Boy did I get this book at just the right time! I was worrying about getting into a reading funk, I was stressed and needed a break from much heavier...moreBoy did I get this book at just the right time! I was worrying about getting into a reading funk, I was stressed and needed a break from much heavier fare for book clubs, and I wanted to read something just fun and funny. Then this caught my eye, which had only arrived about a week earlier. It's a memoir (love!) set in the 1980s (love!) with a 5-page love letter at the beginning from Nick Hornby about how awesome the book is (love!). How could it go wrong? And it didn't.
Nina moves to London in 1980 as an 18-year-old to become a nanny for MK's two sons. MK is the editor for the London Review of Books. Her ex-husband is a famous director. The across-the-street neighbor who is always mooching dinners off of them is a famous novelist. Not that any of this is name-dropped because young Nina doesn't really know who these people are in the literary world and when discussing how bad the dinner was that she made, it really doesn't matter how famous a novelist the dinner critic might be, it's still annoying. The kids are hilarious, Sam and Will. Sam has some health issues but they're not really a big concern in everyday life.
The entire book is a series of letters written to Nina's sister (and no, you don't get the responses. It's funny sometimes because there will be a line addressing something in the sister's letter, and it even occasionally sounds juicy, but you never get more than the tease. But it's fine because it's not the story of sisters, it's the story of Nina and this family.) Eventually Nina quits nannying and starts university, however a series of subsequent nannies just don't work out and she often finds herself back at MK's, sometimes just for dinner and to hang out, and other times to cover for someone and help out. Frequently the scenes are written like a play dialogue, and they are so funny I was reading them out loud as well as laughing out loud at them. The kids' language and behavior is obviously very true-to-life as that is how kids that age act. Nina herself is funny as she handles emergencies without getting upset, but also doesn't get upset in situation she should, and they all over-analyze things that often don't stand up to scrutiny, particularly Nina's bad cooking. The timeliness also was funny at times, such as when they were trying out this new board game called Trivial Pursuit.
Love, Nina was a wonderful story of a very young adult starting to find her way in the world. It's an honest look at her relationship with a loving family and a funny take on the trial and tribulations of a 20-something in 1980s London. I loved it and laughed throughout, but it isn't a trivial book. It's a book about everyday life, and the joy that simple daily living can bring.(less)
Four years ago I visited Detroit for the first time and I was very impressed. The architecture was beautiful, the Institute of Art was fantastic, the...moreFour years ago I visited Detroit for the first time and I was very impressed. The architecture was beautiful, the Institute of Art was fantastic, the Belle Isle Yacht Club was amazing, and the people were lovely. I am going back this summer. When I ran across this book, I was intrigued, as Detroit has been much in the news the last six years, with the worst of the bad economy taking hold there.
Mr. LeDuff is a Detroit native, but he was living in New York City, working as a journalist at the New York Times when he decided to move home. He wanted to raise his child in a more friendly environment near family, and he wanted to support his struggling hometown. He got a job at the #2 newspaper (the Detroit News) and moved. As he chronicles the misfortunes of the city's have-nots and the foibles of the city's haves (particularly the politicians as his homecoming coincided with Kwame Kilpatrick's downfall), we see its impact on his own family. His brother used to sell mortgages, and now his own house is foreclosed on. Another brother works part-time in a mind-numbing factory job that pays less than his first job back in high school. His niece dies of a drug overdose.
I liked the personal stories, and how LeDuff is so invested in this story as these stories don't just happen to strangers, however, he inserts himself too much into the stories that don't revolve around his family, and seems to view himself as something of a cowboy (the front cover of the book should have been a warning in this regard.) I don't care if he's wearing fancy snakeskin boots to cover a murder. I was also less impressed that I feel he wanted me to be by his mouthing off to people in authority (sure some deserved it, but he's not a teenager and should be able to speak civilly even in disagreement with a jerk.)
The characters he comes across are often so crazy that they can only be real. They were riveting and heartbreaking. The stories of murders, accidental deaths, squandering of city money, and the way the city is literally falling apart around its residents are sad and yet tell the truth of America. We are a country that is okay with a city selling off its firehouses' fire poles for scrap and mishandling the building of a new firehouse to the tune of more than ten times the estimate. I hope exposes like this one inspire more people to both reach out and help, and stand up for what is right. Detroit will never be what it once was, but there's no reason it has to be what it is. Good people live there and the city can survive. What form it will survive in, only time will tell.(less)
Normally lyrical is a word that makes me run away screaming if I read it on a dust jacket, so luckily I didn't read it here, as I loved Ms. Bremer's w...moreNormally lyrical is a word that makes me run away screaming if I read it on a dust jacket, so luckily I didn't read it here, as I loved Ms. Bremer's writing, and I would describe it as lyrical.
A California surfer chick, Krista eventually decides to be an adult and she gets into grad school at UNC and relocates to Chapel Hill. While on her morning run, she meets Ismail who is kind and fun and interesting, and unlike any man she has ever dated. He's fifteen years older than her, from Lybia, and grew up heartbreakingly poor. Nevertheless, the odd couple kits it off. And then decisions are accelerated when Krista unexpectedly ends up pregnant, not long into their relationship. A "jihad" is a struggle, and any marriage that involves this much of a culture clash would naturally be a struggle. And like most of us, her life happened rather accidentally. She never planned to fall in love with a middle eastern man, a Muslim. But they're making it work.
I have never read such beautiful descriptions of love. I was so impressed by how she really captured the feeling of safety and trust that must go along with it, the acceptance and understanding despite the differences and misunderstandings. I envy her and I wanted to melt into her words.
The part of the book where they go to Lybia for several weeks to visit Ismail's family was the most memorable but also had the most different affect tonally. Despite being completely surrounded at all times, never alone, she also felt very lonely as she was unable to communicate, and due to the division of genders, Ismail was rarely able to translate for her. The culture clash was much more obvious here, as their roles completely reversed and she became the outsider, the one who didn't fit in.
In the end, given the vast differences that she and her husband make work, it makes most other marital disagreements pale in comparison. It is a hopeful book, as one can easily think, if they can make it, anyone can! And it truly attests to the power of love to make difficult things workable (not make them go away). I loved this thoughtful and powerful memoir.(less)
I read Diane Johnson's novel L'Divorce about fourteen years ago, shortly after I'd moved to New York. I have always been a fan of "chick lit" but I li...moreI read Diane Johnson's novel L'Divorce about fourteen years ago, shortly after I'd moved to New York. I have always been a fan of "chick lit" but I like the variety that is more intelligent, with real problems and a slightly older, more mature protagonist and this book fit the bill. But I never read any of her other books. I knew she had written two follow-ups. I had no idea that she's published a dozen or so books, many of them non-fiction, some academic in nature, and is also an accomplished screenwriter, who wrote the screenplay for The Shining for Stanley Kubrick. Color me impressed.
What I really loved about this memoir thought wasn't the more traditional memoir parts of it, but instead when she dug into her family's past. See, Ms. Johnson lives part-time in Paris, and some French friends made a comment about how can Americans be expected to understand international politics, when we don't even know our own histories. And she admitted that was true. She didn't even know where her family was from. So she returned to the American Midwest, where she grew up in rural Illinois, to investigate who she came from and how those ancestors helped to forge the woman she became. She found old memoirs and letters in Great Aunt's attics and as she retold these stories, history came alive! After her ancestors came over from France (!), they settled in Canada and Michigan and lived in what she could only nicely call shacks, in the middle of no where with no neighbors, no family nearby, no medical help when needed, and sometimes no food. But they survived and eventually they settled in Illinois and Iowa where Diane grew up.
About ten years older than the Baby Boomers, she remembers WWII and her father fought in WWI. She grew up in an idyllic 1940s community where everyone knew everyone, no one locked their doors, and no one judged. The community took care of its less-capable and knew each others' dirty laundry, but kept that information to themselves. Diane ended up thirty, divorced, with four children, in England, trying to write a book (and trying to hide her divorce from her landlord who wouldn't rent to a divorcee.) She led an interesting life, with a happy remarriage and bi-continental living, but it was all the past generations looking down on her from their hard-scrabble lives that I found utterly fascinating. With the popularity of people looking back to find out our families' stories before they disappear, this book should have a broad readership. I loved it.(less)
I loved Ms. Janzen's first memoir, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress. And so it was a no-brainer to pick up her second one. I was especially happy to...moreI loved Ms. Janzen's first memoir, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress. And so it was a no-brainer to pick up her second one. I was especially happy to see her find real love after her first disastrous marriage and how long it took for her to pick up the pieces of her life. And it was lovely to see that and she was funny as usual, but I was surprised by how religious the book was. I know, the word "Mennonite" in the title should have clued me in but the first book also had that word in the title and it wasn't really religious.
Rhoda meets Mitch, who is kind of her opposite. She's a college professor, and he's a burly guy who drives a truck and doesn't strike me as being much of a reader. Yet, they're perfect together in a yin-yang sort of way. He's crazy-supportive when she's diagnosed with breast cancer. They deal with moving in together, with his cranky elderly father who lives with them, and his teenage son, with humor and sense. And yet, he's a Pentecostal and Rhoda starts going to his church and starts getting her faith back. And while I'm glad for her if that's what makes her happy, it's not my favorite thing to read about.
Now, I think this may be my fault. Because I enjoyed her first book so much, I really didn't read the description for this book. And the word "faith" in the subtitle was the real clue. Luckily, the book is still terrifically written, wryly funny, and brutally honest like her first memoir. If you don't mind a little religion in your memoir, you will love this book.(less)
I never know what to call these books. People refer to them as "graphic novels" even though it isn't a novel - it's nonfiction. I think I will go with...moreI never know what to call these books. People refer to them as "graphic novels" even though it isn't a novel - it's nonfiction. I think I will go with graphic memoir. But it has a lot more straight text than other graphic memoirs I've read.
I have seen Ms. Brosh's blog, but I was never a regular follower. I know I saw a couple of the posts about her dogs, one that is very dumb and the other that is borderline psychotic. (And to the meanies out there who claim she's just incompetent at training them, I lived with a very dumb and very sweet dog for about ten years - she belonged to my sister - and when a dog can't successfully learn her name or be 100% paper trained in the house, you really have no hope at things like "sit" and "heel" or even "no.") And the post about her eating her grandfather's birthday cake. But they were just as good the second time around.
I loved the book. I just kept picking it up in spare moments and read it in just a few hours. I laughed out loud several times, and was very sad/worried in others. And that was also my biggest problem with the book - the tone of the essays varied wildly. I felt I was ricocheting off of walls. I wish the overall tone has been more consistent. Other personal essayists that I read do manage it (David Sedaris for one, although he is such a master it's perhaps an unfair comparison. But he does manage to have both essays about weddings and his mother's death in the same book that flow seamlessly, thanks to his unrelenting snarkiness.) I think perhaps some transitional language between the essays might have helped, or maybe grouping them by theme. Instead they seemed randomly sorted.
That said, it was my only complaint. I loved the impression of the different-colored paper (I'm pretty sure it was just full-colored white paper but I loved it). Her illustrations are just so batty and winsome. It's amazing how her picture of herself, which is so odd and simple and childlike, can give off such expression and emotion with just eyes and a mouth. And then you see in her illustrations of her dogs and occasional other things/people that she truly does have drawing ability and her simplistic child-like portrayal of herself is purposeful.
If you already love Allie Brosh, you will like this a lot (there's no new material though so it will be retreads for you) and if you just have seen her around ("CLEAN ALL THE THINGS!"), you will love it. If you have no idea who she is, but think this sounds amusing, you must go for it. But be warned there is a large section about her depression and another section where she figures out how shitty she really is, that aren't funny. But most of the rest of the book is.(less)
In 1970, 10-year-old Tim Tyson was told by a neighborhood friend, "Daddy and Roger and 'em shot 'em a nigger." Civil Rights had come late to the small...moreIn 1970, 10-year-old Tim Tyson was told by a neighborhood friend, "Daddy and Roger and 'em shot 'em a nigger." Civil Rights had come late to the small town of Oxford, North Carolina, north of Durham. And when 23-year-old African-American Henry Marrow supposedly said something unsavory at a store to the daughter-in-law of the owner, Robert Teel, Teel and his sons killed him (after beating him of course.) And they got off, despite multiple witnesses and long criminal records. The injustice inflamed the town, and riots started the night of the murder.
For a young white boy, the son of a liberal local minister, the events of that year were earth-shattering. In fact, Tyson's family moved to Wilmington shortly afterward to get away from the racism. But Oxford proved a magnet for Tyson, drawing him back every summer in school, and later as a history student on a quest for the truth. Part memoir, part history, all truth, Blood Done Sign My Name is a harrowing but very personal tale of the racism pervasive throughout the South and its aftermath. The audio book was well done. As usual, I wished it mentioned dates more (a problem I often have with audiobooks that I do not have in print, I think it's just a quirk of how I process information.) And partly that was because I was having a little trouble reconciling how late this happened, as it sounded like an incident from a decade or two earlier. The deep resonating voice of the narrator could have been a tad more Southern, but I was glad they didn't go the other way and choose someone with a real corn-pone accent. He was easy to listen to and it was easy to tell when people were talking in dialogue.(less)
Watching Masterpiece Theatre (and Mystery!) with my mother is one of my fondest childhood memories. She'd let me stay up past my bedtime, watch things...moreWatching Masterpiece Theatre (and Mystery!) with my mother is one of my fondest childhood memories. She'd let me stay up past my bedtime, watch things that were a little racier than usual (on occasion), and it helped me branch out in my reading, introducing me to James Herriott, Sherlock Holmes, and Agatha Christie. I was one of very few children who truly got the joke when "Alistair Cookie" introduced "Me Claudius" on Sesame Street.
Ms. Eaton was not in on MP from the very beginning, but she did go back to the originators and got their story of the birth of the show, which was with the airing of The Forsyte Saga in the 1970s (I was surprised there was no mention at all of the new production from the early 2000s, even if it wasn't on MP.) But she was there for the spinning-off of Mystery! and through all of the hosts and all the decisions of where to go, how to address issues like censorship and differing morays, and the celebrities. The multiple relaunchings in the last few years had me worried about the future of a beloved show, but after hearing her explanations for the different names and different hosts, it makes sense. I am lucky enough to live in an area where I have three different PBS stations so I have my choice of times and dates to catch shows. After reading this, I am even eager to go back and watch some that I've skipped like Call the Midwife and Cranford.
While the book is 90% about the show, it is also a memoir and does dip into her private life from time to time. I was dismayed that her divorce was really glossed over but I can understand her not wanting to air dirty laundry which is also fairly off-topic. The book reads very conversationally, as if you were having a glass of wine with Rebecca and she were just telling you all about her job and how she got started and how she went from there. It felt snug and comfortable, like a wool sweater, which is exactly the right tone for a book about Masterpiece Theatre. I hope it continues forever!(less)