Where's the book?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Life gets in the way

Somehow I got very far behind. Actually, I know how I did it. It's called life. I was working a lot, and going to plays, and watching great television (just discovered Fargo--how did I not know about this show???), and playing with friends, and cleaning the bathroom, and cooking dinner...

Anyway, numbers 30 through 34 coming right up, in brief. Numbers 35 through 38 to follow shortly.

#30 Wild by Cheryl Strayed
More memoir reading for the memoir class, and I liked this one a whole big bunch. She's a terrific writer, which I knew because I had read Dear Sugar. And she had a great story to tell, about how after the death of her mother, the breakup of her marriage, and a scary drug addiction, she decided to tackle a huge (some might say insane) challenge: hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. She wasn't a hiker, didn't plan well, and faced some serious obstacles. But the story of the hike is interwoven so skillfully with flashbacks to her childhood, her mother's illness and rapid decline, her misbegotten marriage, and dalliances with drugs and dangerous men, that I couldn't tell if I enjoyed the story more, or the way she kept all her balls in the air and never dropped one. Respect for the writer and the woman!

#31 Lucky by Alice Sebold
A beautifully written memoir, as you would expect from the author of The Lovely Bones, about an awful experience--her rape as a college freshman. It's hard to read, in a good way, and a very moving, honest account of an awful, brutal attack. I was happy to see that the book doesn't rely on the cliches of an experience like this--brutalization of the victim, backwards cops, cold clinicians. Sebold has many people who help her through this time--and a few who turn away--but she doesn't flinch in her honest, compelling writing.

#32 Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurzel
A memoir that could turn you off memoirs. Self-indulgent, poorly written, repetitive, boring...so many ways this book went wrong. It slips around loosely in time and place, never actually rooting you in any events or any characters. Nothing is described, no person is depicted, so you can't visualize anyone or anything. And there are few actual scenes, just page after page of her talking about her craziness, her depression, her need for help that never comes. It's hard to believe this got published, but she was pretty and it was 20 years ago and Prozac and depression were new and exciting. Could that have been it? I can't see any redeeming value in this boring, dreary, poorly written book.

#33 The Art of Time in Memoir by Sven Birkerts
Read it for the class I'm teaching. Not terribly helpful but there were some choice bits and pieces about structuring memoir, with an awful lot of unhelpful stuff in between.

#34 They Came Like Swallows by Joseph Mitchell
Oh, what a wonderful book. Beautiful story, beautiful characters, and so beautifully written. It's quite short, and every page and paragraph feels perfectly crafted, almost like poetry. Although it was published in 1937, it has an unusually modern conceit--the book is divided into three parts, and each part is seen from the POV of a different character: an eight-year-old boy, his older brother, and their father. The lives of each revolves around the mother in the family, a loving figure who holds the household together. The first section, from the eyes of the young boy, is the best depiction of a child's-eye view of the world that I have ever read.

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