarious. I learned a lot about a country that is very much a big unknown to me. This was what I was hoping to find when I requested a copy of the book for review.
If, like me, you love to experience other cultures from the safety of your home, go ahead and give this a try. ...more
In this memoir, Lithgow writes of how his early years shaped him as an actor, from his childhood, to his time at Harvard, to his studies in the UK asIn this memoir, Lithgow writes of how his early years shaped him as an actor, from his childhood, to his time at Harvard, to his studies in the UK as a Fulbright scholar, and on to his breakthrough on Broadway and film.
I truly enjoyed listening to Lithgow narrate his own personal history. I don't know how much of his work I've actually seen, but I do like his voice. He took my thoughts and feelings exactly where he wanted them to go. I was quiet and pensive as he spoke about the power of story in his father's last days, I was howling with laughter alone in my car as he wrote about his father telling off a decidedly unpassionate Romeo, and I was interested enough not to notice as I listened and worked my way through yet another week of the Couch to 5K training program.
You could probably accuse Lithgow of name-dropping, but when he's speaking of his work, it's impossible not to name-drop. I was very interested to learn that he was at Harvard with Tommy Lee Jones and that he saw some of Meryl Streep's earliest Broadway auditions.
He doesn't hold much, if anything, back. His first marriage was rocky and he acknowledges his role in that. He writes honestly about his great love and respect for his father, how confused he felt to sort of surpass his work, and how determined he became to disassociate himself from his father's influence.
If you like memoirs at all, I do recommend this as audio. It's wonderfully narrated by a fascinating man.
In The Prince of Frogtown, Rick Bragg sets out to discover the father that he never really knew. I have read these books all out of order, but apparenIn The Prince of Frogtown, Rick Bragg sets out to discover the father that he never really knew. I have read these books all out of order, but apparently in All Over But the Shoutin', Bragg painted his father, Charlie, as a no-account mean drunk. After its publication, people who knew his father came to him and said, "I wish you'd talked to me before you wrote all that." So he talked to them and this is the result. His father is still a no-account mean drunk, but Rick and the reader come away with a better understanding of the man.
Having now read one of Bragg's books and listened to another, I am torn about the best medium. I'm left thinking that the best thing for everyone would be if his publishers just gave us one of those readalong books I remember from when I was little. "You'll know it's time to turn the page when you hear the chime ring like this: Dlililing!" Man, I loved those things. I could listen to Rick Bragg all day. His slow speech, his accent, his word choice--it's all the language of my family and the stories we tell. We might not be up on a stage telling stories, but we sure can take the smallest event from our days and spin it out into a good long tale. But as I was listening, I found myself just absolutely dying to mark quotes in a physical copy. Whether Bragg was cracking a joke about understanding a woman's thinking (A passage that included mapping the stars on a bubble gum wrapper with chalk and only got better from there), telling a hilarious story about his father scaring his grandmother half to death when he was little, or making a keen observation about fathers and sons or even mothers and sons, there were real jewels in here. And I couldn't mark them or flag them. Readalong books. Are you paying attention, publishers? That's the way to go.
Anyway, I loved this just as much as I loved Ava's Man. It's a darker book because his father had a lot of darkness inside him. But I enjoyed the stories of Charlie as a child and teenager, before he went to war and came back haunted. His life even then was not an easy one and I think we all are left wondering whether he would have turned out pretty much the same way even if he hadn't ever gone to Korea. He had good moments sometimes too, and even though I knew how things had to turn out, I was left hoping that this time he would change his life. He never did and I was left thankful for my own steadfast father.
The book goes back and forth between stories of Charlie and stories about Rick and his stepson. I really liked that setup. It felt like Rick gained a better understanding of his father as he realized how hard fatherhood is if you're trying to do it right. His long-suffering wife deserves an award, I swear. He makes mistakes along the way, but it sounds like he gets it right in the end. The love he feels for his stepson just comes through so clearly as he reads about him, even when he's talking about what a mama's boy the kid is.
I have discovered that I love Rick Bragg's writing, so I'll be searching out all his books. I highly recommend him....more
Rick Bragg never knew his maternal grandfather, Charlie, but the man is a legend among the family and friends he left behind. A good provider, a lovinRick Bragg never knew his maternal grandfather, Charlie, but the man is a legend among the family and friends he left behind. A good provider, a loving father, a teasing husband, a loyal friend, he was also a bootlegger who loved his own product and had a temper. He never turned it on anyone who didn't deserve it, and apparently some of the best stories about him took place when he'd been drinking.
My uncle has been telling me for--oh, years now, that I just have to read Rick Bragg. I do take his recommendations seriously, but my to-read list is out of control and I'm just now getting to him. How I wish I had listened to my uncle earlier. I will not be waiting years to read more of Bragg's work, that is for sure.
This book was great. It just felt like home, and can there be any higher praise for a book? Granted, my daddy doesn't drink alcohol and my parents still live in the same house we grew up in, but Bragg's language and stories felt right in a way that is hard to explain. They settled on me like well-worn clothes or shoes, for all that I've never read his work before. Read this: "He spoke in the language--the very specific language--of the Appalachian foothills. It was an unusual mix of formal English and mountain dialect. The simple word 'him' was two distinct sounds--'he-yum.' And a phrase like "Well, I better go," was, in the language of our people, more likely to sound like 'Weeeelllll, Ah bet' go.' Some words are chopped off and some are stretched out till they moan, creating a language like the terrain itself. Think of that language as a series of mountains, cliffs, valleys, and sinkholes, where only these people, born and raised here, know the trails." Yes. That. I have never and don't think I will ever read a better description of our dialect. That is it, right there. Don't judge it; listen to it and relax into it, give us time to get to our point, and enjoy the ride.
It's easy to see why Charlie's family still mourns him. His breed is becoming more and more scarce in the "New South." Bragg writes about this in his epilogue. "The realities of this new, true South are not as romantic as in Charlie's time, as bleak and painful as that time was for people of his class. The new, true South is, for people like him, a South of mills that will never reopen, of fields that will never be planted again, of train tracks that are being turned into bicycle trails. In the new, true South, it is harder to be poor and proud, harder to work your way into an unapologetic, hard-eyed independence." It's true. But we still see remnants and throwbacks from that time, and we honor them. Men like Charlie might not have had much education, but they did what they had to do to feed their families and they never backed down. They wrung every bit of life that they could out of their allotted time.
All that sounds all serious, but my favorite parts were the funny stories, and there were plenty of those. I kept reading bits aloud to my husband, and even he (not a Southerner or a reader) would bust out laughing. He'll still say, "But God ain't that gravy good," and crack himself up. That was a great story. I think I read that one to anyone who would listen for a few days, and they all laughed out loud as well. There are a few run-ins with the law, some run-ins with honest-to-goodness criminals, tales of fishing on the river, friends and strays picked up and cared for along the way, children and grandchildren loved beyond all reason, and Charlie's own hilarious quirks and screw-ups.
There's no big theme or lesson or plot here, just stories about a good man doing his best in a changing world. Except that is a lesson in itself, isn't it? Bragg obviously misses the grandfather he never met, and he writes so beautifully about Charlie that I miss him as well. Pick this one up, laugh and cry by turns, and be thankful that you got to know him too. ...more
Stephen King sits down to share his thoughts on the writing process. No matter what you think of his books personally, you have to admit that he's a mStephen King sits down to share his thoughts on the writing process. No matter what you think of his books personally, you have to admit that he's a master at drawing in legions of fans. He prefaces his work with an explanation of what prompted him to write it. He was talking with author Amy Tan when he asked her what one question she wishes somebody actually would ask her at an author Q-and-A. "Amy paused, thinking it over very carefully, and then said: 'No one ever asks about the language.'....But Amy was right: nobody ever asks about the language. They ask the DeLillos and the Updikes and the Styrons, but they don't ask popular novelists. Yet many of us proles also care about the language, in our humble way, and care passionately about the art and craft of telling stories on paper. What follows is an attempt to put down, briefly and simply, how I came to the craft, what I know about it now, and how it's done. It's about the day job; it's about the language."
Divided into three main sections, King actually covers a lot of ground in this short book. The first section is a mini-memoir of his life and the events that influenced his writing. The second part is the mechanics, and the third is about his life-changing accident (which happened in the middle of writing this book).
I enjoyed the section about his life. I would never claim to be King's "Number One Fan," but I do enjoy reading his work. I can't say that I know anything about his life. He was run over about 10 years ago, Joe Hill is his son, and Tabitha King is his wife. That's about it. Oh, and that he was pretty strung out on drugs when he wrote some of his earlier works. That really has to be it. I liked seeing how King was formed as a writer. From his first attempts to emulate his favorite comics, to his mom telling him that he can do better, to the earliest stories he published, to the publication of Carrie, he covers a lot of ground in this section. My favorite bit might have been the story of getting the news of his son's impending birth while at a drive-in movie.
Then he moves on to the mechanics. His best bit of advice is one that's often quoted: "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that." Being a reader, this is advice that I like! And then he moves on to basics like making the time to write, and how his process works. There's the shut-door period, where he's the only person who is reading his work, and then he opens the door to let his first readers have a crack at it. He writes about the tools of grammar, spelling, and avoiding adverbs at all costs (who knew that adverbs could be a pet peeve?). He writes about how to get yourself published and gives examples of a process that should work pretty well for most writers. I found his advice to be full of common sense, pretty encouraging, and easy to understand and follow through on.
At the end, he writes about his accident. When I first started this section, I admit to a bit of an eye-roll and a "here we go again" feeling. I'm one of those crappy people who got tired of all the stories he wrote after his accident about men who've had debilitating accidents. I know it's heartless on my part, I know it's cathartic for him, but there you go. Still, there was a point to including it here. It was very natural to include it as another memoir-like bit since it happened during the writing of this book, but there's more to it than that. He seems to be saying that, yeah, he went through a horrendous experience that most of us can't even wrap our minds around, but he kept writing. And if he can continue writing, we can continue to write or get started. It was healing for him and returned a sense of "normalcy" to his life.
Scattered throughout the book were references to his other books and different anecdotes about them. He writes that he's a writer who just lets the story take him where it will rather than outlining everything in advance, so he's often surprised by twists himself. I especially liked reading about how he originally thought Misery's plot would turn out. He writes a lot about Carrie as well and what influences came to bear on that story. I just really enjoyed sort of "seeing behind the scenes" of some of the books that I've read.
I recommend this, obviously for King's fans, but also for those in search of (I think) sound writing advice. There's no mumbo-jumbo, mystical, channeling stuff. There's nothing that sounds out of the realm of possibility. It's basically about just sitting down and getting started. Maybe it will give you the push you need to do just that....more
HeLa cells (named after the woman they came from, Henrietta Lacks) have been used for about 60 years by scientists all over the world for all kinds ofHeLa cells (named after the woman they came from, Henrietta Lacks) have been used for about 60 years by scientists all over the world for all kinds of cellular research. Yet very few scientists could tell you the real name of the woman the cells came from, much less anything about her. Yet somehow, Rebecca Skloot stumbled onto the cells in a high school biology class. The teacher even got Henrietta's name right. The lesson spawned a years-long fascination with HeLa cells, Henrietta Lacks herself, her family, and the ethical questions that arise from the story. This book is the product of that research.
I would honestly never have picked this book up on my own, but I've heard so many good things about the audio version that I decided to give it a try. One can't listen to fluff alone! All the praise is well-deserved.
There is so much to chew over here. Parts were pretty upsetting, for a lot of different reasons. Henrietta's children had a very hard life after she passed away, and as I told my husband just a bit about it, he cut me off and said, "Why do you always read books like that? Doesn't it depress you?" Yes, it does, but it also reminds me how good I have it in comparison. We all need a little attitude adjustment occasionally, and difficult books like this serve that purpose for me. But aside from the family's personal hardships, it was hard to hear about Henrietta's death. It was not by any means an easy one. And then, less personal but more relevant to most of us, there were the ethical questions raised by Henrietta's story. I know times have changed, but I was appalled by the complete disregard for the family. Privacy was barely a concern for anyone, much less informed consent. The family didn't know anything about Henrietta's cells in research until decades after her death. Decades. Fifty years later, no one had ever taken the time to explain what was going on with the cells and the family couldn't tell fact from fiction. A collection of all Henrietta's cells at that time would weigh tons? There are a lot of clones of Henrietta walking around in London? It all sounded equally crazy and therefore equally plausible.
This is only a side note to the story, but it rang so true with me that I have to mention it. A woman who was present at Henrietta's partial autopsy mentioned how much Henrietta's toenail polish bothered her. The woman had kept a clinical distance until then, but those toes made her realize that the body on the table had been a living, breathing person shortly before. I have mentioned in my review of Second Hand Heart that I used to very occasionally be the tiniest of tiny cogs in the organ donation process, doing electrocardiograms on organ donors before any harvesting began. I clearly remember a beautiful fifty-ish female organ donor and how much her perfect manicure bothered me. I never had full detachment when I had to fill that role, but she bothered me a lot. She had no idea what was in store for her when she got that manicure. So I know exactly where the observer was coming from.
The book focused a little more on the family than I expected. My heart broke for them. They seem to have had such hard lives. And the research done on their mother's cells has done so much good for so many people, but they themselves don't even have the health insurance to be able to afford any of the medications or other advances that she helped bring about. There's something just not right there.
The very last section was all about the ethics of cell research and where we stand today. I for one was surprised. I may not have the details exactly right, so don't hold me to any of this, but really, we don't have any rights to our own tissue. We mostly assume that if, say, our spleen is removed, it's going to be incinerated, right? There are no guarantees that's what's going to happen. There is apparently usually some small print buried in the consent form that lets the hospital or doctor or someone use it however they see fit. There are arguments that if we as individuals retain any rights to our tissue, we can throw up roadblocks to research. But what does happen? A company gets a patent on a gene (like a breast cancer gene) and charges ridiculous amounts of money for other researchers to use it. So much for cooperation for the common good, right? This really happened.
Maybe I was tuned out (I'm not a perfect audio book listener), but I wish there had been a bigger section about all the things HeLa cells have been used for. They're so common, it's probably hard to narrow down the list and then write meaningfully about it. Let's face it, something like "HeLa has been used to manufacture the polio vaccine, develop the atomic bomb, and has been sent into space" would get a little boring. But I wish I had a bigger idea about the research. Like I said, it might have been in there and I was too busy yelling at the drivers around me to notice.
I really liked Cassandra Campbell's narration. She was very clear and easy to listen to. Maybe I was projecting, but I thought she sounded a little upset when she was reading the worst parts about the abuse Henrietta's children endured. It made her seem more human instead of just an emotionless voice reading me this book.
You don't have to be a scientist to understand this book by any means. If you're interested in any of the topics--the research, the ethics, or the personal story--grab this one. I recommend the audio, but I'm sure this is a fascinating book in any format....more
In this autobiographical graphic novel, Craig Thompson describes his first love, his childhood relationship with his brother, and his loss of faith.
IIn this autobiographical graphic novel, Craig Thompson describes his first love, his childhood relationship with his brother, and his loss of faith.
I think there's something in this graphic novel that everyone can relate to. Whether it's the rush of falling in love for the first time, the bullies at school, or the tangled relationship with a sibling, Craig's experiences, while unique, are also universal. I know that doesn't make sense, but there you go. It was a bit cathartic for me to watch him working them out.
Every frame rang true. His fights with his brother over the blankets in the wintertime. His isolation at school. His relief at finding other loners at church camp. The first infatuation and later love.
I love the artwork. They show more of what Craig is feeling than the words do. The black and white pictures fit the stark feeling of this story, which mostly takes place in the winter.
I know there's more, but I've waited too long to review this book. It's a lovely graphic novel. Just read it....more
Louie Zamparini was a little bit of a punk as a young teen, staying in trouble all the time. But then he discovered running and pretty much turned hisLouie Zamparini was a little bit of a punk as a young teen, staying in trouble all the time. But then he discovered running and pretty much turned his life around. People were taking notice of his times and the Olympics were in his future. He made it to the Berlin Olympics in a distance that was not his specialty. He didn't medal but at least he gained some experience. He started training in earnest for the next Olympics but then WWII broke out. He was soon flying in bombers over the Pacific Ocean. And then his plane went down.
Wow. I am in awe Louie's survival instincts. I read this on vacation in Jamaica and I have to say that I was not paying attention to the beautiful beach around me; I was fully present with Louie in his life boat. I periodically read bits from the book to my husband and at one point I looked up and said, "If I'm ever in a life boat in the middle of the ocean, I want this man to be with me. You won't believe what he just did!" and launched into that story. I won't spoil it for you but I remember it vividly.
I was thinking that this would make a good gift for my dad but by the time I finished, I wasn't so sure. Louie just goes through so stinking much. I got so frustated! "Why can't this guy get a break?!?!" was on a constant repeat in my head. It was one thing after the other and just when I thought he was going to be okay, things actually got worse. And worse. And worse. I'm not so sure that my dad would handle it all that well.
I thought I would like this because I so enjoyed Seabiscuit, Hillenbrand's first book. She is an excellent narrative nonfiction writer. She is able to put me right there in the middle of her story and make me care about things that aren't normally on my radar. I don't care about horse racing and I was manically cheering for a little knock-kneed underdog. I do like WWII books, but I tend to stick more with the Holocaust end of things rather than the actual fighting and have only rarely, if ever, ventured into the Pacific Theater. I definitely felt my ignorance here. I was a little embarrassed at myself. Pearl Harbor...atomic bomb. A whole lot of fighting in between. That sums up what I know. I got a little crash course here.
Hillenbrand also knows when to stop writing. That feels like a rare gift sometimes. She goes into some of the "afterward" and just when I was starting to get worried that she was going to lose me by going too far, she wrapped things up. Her story is about WWII so there's no great need to go past that in my opinion. Thankfully, she seems to agree. I'm sure that Louie's life has always been interesting (he's a rare man, how could it be otherwise?) but let's stick to one story. She did.
There are parts of the book that will upset some people, I'm sure. There's one scene in particular that Louie described as the worst thing he saw in the war (I'm 99% sure on this) that has kind of haunted me. It's a little event in the big scheme of things that shows a lot about the man who did it and what kind of men Louie found himself surrounded by. It still bothers me, just thinking about it now. People sensitive to degradation and utterly meaningless violence should probably steer clear.
Hillenbrand is a heckuva writer and she found a fascinating man to write about. I feel honored to have read his story and encourage anyone who is even slightly interested to read it too. You won't be disappointed....more
Primo Levi was a young Jewish man living in Turin, Italy when he was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. Due to a combination of luck and calculation, hePrimo Levi was a young Jewish man living in Turin, Italy when he was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. Due to a combination of luck and calculation, he survived.
I truly, truly hate to give any Holocaust memoir less than five stars. They are all important and they should all be read.
Somehow I never got drawn into this book. It took me two weeks to read a book that is 190 pages long. Crazy, right? I can't put my finger on what my problem was. Bear with me as I try to work it out.
Maybe it's that I'm more of the "feeling" personality type and Levi seems to be more of a "thinker." He does have some very astute observations to make about humanity. I started to lose interest in a chapter titled "The Drowned and the Saved." This chapter was almost like a primer for how to survive in such horrific conditions. I have concluded that I wouldn't make it. I don't understand anything that resembles economics. So descriptions of schemes to trade 1 piece of bread for a coupon that somehow turns into 4 pieces of bread left me scratching my head. I don't get it. My eyes glazed over.
I did finally get more interested in the very last chapter, "The Story of Ten Days." This felt more personal to me. Levi and some fellow prisoners are trying to survive in the abandoned camp until the Russian army arrives. They immediately lose the "survival at all costs" mentality and start to look out for each other again.
In looking back through this book for my review, I see a lot of passages that seem pertinent and that provide a lot of food for thought. Maybe this was just a bad time for me to read this particular book? I don't know.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that most of this memoir was a little too analytical and distanced. When it got more personal, I tuned in, but then it was finished.
Again, I still recommend this and all other Holocaust memoirs. I personally just didn't click with the style of this one....more
Rita Lurie is a Holocaust survivor. Her story is remarkably similar to Anne Frank's. She hid in an attic in Poland for two years at the very end of WWRita Lurie is a Holocaust survivor. Her story is remarkably similar to Anne Frank's. She hid in an attic in Poland for two years at the very end of WWII. Her family's hiding place was nowhere near as carefully-planned as the Frank family's though. They fled Nazi soldiers in the night and eventually found a family friend who let them stay with him. Imagine 15 people, including children and a baby, hiding in an attic for two years with no food supply mapped out. The children couldn't run around a make noise and be children. They had no heat source. They didn't even have much light. They lived on what the men could forage at night. Needless to say, they were very sick and malnourished when they finally emerged. Rita was five when they went into hiding, but the experience left a deep and lasting mark on her psyche.
Now, where this memoir is different from others that I've read is that it doesn't stop with Liberation. That's only the beginning, in fact. How does such a horrific experience mark your life forever after? Also, how does it mark your children and their children? It's not like you come out of hiding and return to a perfectly normal life.
I have to say that the first time I ever thought about these questions was when I read The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman. Spiegelman shows that his father was hard to live with, and sometimes it was because of his experiences as a Holocaust survivor. He's a hoarder and a control freak. Spiegelman's mom, also a survivor, was clinically depressed. That opened my eyes a little bit. So when I was offered this book for review, I jumped on it.
I was surprised by the ways that the Holocaust affected this family's life. Rita was a little fearful to let her children out of her sight. Her children picked up on that, as children do, and became overly fearful as well. It's even carrying on to the next generation.
There are also the cycles of depression. I had to admire Rita, because she is a fighter, but it seemed almost inevitable that the depression would come around for her again. She tries so hard, but how do you overcome something like the Holocaust? And how does your family react when you spiral down?
If, like me, you're interested in the Holocaust but hadn't really thought about the lasting effects in the survivors' lives, pick this up. It was very readable and very thought-provoking....more
After college, Rachel Shukert ended up working for free for a well-known experimental theater director. The play took a brief tour of Europe, and RachAfter college, Rachel Shukert ended up working for free for a well-known experimental theater director. The play took a brief tour of Europe, and Rachel was thrilled when she found out that her passport had not been stamped. That meant she could stay in Europe as long as she wanted without a visa, since no one officially knew she was there. Setting out to "find herself," she ends up living with two of her gay best friends in Amsterdam, jobless, but more than willing to try out the local booze and dating scene.
I'm not the right reader for this book. Call me a prude if you want, but I somehow (thankfully) avoided the stage of life that Rachel Shukert describes in her memoir. I don't understand the appeal of drinking until you end up in the hospital, or waking up with a man you met for the first time the night before. So when I ran into both things within the first few pages of this memoir, I knew this wasn't going to be a book that I connected with.
If you did go through this stage, perhaps you'll enjoy this memoir more than I did. It is funny, but, like I said, I just didn't really connect with what Rachel was going through inflicting on herself.
The book is well-written, and I did end up cheering for Rachel in the end, but the lifestyle described in the pages is a turn-off for me.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy for review....more