We read biographies and autobiographies to learn moThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 2.25 of 5
Why do we read memoirs?
We read biographies and autobiographies to learn more about a person. But why do we read memoirs?
The answer, I suspect, is different for everyone, but mostly I think it's for insight. Either into a person; human nature; or a profession.
Behind the Mic, by Robert Dustman, is an autobiography masquerading as a memoir. It is a sequential history of Dustman's adult life/career as a broadcaster with a few anecdotes along the way.
So the question the reader might ask here is "why a memoir of Robert Dustman?" But the better question is probably "WHO is Robert Dustman that we should read his story?" For that, I have no real answer. Perhaps that's why we read a book like this ... to get to know someone. But let's face it ... there's a little bit of hubris in a case like this. To my knowledge, I've never encountered Dustman, or his work (before this book). I was drawn to the book because of the broadcasting work. Something I've often found to be interesting.
What we have here is the story of an average Joe (sorry, Mr. Dustman) trying to find his way in the broadcasting world. There are ups and downs, just as we all have. He faces the challenges of finding work that will support himself and his family. He works with people sometimes generous, sometimes Scrooge-ish. He makes mistakes, he sometimes does the right thing before anyone else.
So far, this sounds like you and me, doesn't it?
The arc of the book is a straight line and the history is told in some very general terms with little specific moments tossed in. But it's these little moments that make this a memoir rather than a straightforward biography and here it is that we have for some nuggets of hard truth or something that we can take away from the book to realize something more powerful than the word-a-day life. But we don't.
I highlighted one moment in particular and noted "What's the point of this story?" in the margins. Dustman tells the story of a moment when he was at a performance on a barge and, going from the barge to a boat to take him back to shore, he fell in the water, still dressed in his tuxedo. Everyone laughed. In the telling of the story, it comes across as quite funny. Even Dustman seems to think it was funny (the way I read this), but it ends with him seeking solace in the mini-bar in his hotel to "ease my pain and soothe my injuries and my pride."
Is the point of the story that this is when he began to drink to hide something? Was this just one moment in time to show that he used alcohol to hide pain? It is not clear and it is not set up well because until that line, I thought this was a reflection of a humorous moment.
Dustman's assessment of the news world today ("panders to the worst common denominator") definitely hits home, and I wouldn't mind seeing him write something that contrasts today's media with the stories that he covered back in the 1970's/1980's. But as a memoir goes, this never really grabbed me, never gave me any insight that I could take away or possibly learn from. If you know of Dustman because you're from an area where he worked, this could potentially be of more interest.
Looking for a good book? Robert Dustman's memoir, Behind the Mic, could be of interest if you know the man, but falls a bit flat otherwise.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
What did it take to become a genre-setting author of noir detective fictionThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.5 of 5
What did it take to become a genre-setting author of noir detective fiction? Judging by Karen Huston Karydes' book, Hard-Boiled Anxiety, the answer comes down to 'personal demons.'
Karydes clearly has a love of the noir-detective genre and has done a great deal of research into the personal lives of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross MacDonald and shares with the reader the seamy, dark side of their personal lives. From alcoholism, to Oedipal issues, each man has a personal history that they'd likely prefer to stay personal.
I am not well versed in my detective fiction, but I do enjoy critical studies and biographies, and writers have often been my favorite subjects.
I found the narrative on Dashiell Hammett's life, and its effects on his fiction to be most persuasive. Karydes writes:
Hammett’s plots have a curious trajectory, wherein violence and sex both ramp up as the detective/hero loses control. Over and over in Hammett’s fiction, there turns out to be mortal danger in a man’s letting down his guard, particularly in the presence of his wife. These women don’t enjoy sex. They have it for other, dangerous-to-men reasons. The sole exception is Nora Charles, who is a member of the most demoralizing hard-boiled sorority of all: wives with money.
This paragraph alone has me wanting to hurry to my library and check out every Hammett book possible.
Domineering women seem to be part of the landscape for these men, which, upon reflection, is perhaps not so surprising. Given what Karydes writes about these men, it seems surprising that more people haven't reflected on these issues and made the connections to how women are presented in their fiction.
This is a great book for those of us who enjoy books that are a little more than just a timeline biography, and great for the university student who might be studying the detective genre.
Looking for a good book? Hard-Boiled Anxiety: The Freudian Desires of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, and Their Detectives by Karen Huston Karydes is a thoughtful exploration of some of the dark demons that helped create some of the most popular detectives in literary history.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
First, let's point out that this isn't a biography (or autobiography) so muThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.5 of 5
First, let's point out that this isn't a biography (or autobiography) so much as it is a memoir. What's the difference? A memoir (typically) doesn't follow the timeline of one's life but selects moments that were meaningful and expounds on them, often jumping around. No One's Pet by Sheila Kennedy definitely fits the memoir mold.
Kennedy was a wild child, not afraid to speak her mind or challenge (or at least question) authority. Coming from a home with an abusive father, a negligent mother, and living with a prostitute aunt, it's not surprising that Sheila found her way into nude modelling. In fact she seemed tailor-made for it. But to Kennedy's credit, she doesn't seem to look back on this (or much of anything) with anger or hatred. It was what it was, and she's moving forward.
Despite this rough up-bringing and a roller-coaster ride of being at the top of the game and then struggling to make enough money to put food on the table, Sheila Kennedy seems to have lived a charmed life. Whether it's because of her doe-eyed cuteness, or her wanderlust, or her devil-may-care attitude, she's gone in and out of settings with people (often influential people) willing to help her along the way. When she was determined to leave 'home' she was connected with one of the top photographers in the country. When she meets him, she hands him a couple of Polaroids of herself. He tells her that she'll never get work and describes what is wrong with her. But, as a favor, he sends two Polaroids to Playboy and two to Penthouse. Penthouse responds and she begins a strange journey that most of us could never imagine.
Kennedy becomes one of the first Penthouse models to take up residence at Bob Guccione's Penthouse mansion, is lavished with gifts from Guccione and given a strange amount of freedom to wander, explore, and date as she chooses, while remaining one of Guccione's harem girls (though willingly - Kennedy repeatedly writes how much she cared for and was attracted to Guccione). Staying at the mansion propels her to being a Penthouse Pet of the Month (multiple times) and Pet of the Year (1983).
Not surprising to most of us on the 'outside' of this industry, this sort of stardom doesn't last. It does have its perks, though, as being a Pet of the Year, she is introduced and has sexual encounters with many leading names in the entertainment industry (and she's not shy in this book to tell us who is large and who is small when it comes to penis size [because, apparently, it DOES matter]). But rarely does she describe these encounters as forced (one is definitely worthy of being called rape) but rather her willingness to enjoy these really good-looking men (as she describes them).
What I liked about the book was her style. She writes very conversationally. One gets the feeling that we are sitting in a room and listening to her tell about her life. It jumps around, just as such a conversation might as well. This was very easy to read and the style gives us an understanding of the person, just as much as the information she shares.
What I didn't like about the book was what she doesn't tell us. Twice she hints at turning to religion during times when she was "at pretty loose ends". During one of those times she met Billy Zabka (the mean kid from Karate Kid), a Christian who is Kennedy's son's godfather. But what about these times? How did they influence her or change her or help her through the tough times? We get nothing on this other than the quick mention - though I suppose we can deduce that the influence these times had was minimal since it was during one of these times that she began a sexual dalliance with Scott Baio.
One of the things we discover about Sheila Kennedy from this memoir is her innocence ... or perhaps a better term for it would be her gullibility, or even vulnerability. She was vulnerable because of her innocence or her inability to make choices based on more than appearances. Nearly every man she meets and sleeps with is described as good-looking, or hot, or sexy, or "actually quite charming." She is clearly unable to see beyond the exterior or the presentation of a person. And it is when she wraps up this book that realize that she really has no clue as to how she was presented to the world how the world views her.
For me... There hasn't been a time quite like it before or since; going on "Late Night With David Letterman", getting introduced to fantastic artists, prominent politicians, and colorful bottom-feeders...and being recognized as not a sex object but a strong woman making her way in the toughest and coolest city in the world. There was nothing like it.
(And by the way, what she describes of her appearance on Letterman was his making fun of the prizes she won as Pet of the Year.)
It is fortunate that this was a great time through her own eyes because the alternative would be seriously depressing and because she remains upbeat about it, it makes for a delightful read. It is true that she was/is strong, which has gotten her into and through many an escapade, but it is also likely true that she remains a bit innocent about much of it.
Looking for a good book? Sheila Kennedy's memoir/autobiography No One's Pet, is an easy to read sexual romp through the entertainment world of the 1980's.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
Twenty-three year old Matt Lewis is about to start a job that he's been loothis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.0 of 5
Twenty-three year old Matt Lewis is about to start a job that he's been looking forward to ... being a scientific observer aboard a fishing vessel in the Antarctic Sea. But what he observes is that everything about the venture is unorganized and dangerous, and when the boat sinks and he has to fight for his life against the elements, the situation, and possibly against other crew members. That he is only one of 17 survivors of 38 crew members, is a testament to his tenacity.
This book strikes me as a catharsis, a means by which survivor Matt Lewis has tried to come to terms with the experience he had aboard the Suldar Havid, a fishing vessel that would depart from Africa.
In essence, we know the outcome. We know that Matt Lewis will survive a disaster at sea. What we don't know, the reason for us to read this (other than our human desire to rubber-neck at an accident) is to find out what happened and what kind of trial Lewis would have to over-come.
Lewis does a nice job of setting us up, detailing his experience and his excitement about venturing forth on a fishing vessel - something he hasn't done. He writes about a friend, also set to be an observer (essentially, someone whose job it is to make sure that the vessel's crew are following maritime and marine regulations) - an odd position of authority and not a crew member. He writes about watching his friend board a nice looking, modern ship while he waited another day or two before getting his assignment, and how his first reactions were certainly one of disappointment to see the beaten, battered, modified ship that was to be his own home.
Aboard the ship, Lewis tries to be neutral and simply be observant and comment on what he sees, but the reality is that this is nearly impossible. Knowing the end result we do get a sense, through his writing voice, of things that might be suspicious or that might become troublesome. But being young and in a new position on the boat ... one which might easily be seen as invasive or as 'the enemy' ... potentially has him being a bit more cautious and timid.
Interestingly, when Lewis writes of the storm and how it was handled by the captain of the ship, it appears obvious to me that the captain is ignoring safety protocols in favor of finishing 'just one more' fishing line. That waves are flooding the holds is obvious to the captain, but that he ignored pleas to see the damage or that the pumps aren't working, is less obvious, but still a factor. And yet Lewis writes of the captain in favorable terms - though the writing itself has a hint of something else. (Something which we learn of at the end.)
The sinking of the ship is horrible, and the things that Lewis and some of his shipmates suffer through before the rescue is nightmarish. Walking or standing on the dead bodies of people you worked with, in below-freezing water, on a raft that is falling apart is, at best, a nightmare. I can't imagine revisiting this unless it's exorcise the horror he's live with since 1998.
I don't want to belittle the events in this book, by any means. The truth is, Matt Lewis is fortunate to be alive. But the story here is not quite the thrilling life-or-death adventure story that it is billed as. I recently read another story of struggle (In the Kingdom of Ice) that had me on the edge of my seat (metaphorically) with curiosity and concern for the men aboard ship. I did not have that here. Lewis is so close to the matter and the results of the past are still close at hand and he doesn't allow us to build any empathy for any of the other people in the book. Even Lewis doesn't come off as entirely likable, though we certainly connect with him the most given that he's the one telling the story. The person we next most connect with is 'Boetie', but for reasons that will become obvious to those who read the book, there are problems with our being attached to Boetie.
And perhaps it's a case of our being too used to Hollywood movies, or in my case of recent reading, but a shipwreck survival tale meant to be gripping seems like something that the survivors should struggle through for days, weeks, months, even years before rescue. This shipwreck happened and the rescue ships took three and a half to four hours to get to the location. Yes, it was ice-cold seas, high waves, and by the time the rescuers were on scene, it was dark, making a search practically a miracle to pull off. And no, I wouldn't want to be in the flimsy raft for four hours, wondering if rescue would come, but the drama was not as intense as I expected (again, perhaps because it was not made as personal to me.
It is amazing what a person can go through and survive. Matt Lewis' story of survival after the sinking of a fishing vessel in the late 1990's is incredible and clearly a means for Lewis to work out some of the issues he's had with the events. And it's worth a read if you enjoy non-fiction and tales of struggle and survival.
Looking for a good book? Last Man Off, by Matt Lewis, is the true, personal story of one man's time aboard a fishing vessel in the Antarctic, its sudden sinking, and the man's struggle to survive until rescue arrives. It is a fair read.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
I'm glad to see that books about the Beatles, as a group, or as solo artisThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.25 of 5
I'm glad to see that books about the Beatles, as a group, or as solo artists, are still popular enough to be published. Ringo, as the tile suggests, is a biography of one of the world's most famous drummers. As an amateur percussionist myself, I've long had a special interest in this gentleman, though know/knew very little about him (I've been a fan of the music but only recently began reading books about these artists).
Biography Michael Seth Starr mentions right up front that he is not a relation to Ringo, and that the book is not 'authorized' or endorsed by Ringo. It is however, clearly a labor of love from someone who respects his subject. And Michael Starr has done a good deal of research and interviews for this book.
Although the book is about Ringo, and not The Beatles, it is impossible to separate the man from his most famous gig and the book does spend a fair amount of time with the Fab Four. Even so, I did learn a few things, which I greatly appreciated. Something I probably should have known, being a so-called fan, but didn't, was that Ringo was left-handed. Why does this matter?
Ringo was also left-handed, but played his drum kit as he would if he were right-handed, which gave his drum fills a unique, unorthodox, distinctive sound. "I can't go around the kit. . . . I can't go snare drum, top tom, middle tom, floor tom," he said in describing his approach. "I can go the other way. So all these things made up these so-called 'funny fills,' but it was the only way I could play. Mine might be strange in its way, but it was my style.
I have noticed many of the other reviews of this book comparing it to other Beatles bios. As someone who has not read everything under the sun about the Beatles, I appreciated what was here, and can't compare it to previously acknowledged 'facts' about the group. But it's hard to avoid Beatles history if you are a fan of the music, so it was Ringo's post-Beatles bio that I was very interested in reading.
I never would have guessed that Ringo (like his friend Keith Moon) never kept a drum kit in his house, keeping his work life and personal life separate.
I was not aware of the depths that Ringo had fallen into alcoholism (and I can't help but wonder if when I saw him on tour with the All-Starr Band, if he had just gotten off the booze, or if he was still drinking) and how volatile his relationship with Barbara Bach was for a time. From what little I knew, I always assumed or imagined their relationship to be sunny at all times. That probably speaks to my lack of fan-obsession.
I was also quite surprised to learn of how well (or how poorly) Ringo's solo albums sold. Having purchased most of them, I guess I presumed that many people did!
One of the things that impresses me most about Ringo, as a musician, is his sense of collaboration. I know all the negative comments about his drumming, though if you read the last portion of the book of interviews with other musicians about him, you should hopefully realize just how good he is as a drummer. He's not the flashy, wild, big-solo kind of drummer, but that's what makes him so successful as part of a group. His work has always boosted the sound, rather than drawing attention to himself. In his own words, as quoted in the book, "I like drumming to be solid instead of busy." Is he the greatest drummers of all time? No. But he should be ranked highly.
One of the more exciting parts of the biography was a quick moment when Jeff Margolis, who was directing a Ringo specialin 1978, visited Ringo's house and Ringo gave him a hug and said,
"'Come on into the music room, I'd like you to meet some friends of mine.' And I walked in, and there was George, and Paul and John. I almost shit myself. I almost died."
And having read this biography, I'm more impressed with the man for what he has managed to overcome, even if much of it was brought on by his own actions.
If you're a fan of the Beatles, or enjoy reading biographies of pop figures, I'd recommend this book. I can't compare it to any other biographies of the Fab Four, but this definitely serves its purpose of shedding more light on one of the most famous musicians of all time. It isn't likely to make you like the man more, or less, but it will help you understand what he has gone through over the course of his many years.
Looking for a good book? Ringo, by Michael Seth Starr, is a thorough, well-researched biography that is worth reading.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
This teen and tween biography of Allan Pinkerton, by Samantha Seiple, is juThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.0 of 5
This teen and tween biography of Allan Pinkerton, by Samantha Seiple, is just the ticket to get students interested in reading non-fiction.
Lincoln's Spymaster is an easy, engaging read. Seiple's writing moves along crisply, telling us what we need to know and making the work of the spy, Allan Pinkerton, sound exciting and dangerous (which it surely was). The book is broken down to two parts, the first following Pinkerton and some of his associates, as spies during the Civil War era. What turned out to be a case of protecting the president (Abraham Lincoln) started out when the president of the railroad was concerned that there were plots to blow up train tracks. The details of Pinkerton's involvement are fascinating, and his use of disguise to infiltrate the plot has all the makings of a modern-day thriller.
The second half of the book follows a slight change in Pinkerton's work as he moves being a spy to what today we might refer to as a bounty hunter, chasing down criminals. In this portion of the book we learn that Pinkerton crossed paths with some of the most notorious outlaws of the wild west, and the very name of the Pinkerton Agency became synonymous with successfully "getting their man."
The Pinkerton's suffered a few set-backs, including not being able to protect criminals they had captured, from being killed by lynch-mobs, including criminals that were turned over in an extradition from Canada (which created some bad relations with our northern neighbors for the government).
The book is well-furnished with photographs. My ARC didn't have the pictures identified, though many of the pictures I recognized from other history books, and more were fairly easy to determine what they were representing.
For an adult reader, this book is very easy reading. I read through the entire book in a bit over an hour. It will be similarly easy for teens to get caught up in this book. It moves along well and is very exciting, with lots of great history. This is a case where people will learn something, without realizing that they are learning! I wish I'd had more history books like this when I was a student!
Looking for a good book? Lincoln's Spymaster: Allan Pinkerton, by Samantha Seiple, is a wonderful biography for teen and tween readers and is sure to capture and hold their interest.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
I was shocked to see that this book, published a year and a half ago, has sThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.5 of 5
I was shocked to see that this book, published a year and a half ago, has so few ratings/reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. This book deserves to be read.
I can't say that I'm a huge fan of memoirs, usually because I find that you need to be familiar with the writer to appreciate what has been important enough to them to write about it, and as of today, I only have one friend that I know well and who has written a memoir (see that review here). But there was something about this one that simply sounded appealing to me. I have an interest in music, and while I don't play the mandolin myself, I can see this as an instrument that one of my sons would play if he could get his hands on one.
But this book is about more than just mandolin lessons. This is a book about art and pursuing one's passion, and perhaps that's why I enjoyed this so much.
Frances Taylor is a mandolin player and teacher in England, but wants to further her own knowledge and expertise with the instrument and finds a teacher in Italy who will take her on. This requires frequent trips forth and back, staying with new-found friends while in Italy, and the book is as much a commentary on this transient life as it is about learning the mandolin. It might seem strange to be a professional and still taking lessons, though of course a true professional is always trying to learn more and the true artist is always looking to stretch him/herself. Taylor comments on this: "It is strange being a professional player in one country one moment and a music student in another country the next."
Even though Taylor is a professional, she still gets some of the nervous twinges when being tested, and allows some self-doubt in her own abilities (and even makes excuses when things don't flow just right:)
To my horror, my feet do not touch the floor. I have been given a piano stall to sit on instead of a chair, but I do not feel able to adjust it. Under the beady eyes of the examiners, I start the music and immediately regret doing so. Without proper contact between my feet and the floor, I am uncomfortable and unable to support the mandolin adequately. Worse still, I cannot establish a secure sense of pulse. I am unbalanced and insecure and the music reflects this. It is clumsy and awkward. I tense up and hit the strings too hard, which results in one of the A-strings becoming flat and making everything sound even more dreadful. I can’t think of a word to say in Italian when the music is finished. My mind is blank and confused.
I can't speak to Frances Taylor's music abilities ... a CD with the book would be nice ... but her writing is beautiful.
I am aware of the vast expanse of duck egg blue that is the sky. As the light changes and fades imperceptibly, I notice a slight bruising of purple-grey clouds. I love the quality of the light. Pale, creamy yellow light illuminates the grey clouds from behind, giving them a halo effect. Later, in the distance, I notice the naked trees seem to scratch the apricot sky. I love the desolate beauty of November and the weeks leading up first to Advent and then to Christmas.
And just when I wondered where this memoir was going ... what was she going to get from this experience that makes it worth putting down in writing ... she makes some wonderful observations about art, love, and life.
I can barely bring myself to speak of or write anything about these impending celebrations, since it seems an acknowledgement of my own mortality. I hadn’t realised that I am so old, that I am possibly halfway or further though my life. In my mind, I am still twenty.
The playing, the ability to express oneself, the creativity to arrange something, in this case notes or sounds, beautifully and in a pleasing manner, is something far more ephemeral. It is something spiritual.
I had always understood that love meant putting other people’s needs before your own. Now, I realise that it is impossible to put other people’s need before your own until you have first seen to your own needs. It is a paradox. Love is a paradox.
And because she writes it so well, we learn these things. Not because she tells us, but because she shows us. We have experienced the journey with her and come to learn the same things right alongside her.
This is just what a memoir should be. A journey that we can share, and something that offers us insight on things much grander than ourselves.
Looking for a good book? The Mandolin Lesson by Frances Taylor is a beautiful memoir about a woman, already an accomplished mandolin player, and her journey to become better in her art. It is worth reading.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
Sometimes, what you want from a biography is the basic, most important highThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.5 of 5
Sometimes, what you want from a biography is the basic, most important highlights of someone's life. Sometimes, the best biography is the simple, straightforward story.
I am confident that if I wanted to know everything there is to know about J. R. R. Tolkien that I could find volumes written about him. But what I was most interested in is how he came to write The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. This book answered these questions. And as with most writers, the important aspects of their lives helps shape the things they write, and biographer Devin Brown gives us those highlights.
I'm not very familiar with Tolkien other than reading much of his work, but I wasn't looking forward to massive biography like some of those I've read recently. An in-depth biography is extremely time-consuming. But I did want to learn something about Tolkien, and I did, making this book a complete success for me.
Given the renewed interest in all things Tolkien, due to the films, this book is perfect for the average high school student and for anyone wanting a quick, informative bio. This is the sort of book that can turn the reluctant non-fiction reader into a biography fan. This would make a great beach read!
Looking for a good book? Devin Brown's biography on J. R. R. Tolkien is simple, sweet, and satisfies.
I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
It has been awhile since I read a Michael Moorcock book, but back in the 19This review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.5 of 5
It has been awhile since I read a Michael Moorcock book, but back in the 1970's I was quite enamored not just of hs popular Elric series, but his Cornelius books and Eternal Champion books as well. When I saw that there was this new Moorcock book available, I was eager to get in to it, and bumped it up my reading list.
You can see, simply by looking at the cover, that this is book one in "The Sanctuary of the White Friars." So...a new fantasy series. I'm tingling with excitement!
As I began to read, I was confused. A fantasy? This reads like a biography! Michael Moorcock is the main character in this Michael Moorcock book, and he talks about his early days; about his editing; his writing; his family life. Though I don't know anything about Moorcock, and this biography could 100% made up, it certainly offers enough little detail about his works that it feels as though the biographical details are real. Though I must admit that, being autobiographical, he does seem to put himself on a sizable pedestal and pat himself on the back more than a little (he is also pursued and loved by women and though he essentially has two wives and neither will tolerate the other, he, of course is so grand that they are willing to put up with sharing).
But this is a fantasy, and not just a romantic or sexual fantasy. Moorcock slowly weaves in the fantasy story, offering hints of it early, and it's not really too difficult to pick out, except that he does make the biography so real, so personal. But by the end of this book, the fantasy story has taken over.
Moorcock writes about his life, and his occasional visits to a sanctuary he knows as the Alsacia which exists out of time, though Moorcock's visits bring him in touch with figures from the past (including, but not limited to, the three (four) musketeers).
***WARNING -- POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT***
It is through his connections at the Alsacia, that Moorcock learns he has an ability to travel through space/time/alternate realities, and this ability is encouraged and developed with help from the friars who oversee the Alsacia. These friars, it seems, have been charged with a special duty to protect a holy object, and Moorcock is brought in to the holy war.
Although this is a book one, it does stand alone as a solitary book, with enough of a tease to get you to want to read more (as opposed to what I despise, which is a book that doesn't conclude its story). I'm definitely interested in reading on in this new series.
Moorcock does a masterful job of weaving his biography and his fantasy. It's like an Escher painting in words, where it starts out with one look, and slowly changes until it has a completely different look to it. It's a brilliant piece of writing.
Fans of Moorcock and fans of strong fantasy series' should enjoy this book, though it does take a little effort to get past Moorcock's ego, especially early in the book.
Looking for a good book? A biography that's not a biography? A religious theme that doesn't pertain to any religion? Master fantasy writer Michael Moorcock delivers the unexpected (just as you might expect from Moorcock) in this book, The Whispering Swarm.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
I've really come to appreciate Inhabit Media publishing for the variety ofThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.5 of 5
I've really come to appreciate Inhabit Media publishing for the variety of books on Inuit themes. I can't say that I've ever been particularly knowledgeable, or even, perhaps, interested in, the Inuit history. But I realize now that it's likely because it's just never been in front of me. Since sampling a few books, I've become very interested in these hearty people. Kenn Harper's book, In Those Days, is a collection of newspaper articles he's written which are generally brief biographies of a variety of Inuit people. Now the Inuit as a 'people' become individuals.
Harper's writing is very clean and quite readable, without being dumbed-down. I've chosen to follow Harper's blog, and the on-line newspaper that he writes for, based on my enjoyment of this book.
In Those Days features a number of interesting articles, my favorite of which was "Inuit at the World's Fair" in which an Inuit girl, Nancy Columbia was voted prettiest girl at the fair with 8,000 more votes than the runner-up.
But articles such as "Who Was Albert One-Eye?" and "An Inuit Boy in Scotland" and "Simon Gibbon: First Inuit Minister" and "In Memory of John Shiwak, Inuit Sniper" are also extremely interesting. In fact, there's not a bad story in the book and each mini-biography is well researched and presented.
This is a wonderful book that opens windows to let the world look in on the early days and lives of the Inuit people. Even if you've never heard of the Inuit or never thought you'd be interested in learning more about them, Kenn Harper will change your mind.
Looking for a good book? In Those Days is a collection of mini-biographies of some early Inuit people and is a book you want to read, even if you don't realize it yet. ...more
I feel a little duped by this book. Let me share with you the Goodreads opeThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 2.0 of 5
I feel a little duped by this book. Let me share with you the Goodreads opening description of the book:
Sharing the lessons he's learned from over forty years as a magician and family man, Lon Milo DuQuette reveals his unique point of view about magick--its ups and downs, ins and outs, and how his family and home are the foundation of his practice. Written in Lon's humorous style that makes learning and discovery a joy, Homemade Magick will show you that everyday life events are, in fact, true magical adventures.
This sounds like a delightful, personable biography of a magician. For me, and I suspect the vast majority of readers out there, a magician is someone who performs illusions. Penn & Teller, Harry Blackstone, Harry Anderson, Criss Angel, David Copperfield, etc.
No. This is a book by someone who practices what most in the world would consider the occult or the dark arts (though that is a misnomer). This is a book by a self-made magick-as-religion magus.
Despite very quickly realizing that this was not at all what I was expecting, I did my best to accept it for what it was and give it the benefit of the doubt and read it cover to cover. This is made more difficult because it's not a topic I'm personally interested in (though I like to think I have an open mind and am willing to 'listen' to anothers' beliefs).
As a biography, I'm not very impressed with the book. There's very little biography here, frankly. This is more of a 'how-to' book. DuQuette does talk a little personal history, but only when referencing how he came by some of his magick, but as a biography, explaining his childhood and how he came to be interested in the life of magick rites and rituals? Not so much.
As a 'how to' book - how to perform rites and rituals and come by certain 'powers' without a magus in your area to teach you - this is probably a little more helpful. For those interested in this particular lifestyle (and let's face it, it is almost more of a lifestyle than a religion) this should prove helpful. But I couldn't help but wonder how ... shall I say 'authentic' a rite or a ritual is when it is performed by someone using make-shift props and incantations that are spoken without proper inflections. How important are these props and rituals if such substitutions can be made? Are they needed more for the person delivering the rites, to give them a sense that there's another power at work, than they are for actual necessity?
Not being interested in learning how to perform 'magick,' I grew bored with the book. there really was more of this than there was 'biography' and what biography there was really felt a little depressing. While DuQuette seems perfectly happy with his life and proud of what he's accomplished (this is good! More people should have such pride) I couldn't shake the sense that a 'biography' by such a person seemed really unnecessary. I'm not sure what the target market is here, though clearly it isn't me.
Two stars to this book because it MAY be helpful to people who want to know more about how to live this life, but it's NOT a biography, it does NOT show "that everyday life events are, in fact, true magical adventures" and it is not particularly interesting.
Looking for a good book? For the very small target audience, those interested in learning occult how-to, this might prove interesting, but otherwise it's not particularly worthwhile....more
What a fantastic concept! Convince NASA/JPL to allow an average joe to sitThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 2.5 of 5
What a fantastic concept! Convince NASA/JPL to allow an average joe to sit in on the Phoenix Mars Mission; hanging out with all the brilliant minds (it is, after all, rocket science) and living on 'Mars time' just to be able to go home and write a book about it. Kudos to NASA/JPL for agreeing to it and for letting the visitor in on as many meetings as he apparently did attend. Shame on NASA/JPL for apparently not vetting author Andrew Kessler and making sure he would be able to write coherently and appropriately on the subject.
Kessler tries to be 'personable' with his writing, assuming his lack of science and technical knowledge will make what he has to say more approachable to the average reader. Unfortunately, his style, or 'voice,' comes across as juvenile and forced and frankly, out of place.
"The RAC (Robotic Arm Camera) is attached to the RA just above the scoop. The instrument provides close-up, full-frontal color images of the Martian surface close to the ground, under the lander, or anywhere the RA can go. Its got all kinds of filters and scientific attachments to capture and makes sense of extreme close-ups of dirt or whatever else Phoenix can dig up. I for one am hoping for a secret decoder ring."
A secret decoder ring. The author is sitting in a room with some of the brightest minds on the planet, who are about to reach out to a different planet, and all he can do is remind the reader how out of his league he is by 'hoping for a secret decoder ring.' I know he's just trying to be cute, or funny, but he's not. The information he's sharing is great. His secret hopes and wishes? Not so much.
Kessler has an opportunity many of us would like to have ... a backstage glimpse at NASA on a major project. When he relates the actual information as to what's happening and how the scientists at NASA deal with obstacles, then this is a remarkable book. When a glitch on the lander stops the progress of taking soil samples, we get to see these scientists as people, problem-solving and arguing. How they come to the decisions that they do, is what many of us want to know. It is this that keeps the reader interested. But when Kessler's 'fan boy' sensibilities kick in, he lacks a personal filter and he comes across as the teenage, excited fan.
Dara Sabahi, the chief engineer on the Phoenix project tells Kessler, "Documenting the mission will be very important for the future. ... I'm counting on this documentation. ... The more people can read about the mission process, the more we can learn about improving the process." Yet as the mission moved on, Kessler began to be excluded from some of the important meetings. I took this as a sign that the powers-that-be at NASA/JPL began to recognize that they weren't going to get the 'documentation' that they were hoping for.
I was hoping for an inside look at how NASA works. What I got was a long college essay on how someone spent their summer. I give this two and a half stars for the glimpses of the NASA machinations that we did get.
Looking for a good book? Martian Summer offers a behind-the-scenes look at the trials, successes, and struggles of a true NASA interplanetary mission but the book gets bogged down with the inexperienced writer's ability to let go of his 'fan boy' obsession and just share the story....more
I knew nothing about Pauline Benton before reading this, but I've always haThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.5 of 5
I knew nothing about Pauline Benton before reading this, but I've always had a fascination for puppetry of all sorts, so I thought that a biography of a puppeteer or puppet-master might be interesting. It is!
Author Grant Hayter-Menzies clearly has a deep appreciation for Benton's work and has done extensive research on Ms. Benton and the Red Gate Shadow Theatre puppetry company that Benton founded and toured with. He beautifully weaves in Benton's history, along with shadow puppetry history as if the two were not independent of one another (and perhaps they are not).
Benton developed an interest in the shadow puppets at a relatively young age. Though there's no concrete evidence of when this happened, Hayter-Menzies makes some educated guesses based on some known facts, and it rings true.
Even throughout the book, in which Hayter-Menzies is clearly impressed with Benton, Pauline comes off as rather unremarkable. Quiet, but passionate about the art of shadow puppets, we never get the impression that she's particularly forceful, but rather understated. And yet she almost single-handedly preserved the art of shadow puppets when the Chinese Culture Revolution was seeing a loss of much Chinese art; she performed at the White House; and there's perhaps not enough credit given (though it is noted) that not only was she not Chinese or even of any Asian heritage, preserving and performing a Chinese art form... she was a woman doing this.
Part of the reason that even this is understated is that we get no peek at her sexuality. We do not know if she had any personal or physical relationships. Her life truly did seem to be about her puppets. Her life was so completely devoted to this puppet art form that Hayter-Menzies mentions in a footnote that he could find no evidence of any outside income for Benton and suggested that the income from Red Gate Shadow Theatre would hardly be sufficient and likely had inherited a healthy income when her parents passed away.
Although the book is titled Shadow Woman, suggesting that it is about Pauline Benton, it does go beyond Benton as Grant Hayter-Menzies gives us a little glimpse of what happened to Benton's puppets and stages upon her death in 1974. She had sold or donated a number of her pieces to museums in the 1960's and had saved some of the more valuable for herself. Those were given to friend and colleague Mercina Karam (who was with Benton when she died) and from there they've moved on to others who would appreciate them for both their beauty and functionality.
Hayter-Menzies concludes the book with an appendix of the five episodes for one of Benton's favorite plays, "The White Snake," which Benton translated in to English herself. This script could be worth the price of the book itself. It has all the classic Chinese story-telling ingredients, including a beautiful, poetic language.
While this was interesting to me because of my interest in theatre and puppetry, I think that anyone interested in reading biographies or looking to learn something new might find this of interest as well.
Looking for a good book? The story of Pauline Benton and Chinese shadow puppet theatre, Shadow Woman, is a fascinating read, well told by Grant Hayter-Menzies....more
It's been a little while since my review of The Boy Who Said No, but I had really liked that book and when I was informed that there would be a follow-up, I jumped at the chance to read it and made sure there would be room in my week of biography reviews for it! And I can report that the follow-up book ... does not live up to the predecessor.
First, a reminder that this is a novelized biography. Taking what we presume to be fact from Frank Mederos' life, author Patti Sheehy weaves a tale more like an espionage thriller than a biography. There are multiple times when the story isn't even on Frank, but rather back in Cuba, from where he escaped in the previous book. This novelized biography idea is new to me, but it worked very well the first time around so I was game for giving it another shot.
The problem with this book is not the format in which it is written... the problem is the subject. Part of what made the first book so compelling was Mederos' drive. He had a clear, focussed goal and despite an army (literally) standing in his way, he was determined to overcome every obstacle in order to get away from Cuba and in to the arms of his girlfriend. This was the motivating action throughout the entire first book, and Sheehy heightened the tension with her taught writing. But in this book, Mederos has already found the freedom he was searching for and is quickly married to the girlfriend who was his guiding force to freedom. So what motivates him? Nothing out of the ordinary, really. He wants to live the American dream ... and does.
Mederos' drive in this book is to live in peace. It is the peace that is shattered -- by his friend who leads him in to riot territory, then by the death of someone very close to him, and then by men, loyal to Cuba, who are looking to kill Frank Mederos.
It's a nice idea, but a goal of living in peace is hardly an active, exciting challenge. Certainly not when compared to trying to avoid an entire military and escape an island! It's a wonderful goal, but it's the same as mine ... to live the American Dream without disruption. Sheehy does everything she can to liven it up, but ultimately, the book is about a man living in New Jersey.
The book definitely picks up when we are back in Cuba with Pino, Frank's former military commander and the man who took the heat for Mederos' escape, but also with Lazo, Frank's former Special Ops fellow soldier who knew of Frank's plans to escape. Lazo's contributions to the book are mighty and provide the spark that is otherwise missing. Unfortunately, it's not nearly enough.
The book is titled "Stalk" and I think it's safe to assume, especially with Pino's early inclusion in the book, that we are going to see Frank being menaced ... stalked ... by the Cuban Special Forces, or by Pino at the very least. We do, and it's easily the best and most exciting part of the book, but it only comes about the last 62 pages of this 310 page book. That's right...we have 248 pages of Frank living the American Dream and Pino plotting revenge. There are moments that overcome the tedium of this... Frank's wandering blindly in to a riot zone, for instance ... but mostly we lack excitement. It's the biography, without the interesting novelizing.
***WARNING-- MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD!!***
In the first book, Frank was driven by his desire to be with Magda, his girlfriend. It felt as though anytime he was on the verge of giving up, thoughts of Magda kept him going. Here again, we have nothing, it seems, driving Frank. He meets up with and marries Magda. They have a child. Magda gets sick and dies. All within a relatively short passage of time. Magda's illness and death feel dragged out, to draw on some sympathies, but already in this book there's less spark between them than there was when they weren't even together.
Note: there's a sex scene in here that is pulled out of the steamier romance novels and just really feels out of place. It's beautiful that Frank and Magda get to live their dream and get married, but why is it necessary to describe, in detail, their sexual congress?
The best parts of this book don't really involve Frank. The best parts are back in Cuba, with Pino, with Lazo, with Damian. And then in the United States, with these same people. It is interesting to note, that while Frank struggled for years, trying to get away from Cuba, Lazo arrives to protect Frank, with no trouble ("Lazo arrived in Key West the next day, exhausted.... he had tossed and turned the night before..." -- we never learn HOW Lazo managed to get away from Cuba!), and Damian and his 'handler' arrive in the United States to stalk Frank. How is it so easy? Recognizing that time has passed (more than thirteen years), we don't know if it's just that much easier to flee/leave Cuba now, or if their insider help makes all the difference.
I was very excited and eager to read this, but it definitely didn't hold the magic that was in the first book.
Looking for a good book? Stalked: The Boy Who Said No tries to recreate the adventure and excitement of the first book in the biography/novel series but ultimately Frank Mederos' life in America lacks the danger and excitement that he had when, as a Special Forces soldier, he was trying to flee Cuba. ...more
This book is, as the bibliographical note states, "a republication of the tThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 2.5 of 5
This book is, as the bibliographical note states, "a republication of the third edition of the work originally published as Biography for Beginners: Being a Collection of Miscellaneous Examples for the Use of Upper Forms by T. Werner Laurie, London, in 1925."
It is my suspicion that Dover's republication of this is primarily for the 40 wonderful drawings by noted author G. K. Chesterton, given the number of other art-related titles in their republication catalog. The 'biographies' by Edmund Clerihew Bentley leave a little to be desired.
The biographies are actually four line poems (I understand they are referred to as "Clerihews") that sum up a famous life in a humorous fashion. They are clever and witty and typically outdated. Perhaps I underestimate the modern reader, but I think a great many of these people are unkown today. While we should certainly know Jane Austin, George Bernard Shaw, President Roosevelt, Edvard Grieg, Sir Walter Raleigh and likely know Sir Thomas à Mallory, Pizarro, Sir Christopher Wren, I wonder how many people know Lord Clive, the Rev. John Clifford M.A., L.L.B., D.D. or Mssrs Chapman and Hal, Mr. H. Belloc, or Besant and Rice?
Although clever, the 'clerihews' are really only fun if you already know the subject of the poem. In this case, the contents are clearly outdated (in ninety years, will anyone get references to Donald Rumsefeld, Colin Powell, or Lindsay Lohan?). The Chesterton cartoon drawings save this book. It doesn't matter whether or not you know the subject to appreciate the fine line sketches within.
Looking for a good book? There is some nice caricature art here by noted author G.K. Chesterton, but unless you have a special affinity for mostly obscure historical figures, this might not be the book for you. ...more
This is a very specialized book. While the book will be of some interest toThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.0 of 5
This is a very specialized book. While the book will be of some interest to those who might have an interest in cartography or early and contemporary map making, but this is much more about the role of women in cartography ... their journey to being recognized as cartographers, their training and their struggles to be given the appropriate due. As author Van Den Hoonaard writes in his conclusion of Chapter 4:
The premise of our argument is simple. The extent to which women participated in the map worlds of the eighteenth century and the early part of the nineteenth century does not reflect a linear, historic process. Rather, it is conditioned by the social organization of each prevailing map world. Such social organization was shaped by the advent of technological advances, social customs, scientific knowledge, and larger political forces.
While he may be talking about this particular chapter, I think the summation could be applied to women in the map industry at any time.
A portion of the book might be considered mini-biographies of some of the more recent or notable women such as Marie Tharp ("made the most notable contributions to sea floor cartography"); Mary G. Clawson ("considered a pioneer in the use of digital geospatial data to solve complex problems"); Mei-Ling Hsu ("the first woman to obtain a Ph.D. in (academic) cartography"); Judy Olson ("one of the first women to have developed and contributed to academic cartography, cartographic research...was an active participant in the NASA/ASEE programs"). Many of these brief biographies were very interesting and worthy of further reading. Judy Olson, for instance, is noted for being a major contributor in the field of the use of "colour in mapping and designing maps for people with defective colour vision."
Other notables include Kira B. Shingareva who "was busy for ten years at the USSR Academy of Sciences, participating in the Moon Exploration Project" and Barbara A. Bond whose "personal interests included escape and evasion maps in World War II."
Van Den Hoonaard does a great deal of research and manages to interview many of the contemporary cartographers. Given that there were/are still struggles in our modern age for women in nearly all industries, it is not surprising that women in cartography might find it difficult to receive the proper acknowledgements for their contributions. This is a nice, though small, means of acknowledgement. It is too bad, though, that even in a book which looks at the woman's role in cartography and seems to 'stand up' for women as cartographers in their own right, still has to have a section of the book which comments on the fact that "Husbands can make a tangible difference -- for better -- in the lives of these working cartographers." Would you ever see this same sentence, but with the word "wives" for "husbands" about any male cartographers?!
The book is a little academic and dry. Even though it's a book on cartography (which doesn't sound particularly exciting unless you are a lover of maps [and there are those people out there...I'm married to one]) the work that some of these people are doing could be truly exciting if not written about in a rather clinical way.
Looking for a good book? Map Worlds explores the role of women in cartography ... it's a pretty specific target audience, but if you fall in to that demographic the delivery of information herein is probably pitch perfect. ...more
Anyone who has even a passing interest in jazz music should know who CharliThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.0 of 5
Anyone who has even a passing interest in jazz music should know who Charlie "Bird" Parker is. And for those of us who are inspired by his music should be interested in a biography really letting us know he was. Sadly, this book doesn't give us too much.
In one paragraph: Charlie "Bird" Parker was focussed on two things. His music. Getting high. He had exceptional talent, played with lots of famous people, but was addicted to drugs and died from that addiction.
That's the book.
There are a lot of familiar names in the book. People whom Charlie played with or was at least contemporaries with, who are mentioned quite regularly, and are very recognizable names in jazz music. But never once did I get an impression of what Charlie thought of these people.
While a biography typically works best in a time-line format, there isn't much here other than a listing of where he played and who he played with. In his early days, we do learn about a doting mother and a girl-friend/wife whom he abandons to travel across the country and play music, but even these early days are filled up more with when he played certain gigs or how he talked his way in to the gigs. But for me, what I hope to get out of a biography is what made the man tick? What shaped his future and his abilities? Where did he develop the drive to play the way he did? Most of these questions are not answered, and those that are, could just as easily have come from watching the Clint Eastwood film, Bird.
I look for a biography to tell me a little something about what made the man (or woman) who he (or she) is. What can we find in his past or his education or his upbringing that was special or a trigger to bringing out the talent for which he is known. In this biography we do get a little information on his school days and that he practiced his horn a lot. Possibly as much as eleven hours a day. But we also learn that others thought of him as lazy.
But I think we miss the biggest opportunity, or the trigger, that changed him. The impression of Charlie in his early band days was:
"He had a thin, sweet tone that was pretty bad. I would see him from time to time and each time there was some improvement but not enough to show much chance of him ever becoming more than adequate musician." ... "He was very green. If you had told me then that he would be famous I wouldn't have believed it. He had a lot to learn."
Charlie was even fired from some of his early gigs. And while we come to understand that humiliation was the motivation for Charlie to improve,we only learn that he practiced a lot (and got married) and returned to the bands a stronger musician.
"When he came back, the difference was unbelievable." ... "...six months before he had been like a cryin' saxophone player." Equipped with his new alto, seventeen-year-old Charlie became an in-demand soloist on Twelfth Street.
What did he find? What brought about not only a change but the sudden rise to stardom? Was it simply a lot of practice? Or did he suddenly discover something about music, or his horn, or himself? This missing piece of information seems crucial to me.
At times I felt there was a little too much listing of names and songs. It's likely the easiest information to track down, but it started to sound as though what identified Charlie Parker was not himself, but the people he knew and the songs he played.
There's a lot of information here and I appreciate the research that went in to this book, though I'm disappointed at what's missing.
Looking for a good book? Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker is a nice look at a jazz legend, though it misses a few crucial points in his life....more
It is very possible that I am the only person who will read this book who hasThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3 of 5
It is very possible that I am the only person who will read this book who has never read a single "Pern" book in the Anne McCaffreey canon. I am, of course, familiar with the books...in large part due to the awesome covers by Michael Whelan, whose art I relished at a time I had hopes of becoming a professional artist. But I was not really in to fantasies filled with dragons at the time. But now...well, now... after reading this collection of remembrance essays on Anne McCaffrey, it seems that my impression of the Pern books may be flawed, and I just might really enjoy them after all. Add MORE books to my reading list -- check.
But to this book in particular... this seems to fit in the biography week theme because we not only learn a great deal about Anne McCaffrey as a person and a writer, we learn a little about a number of the people who offer up their thoughts as well. Sometimes a little too much.
We learn about Anne's interest in music and singing and her early desire to be an opera singer (and how she fittingly wove this interest in to the book The Ship Who Sang). We learn a little about Anne's being one of the first, respected women writing in a genre that was then dominated by men. We learn about Anne's generous, giving spirit and her ability to make long-lasting friendships. She definitely comes across, not just as a talented, gifted writer, but an incredibly wonderful human being.
The book does exactly what it sets out to do, which is to pay tribute to an author and one of her more popular creations (Pern). I was often moved by the stories, and I'm definitely intrigued to get to know Pern now.
What the book also does, though, is give us just a fraction of insight in to a number of other people, whom Anne knew. There's a the writer who learned to write by writing fan stories set in Pern. There's the artist, famous for his covers of many of McCaffrey's books. There are television writers. Book writers. Famous fans. And family.
Sometimes the stories are a little more about the author of the essay, rather than about Anne ("I met Anne once; she told me <blank> and so I did this and this and this and got all this ackowledgement...all thanks to Anne").
There's a saying -- you probably know it -- "You can measure a person not by how much they love, but how much they are loved by others." Anne clearly measures greatness.
Looking for a good book? This tribute book is clearly a must for fans of Anne McCaffrey and her Pern stories, but will also be of interest to anyone who enjoys biographical essays....more
It was a little daunting, looking at a 700+ page book, a biography of a GeThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.75 of 5
It was a little daunting, looking at a 700+ page book, a biography of a German playwright, but the research and presentation of Bertolt Brecht's life is thorough and meticulous.
This isn't your average, summer beach reading biography. This is a comprehensive look at a political playwright of 'epic theatre,' and a Marxist. One nice thing about a biography of a writer is that the writer often leaves a trail of thoughts, written and shared. The work here is in gathering those thoughts by and about Bertolt Brecht. The fact that Brecht was under surveillance by the FBI during his time in America in the late 1940's gives us additional glimpses of his actions and friends.
While I commented on another biography recently that there was a lack of information about the subject, this particular volume goes a bit in the other direction. There may actually be more here than I need to get a fairly comprehensive look at how this writer developed. In particular, his early life gives me more detail than I felt necessary. It is true, of course, that every moment in a person's life builds upon the previous moment and develops who the person becomes, but we don't necessarily need to relive every moment when looking back on someone's life.
Because my familiarity with Brecht is through his works written for the stage, it wasn't until we started to look at his theatrical involvements that I was truly drawn in. This is certainly not a fault of author Stephen Parker, but rather what it was I wanted to know about the man. To give us less would certainly feel incomplete if the information is at hand.
I learned a great deal about Brecht, and most definitely I will view his works in a new light, given what was presented here. What did I learn? ...Where do I start? I learned that "Improbable as it now sounds, Brecht's rise to fame began as a patriotic war correspondent" according to Parker. I learned that Brecht wrote a good deal of poetry -- my favorite of those included in this book is "The Mask of Evil":
On my wall hangs a Japanese carving The mask of an evil demon, decorated with gold lacquer. Sympathetically I observe The swollen veins of the forehead, indicating What a strain it is to be evil.
He also wrote nearly fifty film treatments while living in Hollywood; and considered himself to be an expert sexual operator (the latter a trait he may have picked up from his father).
I learned...well, let's face it...I learned a great deal. From his personal and professional partnerships, to his politics, to his theatrical works. Parker is incredibly thorough here and I can't imagine a year gone by in Brecht's life that we don't learn about what Brecht was doing or fearing or struggling against. And of course it all comes to play in his writing -- which is the whole point of reading a biography.
The book is a little dry at times. I did struggle, especially early, to get through this, but ultimately, I'm very glad this information is available and that I read it. I'm actually quite interested in seeing some of Brecht's plays again, given my new knowledge, and while his works may not be produced a great deal in my area, I am also eager to re-read his plays.
Looking for a good book? The biography, Bertolt Brecht:A Literary Life by Stephen Parker, may truly only appeal to dedicated theatre aficionados and hard-core biography readers, but the research is exhaustive and the presentation thorough....more
First, let's be clear that this is a memoir, and not a biography (or autobiThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.0 of 5
First, let's be clear that this is a memoir, and not a biography (or autobiography). What is the difference? A memoir is a collection of selected memories. They don't always have to be told sequentially, from youngest to oldest (though in this case they are). A biography, on the other hand, is the story of someone's life. I like the way Wikipedia puts it: "An autobiography tells the story of a life, while memoir tells a story from a life...".
Why is this an important distinction? Because if you are looking for a biography/autobiography of Dean Smith ... Olympic Champion and Hollywood stuntman ... you may be disappointed. But if you want to hear (read) stories that Dean Smith has to tell about his years running and doing stunts, you will be incredibly entertained.
What is nice about the narrative style that Dean Smith and Mike Cox have created is that you really do get the feeling that Dean is an incredibly personable guy who loves to sit around and tell stories. And because of the type of work that he's done and the people that he's met, he's got a lot of stories.
Smith starts the book with one of his most high-profile stunts...hanging from a helicopter as it flies over the Statue of Liberty and other New York sites for the film The Lonely Guy, and then quickly turns back the clock to set up his beginnings in Texas. Smith had a bit of a privileged upbringing, raised on a large ranch in Texas that had been in the family since the mid-1870's. We get a pretty good background on the family history, though even here we likely get equal parts anecdote and history. We learn that his mother died young and his father was an alcoholic and he was largely raised by his grandparents. Raised during the Great Depression, the Smith's managed to live off their own land.
Growing up on a ranch in Texas, it should be no surprise that Smith got involved in rodeos. Earning prize money at the age of fourteen. It seems like a fairly natural connection ... rodeos to stuntman.
In school, Smith joined the football team and it was there he discovered he had a gift of speed which inspired he coaches to talk him in to going out for track. Winning many (if not all) his track meets in the 100 yard dash through the next few years, Smith found himself on the Olympic track team for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. Smith makes sure we understand that he wasn't at his peak. A little 'lost' in a different country and not quite as fit as he should be. Still, in the final race, he says it was the closest race in Olympic history and took hours to determine the winner. Four runners all finished with a time of 10.4 seconds and Smith, it was announced, placed 4th. Smith seems sure that he should have been at least 3rd, and that if he had run the way he'd run all year, he would have won the race.
Yes, Smith has a little bit of hubris.
Smith and teammates did win gold in the 400-meter relay.
Dean continues to run (successfully) and enters the National Football League, but not for long. Joining the Los Angeles Rams, Smith chooses to leave football rather than be traded to the Steelers. His real desire is to work in film. Because of his background with the rodeo and having grown up around horses, Smith eases in to work as a stuntman doing saddle falls. It's 1957 and movie (and television) westerns are extremely popular. This is definitely a case of being the right person, in the right place, and the right time. Smith has a knack for the job and it appears that he manages to work quite consistently and on some of the biggest named westerns of the era (though he did turn down a job on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to work on a different film). He even seems to have been a founding member of the first stuntman's union (though I'm honestly not too clear on his role here, but I am clear that it is a necessary union).
It is ALL quite a delightful read, but I want to be clear again that it isn't so much a biography. While we learn that Dean was fast, very fast, and that he won a lot of races, more than a few of them we're told about, we don't really know anything about his training or his daily regimen or how he prepared for the Olympics. We do know, though, that while competing in Los Angeles, he ran in to Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner in the hotel elevator and that Smith thought Gardner "was one of the most beautiful women (he'd) ever seen."
These are the sorts of anecdotes that you can expect throughout the read. Though told mostly sequentially, Smith doesn't delve too deeply into anything unless there's a story that he can tell about it. He talks about all the films he worked on, who the leading actors were, and what he thought of them. He mentions working on a film, Blood on the Arrow, for which he would be the stunt double for Dale Robertson. But the only thing he says about the film:
By this time in my career, I had already seen and done a lot while overcoming a lot of difficulties. But the cholla cactus there in Arizona was the most vicious cactus I had ever run across. Wranglers were always out there with the pliers picking the cactus needles out of the horses' legs.
I'm not sure what this has to do with the film or the difficulties he's overcome (honestly, I haven't seen a whole lot of difficulties for Smith to overcome ... certainly nothing out of the ordinary for an average human), but...well...it's an anecdote he remembered and wanted to share. Just as, when he talks about liking certain actors and why, he says of Strother Martin:
He had been a national swimmer and diver as a young man, so we got along fine.
This is a light, easy, fun read. Many people will love to read the stories about the actors and films. But if you can't tell by my tone... I would have preferred more of a biography and fewer anecdotal stories. I would have liked to have read about how he went about setting up the stunts, how much they were rehearsed (if at all), and what (if any) anxiety he had about performing the stunt, rather than how he had impressed the director and crew with his daring (hubris).
Looking for a good book? If you want a beach read that is easy and entertaining, this is probably exactly the book you are looking for; but if you want something with a little more meat on it, you might want to keep looking. ...more
Quite recently I reviewed a book of poetry that I didn't much enjoy. I'd prefeThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.0/5
Quite recently I reviewed a book of poetry that I didn't much enjoy. I'd prefer not to mention it by name as it doesn't need any sort of promotion (even bad publicity). But what that book thought it was (according to the author), this book is. And that is: Poetry of a most unusual sort, out of the ordinary ... extra-ordinary.
Jeff Griffin hasn't written a book of poetry as much as he has 'collected' a book of poetry by people who haven't realized what they have helped to create. Griffin has collected scattered papers from abandoned homes and trailers around the desert and selected a few to present here. It is moving and whimsical and a masterful method of identifying what it means to be 'man.'
Right from the start, I was hooked with "a budgie's linguistic development." What a great assortment of words and meanings! Once hooked, I didn't want to finish the book and read through it in one, patient sitting. It was a voyeuristic feeling, peeking in on the private writings of those not intending to be published. The twenty pages of letters and notes to and from Est'ee and Tony, detailing their love and fear and physical abuse, were mesmerizing and ended with the simple drawing "How to set a table" that was itself tremendously powerful and lonely.
The inclusion of well-selected photographs is beautiful. The images of a construction site, taken from indoors with ghostly reflections of the photographer is a haunted moment of time, frozen in the faded colors of a cheap print.
The title itself, Lost and, suggests something that isn't finished, which is a perfect metaphor for what Griffin has done. There will continue to be people picking up and leaving pieces of themselves behind, as long as there will always be greener pastures or the possibilities of a better life somewhere else. And the struggles that mankind faces, those of Tony and Est'ee and all those others represented here, are eternal struggles that aren't likely to have an end, until man himself is finished.
Looking for a good book? This poetic collection, Lost and, by Jeff Griffin, is a beautiful assortment of 'found' poetry and philosophy....more
For how much longer can we get mileage out of The Beatles? For quite awhile iThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.25/5
For how much longer can we get mileage out of The Beatles? For quite awhile is my guess, based on the number of books that continue to be released about the remarkable, iconic group. And as long as the books are well-written, strongly-themed and have something unique to say, then those books will continue to be welcomed. This is such a book.
The Beatles Are Here! is not so much a book about the Beatles themselves, but a reflection on the effect the Beatles had on our society, by way of the effect on individuals. This book contains a number of short essays from a mix of people, recollecting their introduction to the Beatles' music or appearance. The vast majority of these essays are very well written and insightful. Just a very few essays lacked merit and typically those were by people with 'name' recognition. I did wonder what the point of their inclusion might be. Is it possible that editor Rowlands or the publisher had committed to the works before they were written? Is it possible that they were included in order to help sell the book based on the essayists name? Anything is possible, of course. But really, this book doesn't need 'name' authors to sell it. The quality of most of the work here, and editor Penelope Rowlands' insightful placement of the essays holds its own and reads very well.
Although the bulk of the essays are unrelated (other than the obvious connection to the Beatles), there is a really nice, quite fascinating connection/correlation between a few of the essays.
If you take a moment to look at the photo on the cover of the book, you'll see a rather iconic photograph of a group of teenaged girls behind a homemade banner proclaiming "Beatles Please Stay Here 4-Ever." The girls are enthralled, screaming, reaching out. This is often how we picture the early days of the Beatles, especially in America ... with teenage girls screaming and crying.
That same photo inspired a piece by Gay Talese in the New York Times, September 21, 1964 (included in this book). The girl dead center, screaming, is Penelope Rowlands, editor of this collection. Through the magic of the internet, most of the girls centered in the photograph have reunited and contributed an essay to the book. Fascinatingly, none of them seemed to know each other before (or since) the photo was taken, but were brought together once by their love of the Beatles, and again by the circulation of the photograph.
The essays of these girls (now women) are among the most interesting. Rowlands sprinkles these essays throughout the book, rather than lumping them all together, which works quite well as, unless the essay is written by someone with a recognizable name, we are not sure if an essay is by someone connected to the photo or not. It was a small, brilliant method of giving the reader just a touch of mystery. Among those essays connected with the photo is a compelling essay by the photographer who took the picture, Henry Grossman, who travelled with the Beatles.
Even in a book of essays by people who typically didn't have a physical connection to the Beatles, we can glean some important tidbits. Nothing particularly new, perhaps, but for me at least, some things hit home here for the first time. Musician Janis Ian points out that
"The Beatles were fully formed by the time they started recording. From then on they just amplified what they were doing. If you listen to that first album, Meet the Beatles, it's incredible. it really shows how much time they spent on stage, working out arrangements.... There's a very different dynamic that happens to a song when you've played it live a lot in front of audiences."
This makes perfect sense, and I wonder why I haven't read this, this succinct, before.
I'm not sure that there's much new to be learned about the Beatles themselves, or even their music, but this book clearly shows that we can still learn about the effect that the Beatles (and their music) had on our society which was ripe for that which the Beatles provided.
Looking for a good book? Whether you're a fan of the Beatles, pop music, pop culture, or even social studies of the 1960's, The Beatles Are Here! is a remarkable, compelling book and highly recommended. ...more
I will admit right off the bat that I was not familiar with Julian HawthornThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.0 of 5
I will admit right off the bat that I was not familiar with Julian Hawthorne before reading this book. His famous father, Nathaniel Hawthorne, of course is required reading somewhere along the way for any English major. So why read this biography of a famous author's son? It turns out that Julian was also an author ... and a bit of a cad.
This was a well researched and put-together biography of a 'lesser' literary figure.
It's not unusual for children with famous parents to have a difficult time succeeding, especially if trying to follow in their parents' footsteps. Julian Hawthorne is a classic example of this.
Living, somewhat, in the lap of luxury, thanks to his father's works, Julian grew up lacking the ambition to succeed, but with the expectation that success would come to him simply because he was Julian Hawthorne. Rubbing shoulders with giants in the literary field as he matured (Thoreau, Emerson, Melville, Alcott) he seemed to think that writing would come naturally and easily to him. He wasn't necessarily wrong, but writing well, is another matter.
Although he showed some promise in engineering, his lack of ambition, skill, and the matter of his father passing away while he was a teen had him falling back on a writing career to support his young bride and child. His works never achieved any sort of true success. On occasion he managed a good review, but for the most part, Julian might be considered one of America's first 'hacks' -- a writer who managed to output materials that were readable, but forgettable. In addition to his penny romance novels, Julian wrote essays and articles for newspapers, mainly Hearst's papers, which leaned toward the sensational more than newsworthy.
Again, based primarily on his up-bringing ... seeing famous writers and how they lived, it was important for Julian to keep up appearances. Living in a home that was too much for the family, and maintaining servants, when all the time he struggled to make enough money to feed his family. he borrowed from friends until they stopped loaning him money. He borrowed against advances on his writing. He raised his writing rates, despite the fact that his works weren't selling. He lived constantly in debt, and constantly working an angle to procure an income. But NEVER working a 'job.' He even took to selling off his father's work to provide some income.
Late in life, he teamed with some acquaintances and wrote ad copy for a mining stock. His payment for the work was a portion of the income. The stock was fraudulent. We are never quite sure whether Julian was fully aware of this or not, but he drew the short end of the straw and spent the most time in the Atlanta Federal Prison for his role in this mine stock fraud. It was a result of his time in prison that he perhaps achieved his most fame as a writer. Julian wrote a series of essays on the horrible conditions inside the Atlanta Federal Prison. From the food, to the crowding, to the punishment, he decried the penal system. His essays prompted a review of the prison by federal legislators and ultimately the dismissal of the warden. Julian was proclaimed a hero to those still incarcerated.
Julian Hawthorne is an unusual, and unlikely subject for a biography. It's not a particularly happy story, but it is an interesting one. If nothing else, it reminds us that when we don't teach our children to reach beyond us, they never learn to do for themselves. Though, by all accounts a failure; at writing; at being a family man; at being a friend; at managing finances ... Julian was, however, a survivor. A bit of a wolf and a cad, but tenacious.
I'm still not entirely sure why he was chosen for the subject of a biography. I can't honestly say I'm glad that I read this ... I don't think I was changed in any way, and certainly my impression of Julian Hawthorne wasn't changed as I was never aware of him in the first place.
Looking for a good book? If you enjoy biographies of little-known historical figures, this book is well researched and well written. But as a subject for a biography ... Julian Hawthorne leaves a lot to be desired. ...more
While it seems that most of this information has been available throuReview originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.5 stars.
While it seems that most of this information has been available through other sources, this compendium packs it all together and ties it up with the perfect packaging.
I absolutely loved getting the little tidbits of information in quick, rapid form. This is not necessarily a book to sit and read cover to cover (although I did it that way), but rather it is intended to be used as a reference. Want to know about a particular Beatles song; who wrote it, who played on it, who sang, what instruments did they play, how many takes did it take to get it right, who the engineers were? Look it up here.
To learn that George is the one singing on "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Devil in Her Heart" -- I never knew! And while there's nothing I would specifically do with the information, it's interesting to learn what instruments are used and when someone changed instruments before the recording of a song.
I very much liked the relative simplicity to the lay-out and design of the book. I felt that I got a good amount of information for every song, and simply and easily. From sticky-note graphics that shared a Beatles tidbit, to the assortment of photos, to the technical information list, this book compiles all the information in a very easy to read format.
Almost daily I learned something from this book that was interesting or exciting enough that I shared it with my family (my sixteen year old son is a tremendous Beatles fan) at the dinner table.
I'm not sure that there's anything in this book that is new or revelatory, but Margotin and Guesdon have done a remarkable amount of research to pack as much factual information here as possible. The bibliography at the end of the book alone is almost worth the price of admission!
Yes, there are some errors. I've read some of the other reviews for this book (and am always amused at how certain some people are about how much they know to be factual ... even if they weren't there) and admit that there are some proofing errors and some date correlation that doesn't match up. I read an ARC, so I have to trust that some of this gets cleaned up before final print. But larger questions (who wrote which song, which instruments were used, etc) -- well... as this book points out, even the individual Beatles themselves don't always remember accurately how things happened. Paul and John might both claim 'ownership' of a particular song -- how can we expect that they will remember which guitar was used in the recording? Unless there are photos or written documentation (and even the written documentation is sometimes called in to question) ... much is often the result of deduction. Fair enough.
The book is written from the perspective of the British releases of the songs/albums.
I highly recommend this to anyone interested in the Beatles, music history, or music recording studies!
Looking for a good book? All the Songs is an indispensable reference book that every Beatles fan or music historian should have on hand!...more
I consider myself to be a moderately well-educated man and I am certainly familiar with the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, Jr., and wheI consider myself to be a moderately well-educated man and I am certainly familiar with the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, Jr., and when I first received this review copy of March, a graphic novel about the Civil Rights Movement, I was a little less than enthusiastic about reading it. I now wish I had jumped right in to it the moment I received it. This is wonderful!
Congressman John Lewis was an iconic figure in the Civil Rights Movement and is the only living member of the major leadership players at the time. This first of three planned books focusses on Lewis' youth, his desire to attend university, meeting Martin Luther King, Jr., and the beginnings of the peaceful Nashville Student Movement and sit-ins at local cafeterias. I whole-heartedly admit that I learned some very valuable history by reading this. I would also admit that, had this been a 500 page biography of John Lewis or even a history book on the Civil Rights movement, I probably would not have read it, fearing a dull, boring read.
And so...why a graphic novel? I think there are a number of good reasons for this. One: it makes it very easily accessible to a very young reading audience, or even a 'low' reading audience. I can see third graders reading this as part of their school's February reading program. Two: adults are more apt to pick up something that looks quick and simple, rather than a thick non-fiction book (as I admit to). And three: the pictures definitely help set the tone. It's very easy to read about non-violence, but something completely different to see people sitting calmly at a counter while others shout at them.
And let me be clear -- while I talk about the seeming simplicity in a graphic novel, compared to a long historical or biographical treatise, there is nothing 'simple' about this. This manages to be a very thorough look at a complicated time. We get a full sense of the power behind what was happening, while understanding that there's likely more to the story if we wish further study.
This is going to sound strange, but the art was so smooth, so perfectly apt for this book, that I often forgot I was reading/looking at a graphic novel. The pictures were such perfect additions to the story that I never felt that I was detached in any way. I read a lot of comics as a kid and I've read a fair number of graphic novels in the last year, since starting this blog, and I can say that I've never felt this symbiotic relationship between art and story so clearly before. I can't imagine any way of improving upon it.
If there's any down-side to this book (and I'm not sure there is), it would be that it's a book one. Graphic novels have come in some pretty thick volumes , so I can't imagine any reasonable explanation as to why this wasn't produced as one book. The only thought I can give is that the publisher wants to make more money and possibly win more awards by releasing this in installments. It's certainly a common publishing game, and I don't care for it. I subtract some points for this reason.
This book will move you. You will be a better person after reading it and you will have an even better understanding of both the good in humanity and the despicable.
Looking for a good book? This books deserves to be read, shared, and remembered by everyone who can turn a page.
I enjoy reading 'behind-the-scenes' books from the entertainment world. I suspect this comes from my own professional work backstage.
This particular bI enjoy reading 'behind-the-scenes' books from the entertainment world. I suspect this comes from my own professional work backstage.
This particular book caught my eye because 1) Murder, She Wrote was one of my wife's favorite television shows (along with Columbo), and 2) I lived and worked in LA at the same as most of this book takes place, and much of the industry was familiar to me then.
Fischer's writing is quite readable (no surprise, since he wrote popular mystery/drama for millions of people) and the book flows very easily. I did find it, shall we say, 'interesting' that he often chose the incorrect pronoun when writing me/I ("...both he and Angie wish Bob and I good luck.") .
His flowery prose often made me chuckle ("Her eyelashes were long enough to erase a blackboard"), especially at times when I thought I was expected to be familiar with something ("We all know the cliché. If we allow the camel to get his nose under the flap of the tent, pretty soon the rest of the camel is in your lap, taking up most of the space." -- Really? That's a cliché we all know?). And occasionally I'd stop and have to think about a misplaced modifier or odd simile ("...sipping inedible coffee..."). But for whatever reason, it actually all made me like the guy a little bit more. Made him seem down to earth. That's not to say a little tougher editing might have been helpful!
But Fischer works hard to come off as 'down to earth.' He tells us over and over how much of an outsider he really was in the Hollywood business. How he didn't always follow the rules and didn't play the games that were expected of him, often because he didn't know the rules of the game. And while there may be a great deal of truth in what Fischer says about this, the fact is, he was much more of an insider than 90% of the people 'in the business' in Hollywood. An outsider doesn't get office space at Universal. An outsider doesn't get calls from Peter Falk, asking him to write more Columbo episodes. An outsider doesn't set ground rules for Peter Falk! An outsider doesn't ... well, you get the point. Fischer may have gotten in to the business sideways, through a family member, but he became an insider and thereby help set some of the rules for Hollywood.
But that doesn't change the fact that Peter S. Fischer was (is) a talented writer and creator. And what most likely helped him tremendously (as he also points out on many occasions) was his ability to work fast. His ability to understand the medium, be creative, and write quickly most likely is what made his career the success that it was.
One thing that surprised me was Fischer's willingness to be blunt and name names and lay blames. If he didn't like someone or didn't think their work was quality, or if an actor was responsible for the failings of a show...he didn't mince words. Never did his observations seem vindictive or angry ... simply his outlook on the issue. Clearly this is someone who has retired from the industry and not looking to go back (Hollywood may be impatient, but it has a long memory).
Although I may disagree with his take on himself (being an outsider), I enjoyed his look at the Hollywood industry -- a perpective that we rarely get to see (we saw a similar perspective in When Variety Was King last year).
It is interesting to note that while this is labeled an autobiography (humorously modified as "unauthorized"), it really deals almost exclusively with his work in Hollywood. Fischer writes often of his wife, but the rest of the family is nearly non-existent until we learn that a son has helped set up a publishing company. read what you want in to this, since Mr. Fischer doesn't have much to say on family life. His life and focus is on writing and producing during those years (according to the book).
Since his retirement from Hollywood, Fischer, who feels the need to always be writing, has been working on novels. The last portion of the book talks a little more about them, along with information on where to find them (like his time in Hollywood, he decides to do novels his way instead of the mainstream publishers' way). I'm intrigued enough that I will check out one or two of these mysteries!
Looking for a good book? This is a very readable, fun look at Hollywood and the creating of a long-running, hit television series.
I will admit to a small bias against poetry. Despite studying it, writing it, promoting it, I've always had a hard time getting excited about readYes!
I will admit to a small bias against poetry. Despite studying it, writing it, promoting it, I've always had a hard time getting excited about reading poetry. So when I flipped this open and saw it was in verse, there was a momentary pause, I put it down and came back to it later. And I'm very glad that I returned to this!
In free verse, this tells the story of the slave, known as "Dave," purchased in 1815. His owner, Harvey Drake, is a potter and he teaches Dave the art of pottery. Harvey also happens to violate the law, and teaches Dave to read and write as well. Dave becomes an expert potter, often marking his pots with bits of writing.
Despite the short, free verse poems, we manage to learn a lot about what it's like to be a slave (having wives sold and sent away; the dangers of knowing too much; etc) and about life in the 1800's and about pottery. It's quite remarkable how much I picked up in this brief volume targeted toward elementary school readers. The writing captures a mood and tone of the era quite well.
I finished the book, feeling richer for what I learned, but also wanting to know more about pottery at this time, slavery and the fight for freedom, and the region in which this clay was found and turned in to pottery. Wanting to learn more is always good (provided it's not because we didn't learn anything).
Looking for a good book? This is all-around a fantastic, quick read. Aimed at young readers, adults should feel enriched after reading it to their children.
For about as long as I can remember, my heroes have always been writers, and any kind of a look at a writer's personal life has been a voyeuristic pleFor about as long as I can remember, my heroes have always been writers, and any kind of a look at a writer's personal life has been a voyeuristic pleasure of mine. This book does everything just about perfectly...it touches on a number of different writers and offers a nicely capsulated look at some of the most intense moments in their private lives. By being brief, it makes the reading move along smoothly, never getting boring. And yet we never feel cheated, as though we didn't get enough of the story and at the same time, we can take it on to read more if we'd like (authors Schmidt ad Rendon include a fantastic bibliography).
Despite the sub-title ("The Scandalous Romantic Lives of Legendary Literary Casanovas, Coquettes, and Cads") not all literary relationships end with heartbreak or feuds, and that, too is part of the charm of this book...we don't really know who comes out on top (so to speak) until we get through this.
I'm not convinced that writers are any more (or any less) inclined to scandalous living (affairs, broken marriages, unrequited love, homosexual affairs, etc) than any other group of people, but, with the exception of Hollywood stars and starlets, writers perhaps garner more attention than most. And unlike those Hollywood personnas, writers tend to be a bit better at wearing their hearts' on their sleeves (or at least declaring their passions in writing).
And because we look at twenty-five different writers (with nice sidebars to touch on even more literary figures!) there is almost certainly some author to appeal to every reader. I wasn't shocked by anything here ... I think I'd heard/read rumor to most of this (and every writer was familiar to me) ... but Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon clearly did their research on all of this and were masterful at condesning and relating the stories.
Looking for a good book? This is an all-around voyeuristic treasure....more
This is a book that every high school sociology or health class should have as required reading.
Written by teens, this anthology explores the lives ofThis is a book that every high school sociology or health class should have as required reading.
Written by teens, this anthology explores the lives of those who are bullied; those who have sat passively by while others are bullied; those who've intervened to defend/stop bullying; and the lives of bullies themselves. While I'm a bit past the days of being a bullied student, the remembrance of those days are still with me. Though admittedly, I don't think anything I experienced compares with much of what was written here.
It should not surprise anyone that bullying in schools continues to be a problem. It has become a major issue and often reported on local and national news services. As a school board member, I've been aware that it is definitely a hot topic that is being addressed (at least in our small school). None of the stories of being bullied in this collection surprises me. I was a little aghast at the vehemence and violence perpetrated by some (I'm sure I would never have been strong enough to deal with some of what I encountered here). Some of the stories by bullies (generally 'reformed') struck me as a little less than worthy of printing, though I understand the desire to get all points of view. Unfortunately, although none came out and said, "Feel sorry for the bullies because they have problems, which is what brings out the bully in them," (in fact, some said just the opposite), the under-current was there ... that bullies are dealing with issues (generally self-esteem) which bring out the worst in them.
I recognize that teens need over-sight, particularly in school, to prevent bullying. I think what enraged me the most in some of the articles were the stories of adults (typically teachers and administrators) who did nothing to stop or prevent the bullying. Particularly in cases where they were made aware of the issue! It is this, more than any bullying itself, that needs to be changed. It must not be tolerated. I recognize that there are many reasons this might happen, but there are no legitimate excuses.
One story struck me with it's brilliant deduction. The writer (I wish I could remember who this was...I may have highlighted it on my Kindle) commented that adults told her that she needed to stand up and be strong and ignore the bullying. That she needed to learn how to deal with the 'real' world. But as she points out, in the 'real' world, ther A) likely wouldn't be any teasing/taunting of a fellow employee and B) sexual harassment would likely result in firing. And yet when kids do it to other kids, it's somehow just an experience they have to learn to deal with. The young author makes a most brilliant point.
Sadly, there is bullying in the adult work place as well, but likely not at the same level that our teenagers face. This book is a great wake-up to adults and a resource that every teen should have available.
Looking for a good book? This book, written by teens, for teens, about bullying, is fantastic reading for everyone.
I've looked at the genre of memoir for awhile, read more than a few, and wondered why it is that anyone would read a memoir by someone they didn't knoI've looked at the genre of memoir for awhile, read more than a few, and wondered why it is that anyone would read a memoir by someone they didn't know or by someone not 'famous.' After reading Leaving Rollingstone, I think I found my answer...to learn a little more about one's self. And when you can do so with words so deliciously put together, such as Fenton's, it makes the self-discovery a joy.
Now I have to admit, despite my preceding paragraph, I do know Kevin, though I definitely learn a little about him (and myself) in this book.
Kevin's ability to get right to the heart of an emotion or evoke a memory through words is unparalleled. It is savory. There was a part of me that wanted to flash read the book -- to get through it quickly because I so wanted to read the next portion. But there was another part of me that only wanted to read a little bit each day, to let his words linger with me because they are so carefully chosen and decidedly well used. It is poetic, in all the best sense of the word.
The book emcompasses a great deal of Kevin's life...from early days on the farm in Rollingstone, through a period of alcoholism, to his life in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul and working in advertising. And while there is a great deal of sticking to a chronological timeline, this is not a chronological biography. He sets this up, showing how early influences act as pillars to what he will become; each moment defines us, and by looking back, we can see how the present has been shaped.
There is a strong sense of nostalga, and Kevin even writes:
I am nostalgic. I wrote this memoir because I have a crush on the past. I love the game Twister; streamlined toasters and ottomans with atomic/cocktail motifs; TV shows such as Laugh-In, The Avengers, Get Smart, and Batman; the originals of the movies Charade and Ocean's 11; and the music of Dave Brubeck and Stan Getz.
And this book appeals because Kevin isn't the only one with such a crush. Those who grew up in the sixties and seventies have all come to a period in their lives when reflection waxes notalgic. There is a reason so many movies and television shows are sad homages to the past -- those in charge have reached that age of reflection and often look to reliving a glorified past. But you can't recreate old glory, you can only unintentionally mock it, or you can reflect on it, as Kevin does.
I've known Kevin since our high school days. He has always been one of my favorite poker-playing friends (our poker days were not so much about playing cards but a means to sit with good friends and talk). Yet I learned much about him through this memoir. And, as I mentioned earlier, by learning about Kevin, I've learned some things about myself and my own history.
Leaving Rollingstone is an homage to a gentle past that gave way to a turbulent time in a man's life, and we understand that we all are leaving something, but that leaving something means a coming in to something else.
Looking for a good book? This is a beautifully written memoir that evokes strong emotions and memories in all of us.