An interestesting, addictively readable memoir by a Harvard-educated woman (now a successful journalist and Washington Post blogger) who stayed too loAn interestesting, addictively readable memoir by a Harvard-educated woman (now a successful journalist and Washington Post blogger) who stayed too long in a marriage with a husband who regularly beat her. It's a chilling look at how abuse can affect the lives of people in all social classes and at any education level.
What I especially appreciated about this book was the sober, mature, intelligent way she wrote about what was obvious a terribly painful experience. There were so many pitfalls a book like this might have fallen into, yet didn't - she didn't sensationalize or romanticize the material, didn't present herself as a hero or a martyr, didn't beat herself up about her choices, didn't waste time flinging blame around, or sermonizing, or waxing sentimental. It felt like just a scrupulously honest, straightforward approach combined with a novelistic attention to sensory detail and narrative pacing. Granted, sometimes she gets a little slaphappy and overambitious with her metaphors and similes, and her prose would have benefited from killing a few more of those little darlings. But all in all, a brave, balanced, well-considered book. Bravo, Ms. Steiner.
Note for my religiously conservative reader friends: Lots of the f-word in here, and a few little bits of frank sexual content as well. ...more
A memoir about a twenty-something woman whose life is turned upside down by her mother's death. Struggling with consuming depression, grief, and traumA memoir about a twenty-something woman whose life is turned upside down by her mother's death. Struggling with consuming depression, grief, and trauma, she nearly reaches rock-bottom, destroying her marriage to a wonderful man she loves through her own infidelity and getting addicted to heroin. Then she decides to hike 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, from California to Oregon, on her own, and the struggle helps her find who she is again.
I loved this. She has a wonderful, honest, thoughtful voice as a writer, and the prose is careful, well-balanced, and original without ever going overboard into purpleness or show-offiness. I was too absorbed in her story to pay good attention to the nuances of her narrative technique, which is the sign right there of her amazing command of narrative technique - I'm not sure how she did it, but I didn't want to put this book down. And it certainly wasn't through any kind of cheesy faux cliffhanger-at-the-end-of-every-chapter structure either, but more I think through paying careful attention to what was likely to hold her readers' attention and winnowing out everything else.
This book is full of wisdom and philosophical depth without any least hint of trying for it. It was heartbreaking, funny, adventurous, and inspiring. (Though it did not inspire me to want to do any long-distance hiking myself ... I like having 10 toenails attached to my feet, thank you very much ...)
Note: One of my Goodreads friends panned this book, among many other reasons because the author's experience of losing a parent seemed so commonplace ... this is something that, thank God, thank God, thank God, I have no experience with, but I do know that grief over major life losses can take as many different shapes as there are people in the world. And I know that psychologists have not yet found a way to predict who will suffer from PTSD when people go through even identical traumatic experiences - one soldier will make it through a battle just fine, another will be fighting that battle all his life. So, I thought the author did a good job of describing the particular shape her own grief took, and her path out of it ... maybe an important part of going through a terrible experience like this is the very realization that even if your experience is a common one, still, no one will experience it just the same way you will ... which is why grief is such a lonely thing ...
Another note for my religious conservative reader friends: Some swearing, some sexual content, but it makes up a pretty tiny proportion of the book....more
Translation seems fine (not that I know more than a few words of Danish), but it's just a bit frustrating because the translator picks and chooses whiTranslation seems fine (not that I know more than a few words of Danish), but it's just a bit frustrating because the translator picks and chooses which dates to cover, and you don't know if you're missing good stuff or can just trust her that the missing parts are boring. Interestingly, she includes some stuff that strikes me as TMI (e.g. "loose stools today ...") I really wish there were a complete English translation of the diaries, but haven't been able to find one so far....more
A memoir by blogger Joanna Brooks, who has become a sort of unofficial spokeswoman for the Mormon church, though her views on church matters are not aA memoir by blogger Joanna Brooks, who has become a sort of unofficial spokeswoman for the Mormon church, though her views on church matters are not always typical or orthodox.
This book is a strange animal, and full of contradictions that make for simultaneously interesting and uncomfortable reading. She very clearly and insistently writes from the standpoint of someone committed to her faith, and yet she is constantly criticizing it and making it sound just ridiculous and awful. This didn't offend me, since there is no love lost between me and the institutions of Mormon officialdom. But I read it vicariously cringing on behalf of Mormons I know and love who will read this and feel like they're constantly being poked with little needles. It's a prickly book, yet not in a cantankerous or curmudgeonly way. Her tone is by turns gracious, generous, warm, and devotional, yet the book is full of barbs.
The narrative was actually pretty slow-going for me, even boring, up until about half way through when she starts talking about her time at BYU, when one of her mentors was fired for her feminist views. She goes on to talk about her time of alienation from the church, her marriage to a Jewish man, and then coming back to the church just as the Mormon church started mobilizing politically against gay marriage in California (the infamous Proposition 8 campaign). In a painful move that set her secretly at odds with her congregation, friends, and neighbors, Brooks turned right around and campaigned FOR gay marriage, but stuck by her decision to remain in the church.
That's another part of why I call this book a strange animal - the fact that despite all the barbs, she remains committed to the religion that basically seemed to cause her immense pain, and a church that doesn't seem to want her or share the values she holds most dear. Despite all the barbs, she swans on and on about how Mormonism is in her blood, it's the air she breathes, etc. The book left me feeling sorry for her and utterly bewildered by her choice. Basically, this seems like a women who is willing to submit to a lot of self-torture to cling to a faith based mainly on nostalgia. It's been a few weeks now since I finished the book, but as I recall she doesn't engage at all with historicity issues or the church's truth claims.
Maybe she gets down and dirty with such issues in her blog, and thus didn't feel the need to go into in the book ... but it was a bit disappointing that she didn't go into the subject of the mental gymnastics needed to maintain faith in the face of contrary historical (and logical) evidence, or her motives for doing so. If I recall correctly, the only motives we hear about in the book are emotional ones.
She is clearly a person of intelligence, integrity, and passion, and expresses herself well in writing. But I'm afraid that for true-believing Mormons, this book may be offensive, and for unbelievers like me, it'll be puzzling, unsatisfying, and pity-inspiring.
Note: I read the original self-published version of the book, not the version that is slated to be released August 7, 2012....more
A memoir by the daughter of author Carol Lynn Pearson (who wrote Goodbye, I Love You), mainly focused around her experiences with Mormonism, the gay cA memoir by the daughter of author Carol Lynn Pearson (who wrote Goodbye, I Love You), mainly focused around her experiences with Mormonism, the gay community, and her struggle to learn how to think for herself.
I'm sorry to say I was disappointed in this book. There is a lot of fascinating material here - her mother was a famous Mormon author, and her father a closeted gay man who came out and ended the marriage. So she grows up seesawing schizophrenically between very conservative Mormondom and wildly liberal gay San Francisco in the 70s. When her father dies of AIDS, she turns to her religion for comfort to the point of fanaticism, and basically becomes a willing mind control victim in search of someone, anyone, to brainwash her. In this way, she nearly marries a crazy Mormon polygamist she's known for just a week, and basically gets buffeted around for decades by all kinds of kooks and loonies (boyfriends who speak with God and the devil, pretend therapists, Church authorities who predict her future through "blessings," etc.) Several people she's close to die horrific deaths from AIDS and cancer, and she has flashbacks to ritual sex abuse she believes she suffered as a child. On top of it all, she marries her own closeted gay Mormon man who cheats on her with gay sex binges.
Unfortunately, the execution often comes across as very self-help-y and even New Age-y. The ever-present danger in writing a book about your own messy past is that you really have to get an emotional distance from the messiness, and to have grown far beyond the messiness, in order to pull it off. If the book reads like the author is still close to the mess, the reader tends to want to just write the author off as a crazy person and resist getting emotionally involved. Here you get the sense that her emergence from the messiness is still pretty recent, and while she has clearly come a long way, she is not really over it.
It's funny - in trying to pinpoint what bothered me about the book, I wonder if what's needed to make a memoir like this effective is a double irony, or maybe two levels of irony. There's the first level, where you slap your head and say, "Oh my God, what was I thinking doing all these nutty things? I was completely crazy!" That's the level on which most of this book takes place, but there's just not enough emotional distance between the narrator and her material to make her seem like a reliable and sympathetic speaker. Then there's another level above that, where the irony doubles back on itself, and the narrator sees the humor in not having fully appreciated the irony at the time, and becomes ironic about his or her own initial sense of irony. Maybe it's the ability to see the irony in the irony that makes for sophisticated and insightful writing about one's past? I don't know, something to think about.
(Minor note: As someone who's delved into typography a bit, I also found the formatting to be flawed - though I doubt many people would be as bothered by it as I was, reading a book set all in ragged right was painful!)...more
(NB: I'm a hard grader, so 3 stars from me is good.) This was a memoir about an Ivy League college graduate who moves to California after graduation a(NB: I'm a hard grader, so 3 stars from me is good.) This was a memoir about an Ivy League college graduate who moves to California after graduation and enters the world of pornography as a young filmmaker. (I read it as an ARC giveaway.) It was a surprisingly gripping read - it drew me in more quickly and kept my attention more handily than any of the fiction I've read lately. There were also quite a few places where it made me laugh, too, which is big - being funny in a book is not so easy, so I'm always excited to come across a writer who can pull it off.
A person's views of this book will undoubtedly be shaped by their opinion of porn, so to get that out of the way, I don't have strong views about porn one way or the other. I have no moral objections to it as long as it only involves consenting adults, recognizing that "consent" can be a murky concept. My objections are more likely be on aesthetic grounds than moral ones, e.g. absence of storyline, nonexistent acting, lack of originality, general tackiness, etc., and in this I share the views of the author, at least initially - he starts out by wanting to do porn "artistically," from the standpoint of college-boy postmodernist irony.
I think the author does a good job of bringing sincerity and honesty to his subject. He doesn't pretend he's aloof from all the sex and sleaze or that he's not getting turned on by it, but he brings enough critical distance to it that you can feel and believe his frequent bouts of disgust and revulsion. We share his ambivalence and get alienated right along with him. By the end of the book, like him, the reader is grateful not to be a porn mogul. And somehow while treating the subject with humor and frankness, he humanizes people who otherwise might easily become caricatures. In some good ways, the book reminded me of David Foster Wallace's highly amusing essay on the porn industry, "Big Red Son." The difference being that Wallace keeps a much greater ironic distance as a nonparticipant, while Sam Benjamin wades right into the muck and splashes around in it, sometimes gleefully.
Benjamin (and presumably his editor) also deserves credit for keeping the narrative focused and avoiding the trap memoirs often fall into, viz., wandering boringly through real events without shaping them into a well-formed dramatic arc. There is detail without dullness; porn itself is often dull, but this story about making porn is not. There was enough tension to keep me engaged as a reader, wanting to find out if and how Sam would ever leave the porn world and how his relationship with a "normal" girl would turn out.
So what kept me from giving the book four or five stars instead of three? I guess just that after a while the subject matter was a little depressing, and none of the characters were all that likeable. (Sorry, Sam. After White Liz you were the next least unlikeable, but you still kinda creeped me out.) I just got tired of all the grossness and vulgarity - the ick factor was not to be denied. But on the whole, I liked the book because because it was interesting and funny and highly educational, which is most of what a nonfiction book should be.
If you don't have a strong stomach, I don't recommend this book. But for those who do, and who enjoy humorous tales of the weird and wacky, or simple human interest stories, this could merit a place on your shelf. And obviously all the more so for anyone who's curious about the porn industry's strange, slimy underbelly. I think those concerned with women's issues and gender relations could find a lot worthy of discussion here, too - Benjamin succeeds at drawing a complex, if sometimes heart-wrenching picture of both men and women who may or may not be exploited and may or may not enjoy it....more
Listened to this as an audio book, and it was read by the author. For someone who makes his living primarily as a writer rather than an actor, I thougListened to this as an audio book, and it was read by the author. For someone who makes his living primarily as a writer rather than an actor, I thought his delivery was not too bad! I'm a sucker for funny, and this was funny, so naturally I liked it.
[Mormon reader friends: His gayness, profanity, and references to various body parts may offend you, although they quite delighted me ...]...more