What a delightful book! It's as if someone took my favorite genre (memoir) and made it about my favorite topic (grammar). Could a book be any more taiWhat a delightful book! It's as if someone took my favorite genre (memoir) and made it about my favorite topic (grammar). Could a book be any more tailor made for me? Luckily, it held up to my expectations.
Mary Norris didn't always intend to be an editor. In fact, after college she worked at a costume rental store, as a milkman, and as a cheese packer. Then she decided to move to New York, and through a family friend, she found a job at The New Yorker. Never could there have been a more perfect fit. Where else could Mary have had lengthy and serious discussions about hyphens, attended a party for a particular brand of pencil, and gotten fan mail from Phillip Roth? Interspersed between her personal stories, she includes digressions about apostrophes, who/whom, and curse words, but she's not too pedantic or precious (in fact, she admits to disagreeing with The New Yorker's style rules on a couple of points.) I even think I might now have mastered when to insert (or not) a comma in a series of adjectives (although restrictive clauses still just escape me.)
Ms. Norris's writing is accessible, humorous, and charming. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with her and I actually would have loved if the book had been twice as long!...more
This book is billed as a memoir, but it isn't. It is a series of personal essays that were written at different times, can be read out of order, and aThis book is billed as a memoir, but it isn't. It is a series of personal essays that were written at different times, can be read out of order, and also therefore there are some repetitions. I read it straight through. My husband read it but jumped around from one story to next depending on which title struck him. I don't know that either of us had a better or worse experience.
Steve became a cop in New York City in the mid-1980s. The stories in the book are mostly in chronological order, so you start with the stories of his first days as a rookie, and then climbing up to lieutenant, finally managing a large squad. One advantage of the individual stories instead of a traditional memoir is that he has license to only tell the most interesting stories, and boy, he had some interesting things happen! Not the type of cop to ever voluntarily work a desk, he had the somewhat unique experience of having arrests on his first day, and his last. Some of the stories are funny, some are sad, some are horrifying.
The comparisons to Blue Blood are inevitable. The Job is not quite as well-written, and also suffers from not having a single through-narrative structure, but it is still enjoyable and gives you a great series of slices of what life as a NYC cop is like. It was a short and fascinating read about cops I used to see every day. I'm so glad they do such an important job, and I'm so glad I don't have to....more
This is a book that couldn't quite make up its mind. Is it funny? Is it a memoir? Is it a travelogue? Is it going to give straight-up history of MormoThis is a book that couldn't quite make up its mind. Is it funny? Is it a memoir? Is it a travelogue? Is it going to give straight-up history of Mormonism or slyly poke fun at it? The answer to all of these questions is unfortunately "kind of."
Last month I saw the musical The Book of Mormon and so when I saw this book was out, I jumped on it. I had heard of the author (in fact I own his first book though I haven't gotten around to it yet.) And from the cover and the description, I thought it would be funny or at least give me a better idea of the history behind Mormonism. And it was funny in moments, but it also was serious in others. Sometimes the author seemed to think the religion was crazy, and at other times he was very respectful and straightforward. He also hinted in a memoir-style about his failing marriage, but we never find out why it was failing or what happened to it in the end. And the final segment of the book, when Avi was participating in the annual pageant performed in New York State where Joseph Smith claimed to have found the golden plates from which he transcribed and translated The Book of Mormon, was marred by the author's inexplicable use of another name, which was found out right before the performance and he was kicked out. If he'd at least had a good excuse for doing that, I could have excused the deflated ending to the book, but it just felt like he'd stupidly panicked, which is not the sort of behavior we expect from a professional writer being paid to research this book.
That said, I think the musical set my bar too high. The book was very readable, entertaining and light, and I did learn a little bit about Smith and Mormonism, even if not exactly what I'd wanted to learn (I'm not sure the book I want to read exists.) I really liked Steinberg's comparisons of Smith's writing trials to that of every author's struggles to write. And it was interesting how he pointed out that for decades, the story of how Smith wrote the book was much more important than what was in the book. (Possibly still true today although in the late 1980s Mormons were finally encouraged to actually read it.) Laypeople who want to find out a little bit about Mormonism likely will enjoy this book, if they don't expect an academic treatise or a laugh-out-loud farce....more
Leah grew up in a Yeshivish household, her father a rabbi in the ultra-orthodox Jewish community. Her dream for her whole life was to marry young andLeah grew up in a Yeshivish household, her father a rabbi in the ultra-orthodox Jewish community. Her dream for her whole life was to marry young and have a dozen children. She wasn't allowed to touch boys or even be alone in the same room with one until she was married. Her mother did everything her father asked without question, and Leah felt loved and comforted in her home. But when she was a teenager, she went to England to live with cousins for a while before entering a prestigious girls seminary (Yeshivish girls don't go to college.) There, she met and hung out with another girl whose family was not as strict. And she hung out with the girl's brother. He was cute and he had radical ideas, like that if a girl wants to go to college, she should. Leah was never the same.
Although she never consciously decides, "I disagree with this religion and I'm not going to do what they say," she subconsciously does just that. But because it is subconscious, it is more complex and more drawn-out. She continues to try to fit in, visiting her older sister in Israel, until her letters to the boy are discovered, causing such a shocking scandal that her family basically casts her out and treats her like she's dead. Her parents arrange an apartment and a job that doesn't quite pay for the apartment in Brooklyn, and then write her off. Even when she's been admitted to the hospital for a suicide attempt, her parents refuse to help or visit. And while she does attend college and wears jeans for the first time and learns who the Beatles are, she still dreams of marrying an ultra-orthodox husband and having a large family. What is difficult both for Leah and for the reader to realize for a long time, as Leah stumbles around blindly in the secular world, is that simply casting off a belief does not mean that she will fit in or understand. She has to in some ways start over, learn what the normal secular world is like and how people function in it.
The book is at times harrowing, at times humorous, and always honest. Leah tells stories where she doesn't come across well at all, and yet you empathize with her innocence and misguided trust, her complete lack of guile, and her sad lack of friends. I wanted to befriend her and help her navigate through her new reality, and I really wanted to punch her parents. This was a very fast read giving a peek into a normally closed and secretive community, Leah seems to have come out the other side and I for one am cheering for her to continue to prove to her family that she isn't evil and nothing bad will happen to her, just because she disagrees with them and has different beliefs....more
I had an unusual experience with the book. The woman who loaned it to me had said that she was "dipping in and out of it" and internally I made a faceI had an unusual experience with the book. The woman who loaned it to me had said that she was "dipping in and out of it" and internally I made a face as I never, ever do that (in fact, I even stopped flipping around in Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography and started reading it straight through!) But I think that is a great way to read this book.
I was under the mistaken impression that the book was about Ms. Mayes's moving back to the South (North Carolina) as an adult (after her sojourn in Italy). Instead, that bookends the memoir, but the book is about her growing up and ends when she's about 22. From Fitzgerald, Georgia (one college professor upon hearing the name of her hometown did remark "Isn't that a bit much?"), she was the much youngest (eight years behind her nearest sister) daughter of a couple of fought bitterly and dark heavily. Her father ran his father's fabric mill, and her mother was a good housewife of the 1950s, painting her nails, baking brownies, and recovering furniture (with the help of an African-American maid.) Frances never quite fit in. Chomping at the bit to get out from her small town and repressive family from a young age, she did eventually get to go away to college (first Randolph-Macon and then the University of Florida) but she seemed never to feel completely free of the South until the death of her parents. It seems as if only when that last tie was severed, could she make the choice to return without repercussions.
The book is filled with languid tales of floating down rivers in summer, buying Capezios and going on dates, sneaking out of the dorms to have fun and party. It also has sordid stories of mental abuse, withholding, manipulation, and other trials of familial love gone wrong. Each chapter stand on its own and can be read as an essay. They are in chronological order in the Book, but the past doesn't inform the future much. A few characters do progress--most often by deterioration, not growth--but for me it did not gel as a single narrative. Instead, I found that when I tried to read it straight through, I did not enjoy it. But when I read it in short bits here and there, I did. That's strange. Most books improve with a large block of time when you can delve deeply into it, but this one didn't. When I tried that, the stories felt repetitive, unremittingly cruel, and a little boring. But when I switched back to the short stretches of reading, it improved immensely. Maybe you need to digest the parts. Or maybe you need to stay on the surface and not delve too deeply. Whatever the reason, this is the perfect book if you know you don't have a lot of time and are looking for a book which you can set down and it won't suffer from the delay. This one improves....more
I really enjoyed Ms. Stimson's first memoir, Mud Season, and so I was excited when she had another memoir come out, and so soon. But once I started reI really enjoyed Ms. Stimson's first memoir, Mud Season, and so I was excited when she had another memoir come out, and so soon. But once I started reading it, I thought, oh no. This was too soon. She doesn't have enough material and it's just a bunch of little episodes strung together with no narrative arc or plot to hang on. And I did also wonder, what the heck was up with the title which seemed to not fit the book at all.
And then about 2/3 of the way in, there's a twist, and suddenly all the episodes started to come together as did the title. I don't think I'm giving away a spoiler any more than the title does to say that someone important in Ellen's family dies suddenly. And of course, it turns everyone's lives upside down.
Ellen's voice is a little manic and eager-to-please for me. She's a tad repetitive and incessantly tells us that she's loud and talks a lot (which I was well aware of). The subtitle doesn't make much sense as the book doesn't have much to do with the town at all, particularly not like last time. This isn't a case where after the big tragedy, the town rallied to help Ellen pull through or they finally started to accept her as one of them. Nope. Things were pretty much the same, and they mostly relied on out-of-state friends and family.
That said, it was a fast, easy read. She's very friendly and accessible, and her voice is somewhat reminiscent of Jen Lancaster (but with a lot less vitriol). And that may be who the publisher is modeling her on. But this book wasn't as successful, in my opinion....more