Angelou, Maya. Mom & Me & Mom. New York: Random house, 2013.
My very first thought when seeing this newest autobiography of Angelou’s was to ask myself, “This is the seventh autobiography. How much more can she reveal about her life?” But then I realized this recent publication focuses more on her mother unlike any other autobiography of its kind. The language is simple yet straight forward and honest. Angelou delivers this memoir with emotion that ranges from early anger over her mother’s abandonment to utter admiration and respect. Throughout it all her mother delivers an almost a tongue-in-cheek attitude that is both humorous and brave given the climate of the racial times. It was joyful to watch how close mother and daughter truly became; how they were there for each other through it all.
As an aside – I find it incredibly difficult to believe I don’t have a single Angelou publication on my Book Lust Challenge list. I wonder why Pearl would leave out such as influential author?
Horn, Stacy. Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2013.
As much as I liked Horn’s writing style it took me a long time to get through this book. Each time I put it down it took longer and longer to pick it back up. I wasn’t retaining what I read and I wasn’t interested in what happened next. There wasn’t an opportunity to wonder what was going on because there was no flow to the content. Horn’s writing felt like well crafted essays with the common theme of choral singing. While I learned a great deal about singing with others from both the modern and historic perspectives I wasn’t as connected with the subject as I wanted to be. I have a feeling this will be a hit with people who know more about singing in the chorus because the writing is fantastic.
The above makes it sound like I didn’t get anything out of Horn’s book. I did get something unusual out of it – an overwhelming desire to see New York City as she describes it. I was drawn to her magical descriptions of certain streets. I felt like I had never really seen the city like she had. It made me want to open my eyes a little wider and walk a little slower the next time I am there.
Reason read: As part of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing
Hainey, Michael. After Visiting Friends: a Son’s Story. New York: Scribner, 2013.
Like any good reporter, Michael Hainey (who actually works for GQ) wants the truth, especially when the truth as he knows it is full of strange inconsistencies; even more so when the truth involves the details surrounding the tragic death of his own father,
Michael was only six years old when his father, respected newspaper man Bob Hainey, died of an apparent heart attack “after visiting friends.” What friends, Michael has always wondered. Even more curious – friends and family are tight lipped about that night and the details in different newspapers don’t add up. Pretty ironic for a newspaper man’s obituary. Was it really a heart attack when another reputable paper called it a cerebral hemorrhage?
Growing up, no wanted to talk to Michael about that night, no matter how many times he asked. As an adult Michael decided to write a book about his father and in doing so provided people with the opening to start talking. Little by little Michael finally uncovers the truth. What he discovers is not earth shattering for the rest of the world. These things happen all the time. But, back then there was a different kind of fierce loyalty between friends, family, and even newspaper men.
Throughout Michael’s investigation he is forced to consider and examine his relationships with family. His grandmother, with whom he has always felt a special bond; his brother, now a family man himself; his mother who has always kept a stiff upper lip and refused to show weakness; and lastly, his father, the hero he wanted to be like who turned out to be human after all.
It is fair to say that I couldn’t put this down. How terrible is it to have a haunting that lasts your entire childhood? What is worse is the truth; forcing yourself to not only be responsible for uncovering it but accepting it as well.
Death does funny things to us. While reading After Visiting Friends I found myself thinking Hainey was unraveling and revealing my innermost thoughts. I, too, lost my father to a cerebral hemorrhage. I, too, have looked for my father in the faces of strangers, in the eyes of other men on the street. I, too, expect to see him anywhere and everywhere. “You never accept the truth that they are dead. You can’t. You won’t” (p 129). Exactly. I hated Hainey for pointing out the obvious, that if ever I met my father on the street I would not fall to my knees grateful for his return, his life restored. Instead, hurtful and pitiful, I would casting a blaming eye and ask why he left.
When I look back on January 2013 I have a sense of relief. All things considered this month was better than the last. In the grand scheme of things January treated me kind. No major meltdowns. No minor catastrophes to speak of. I started training for Just ‘Cause in the quiet way. Four to five miles a day and I didn’t stress about the numbers. If I didn’t make five or even four I didn’t have a hissy fit or beat myself or moi up. I cut me & myself some slack; gave us a break. I know that as the months wear on this won’t always be the case, but for now it was nice to go easy on me, myself & moi. The running was a different matter. Just as relaxed a schedule but not so easy going on. The run is a little over six weeks away and I’ve done next to nil in order to train. New Guinea has been awesome in that I’m working on speed intervals on level five. Let me repeat that. Level five. Nothing to write home about. I used to operate at level nine. Enough said. On with the books! I am pretty proud of the list.
- Lives of the Painters, Architects and Sculptors by Giorgio Vasari ~ in honor of National Art Month way back in October. This finally completes the series!
- Ancient Athens on 5 Drachmas a Day by Philip Matyszak ~ in honor of Female Domination Day in Greece.
- Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray ~ in honor of January being the first month I read something from the first chapter of a Lust book. I admit I didn’t finish this one.
- Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham ~ in honor of Maugham’s birth month. I also didn’t finish this one.
- Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron ~ Happy new year. Read something to make me happy.
- Idle Days in Patagonia by W. H. Hudson ~ in honor of January being the best time to visit Patagonia.
- The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll ~ in honor of Lewis birth and death month.
- Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson ~ in honor of the month all Creatures Great and Small aired.
- Tatiana by Dorothy Jones ~ in honor of January being the month Alaska became a state.
On audio I listened to:
- Final Solution by Michael Chabon ~ in honor of January being Adopt a Rescued Bird month.
- No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith ~ in honor of Female Mystery Month
- City of Thieves by David Benioff ~ last minute add-on. This was addicting!
For the Early Review program with LibraryThing:
- Gold Coast Madam by Rose Laws (started in Dec)
- Her by Christa Parravani
- Leave Your Sleep the poetry book for children by Natalie Merchant
her: a memoir. Parravani, Christa. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2013
Christa and Cara are identical twins who embody the myth of closeness – two people, one soul. Their bond is not only forged from biology and the womb but strengthened by overcoming a difficult childhood and all adversities that come with poverty and abuse.
But, what happens when one twin starts to spiral out of control? Does the other twin remain independently strong or does she get dragged down with her mirror image sibling? When Cara survives a brutal rape the violence never leaves her mind and she embarks on a journey full of drugs and self destruction. The more Cara sinks into depression and recklessness the more Christa struggles to stay above her sister’s chaos. Christa struggles with finding the delicate balance between loving her sister and wanting to save herself. This becomes especially dangerous when she is desperate to save her sister at the risk of losing herself. Finally, when faced with failure Christa has the seemingly insurmountable task of extracting her life from that of her sister’s. To look into her coffin was to see herself. Part Two of her is Christa’s journey to find herself; to crawl out from under the mountain of grief; to be her own singular person.
Postscript ~ Being very familiar with the area where Cara was raped I refrained from looking at Christa’s photography until I was finished with the book. I have to be honest, the photographs are so striking I kept returning to them. They add an air of quiet melancholy and bring Cara and Christa’s “twinness” into sharper focus. I would say to add more of these photographs to the memoir would make the story even more haunting (if that was even possible). Having said that, this is not a plea to do so, but rather a warning not to…if that makes any sense.
Also, this is the examination of sisterhood that I have always wondered about. I am not a twin but I frequently find myself comparing my current who, what, when, where & how with that of my sister. We had the same upbringing, the same education, the same locale we call hometown and yet our lives are miles apart. We bear no resemblance to the past we once shared. We are completely different in practically very aspect of our lives. I can’t imagine the relationship as a twin.
Holy crap I am late with the list. “I’m late, I’m late” said the White Rabbit! Okay, okay! I just finished The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland so sue me.
January 2013 is another year of hope and of promise. Kisa and I are going to see Trey Anastasio at the Palace in a few weeks. I officially started training for the 5th Just ‘Cause Walk and, and. And! I am training to run a 10k in March. Yay me. But, here are the books…before I get too carried away.
- Rabbit Hill (speaking of rabbits) by Robert Lawson in honor of when All Creatures Great & Small first aired. Get it? Creatures = rabbits. This is a kids book so I’m hoping to fly through it.
- The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith in honor of January being Female Mystery month. I’m listening to this on cd. It’s the first one in the series so expect to see Alexander McCall Smith on my book list for the next 4 or 5 months.
- Lives of the Painters, Sculptors Vol 4 by Giorgio Vasari ~ this (finally, finally) ends the series started in October in honor of Art Appreciation month
- Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery ~ in honor of the first month of the year I’m reading something from the first chapter of More Book Lust.
- Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron ~ in honor of the a Happy New Year. Another kids book to lighten the mood.
- Ancient Athens on 5 Drachmas a Day by Philip Matyszak ~ Okay, get this – Female Domination Day in Greece happens in January, hence reading something Greek.
- Tatiana by Dorothy M. Jones ~ in honor of Alaska becoming a state in January. Mo one locally has this book in their library so I had to ILL it. It might have to come from Alaska. How fitting.
- Final Solution by Michael Chabon ~ in honor of January being Adopt a Rescued Bird month. This is another book I will listen to in the car or while working out.
For the LibraryThing Early Review program I am just finishing up Gold Coast Madam by Rose Laws. I also received notification of a January Early Review book but as always I won’t mention it by title until it’s in my hot little hands (or in this case, cold little hands since it’s 6 degrees outside).
Laws, Rose and Dianna Harris. Gold Coast Madam. Chicago: Lake Claremont Press, 2012.
I honestly couldn’t tell you if I liked reading this book or not. There were times when I thought it wildly entertaining while other times I found myself distracted by questioning Laws and her motives for wanting to publish her story.
The most sincere chapters were in the beginning. There is no denying Laws had a difficult childhood. She learned at a very early age that some men will do anything for sex and, for the most part, get away with it. When she was still a child her father was caught having sex with someone other than her mother. As a result he and his mistress were beaten but that didn’t stop them for continuing their illicit activities. When Rose’s mother wanted Rose to get married and have children Rose’s early strategy was to pick a guy to date for a month until one got her pregnant. That lucky sperm donor would become her husband. Way to pick a soul mate! Unfortunately, she latched herself to someone who wanted nothing more than to keep her pregnant. Rose was pregnant eight times in as many years. When she admitted to aborting one of the children her husband beat her senseless.
From here the story goes downhill. Oddly enough Rose was never able to succeed at a legitimate business to support herself and her five children. For some reason the only thing she excelled at was prostituting herself and the $400 an hour call girls she employed. She calls herself a “hanky-panky entrepreneur” and coyly suggests she had all of Chicago in the palm of her hand. Everyone from high ranking officials to members of the Chicago mob were at her beck and call. Every time she got into trouble it was always the fault or screw up of someone else. One claim I couldn’t wrap my brain around was that she didn’t involve her children in the “hanky-panky” business but that seems improbable. Kids are really smart and at one point they were living in the hourly rate motel used for hookups. How could they not know what was going on?
Like I said, I’m not sure what I think about this book. It’s conversational style makes it a very easy if not skeptical read.
December 2012 was a decidedly difficult month. I don’t mind admitting it was stressful and full of ups and downs. How else can I describe a period of time that contained mad love and the quiet urge to request freedom all at once? A month of feeling like the best thing on Earth and the last person anyone would want to be with? I buried myself in books to compensate for what I wasn’t sure I was feeling. And I won’t even mention the Sandy twins. But wait. I just did.
- The Wholeness of a Broken Heart by Katie Singer ~ in honor of all things Hanukkah. This was by far my favorite book of the month.
- Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner ~ in honor of Iowa becoming a state in December. This was a close second.
- The Tattered Cloak and Other Novels by Nina Berberlova ~ in honor of the coldest day in Russia being in December. I read a story every night.
- Big Mouth & Ugly Girl by Carol Joyce Oates ~ in honor of Oates being born in December. I was able to read this in one sitting.
- The Women of the Raj by Margaret MacMillan ~ in honor of December being one of the best times to visit India
- Rosalind Franklin: Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox ~ in honor of Franking being born in December
- Billy by Albert French ~ in honor of Mississippi becoming a state in December
- Apples are From Kazakhstan by Christopher Robbins ~ in honor of Kazakhstan gaining its independence in December.
In an attempt to finish some “series” I read:
- Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, Vol 3 by Giorgio Vasari (only one more to go after this, yay!)
- Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers
For audio here’s what I listened to:
- The Galton Case by Ross MacDonald ~ this was laugh-out-loud funny
- Bellwether by Connie Willis ~ in honor of December being Willis’s birth month
For the Early Review Program with LibraryThing here’s what I read:
- Drinking with Men: a Memoir by Rosie Schaap
And here’s what I started:
- Gold Coast Madam by Rose Laws
For fun: Natalie Merchant’s Leave Your Sleep.
I have a decidedly dumb dilemma. Books. Too many of them. Well, more accurately I have too many uncorrected proofs. Nearly 70 different titles. In the beginning…we’re talking 2006..I was asked to join LibraryThing’s Early Review program. Here’s how it works: ever month LT posts a list of new books to be published and you request one to be reviewed before publication. I have been honored to “win” nearly 70 early publications and I have reviewed them all. Well, let me clarify. I have faithfully reviewed every title I have received. I’m still waiting for two…
In the beginning it was a pride thing. I was so thrilled to be asked to join this program that I saved every single book I was asked to review. I wanted to keep an entire collection of “librarythings” to mark the accomplishment. But now they are taking over! Ironically, the two favorites I wanted to keep I loaned away and never saw again (The Translator and Losing Clementine). But, back to the books I can’t keep. I argue with myself and moi about what to do all the time.
Here’s how it goes:
Me: We donate them to a charity?
Myself: It’s uncorrected proof. No one wants to read an unfinished product.
Me: We could donate them to a library?
Moi: You wrote tags, notes and stuff all through them. You underlined and dog eared pages. (Shame on you, librarian!)
Me: We could give them to friends?
Myself: And how would you decide who gets what? Think of that Orgasmic Pregnancy one! Who would get that?
Me: We could offer them up free to anyone interested near and far? FaceBook? They would just pay my shipping costs?
Myself: And what if people don’t send you $$ to mail them? You are trying to renovate your kitchen, remember?
Me: We could throw them out?
Moi: You would hate yourself and chase after the recycling truck to bring them back.
Me: We could just keep them?
Myself: Out of the question. You don’t hold onto books unless you love them. You are running out of room with things you don’t love.
Me: I do hate clutter.
So. What to do? Maybe when the weather gets warmer I’ll set up an alfresco book store with a big ole “Free” sign and see what happens. It could be a study in sociology. Do people like uncorrected proofs? Would they mind my in-page musings? Do people like free no matter what? And who will take that Orgasmic Pregnancy book?
Schaap, Rosie. Drinking with Men: a Memoir. New York: Riverhead Books, 2013.
One of the very first things you will notice about Drinking with Men is that it is 100% unapologetic. Schaap makes some pretty decent arguments for finding a bar to call your own…even if you are a single woman (stereotypes be damned). Then all of a sudden it hits you, Schaap can really write. She is funny, sarcastic, and above all, a great storyteller. In most cases the introduction to anything is an invitation to yawn. I am not ashamed to say most of the time I skip an introduction to everything. Not this time. Schaap’s introduction is almost a warning, as if to say “Hang on because I am about to tell it like it is. I. Like. To. Drink.” and she tells it with such ease that you keep reading and keep reading. You don’t realize you have let dinner burn, the cats have moved out and your husband has ordered and finished the pepperoni pizza all on his own.
I try not to dabble with discrepancies but when reading about her friend Ed I couldn’t help but notice she intermittently called him Al. Was that something I failed to find the explanation for or what? Truth be known I didn’t go back to see what I missed. I just kept reading.
Favorite lines: I have a few but I’m not sure if they’ll remain in the finished publication so I’ll refrain from exposing them. Weak, I know.
Reason read: Early review program for LibraryThing.
I am hijacking this review for a second: Now seems like a good time to add that I have decided to change how and when I read Early Review/LibraryThing books. Because their arrival to my doorstep is extremely unpredictable I am no longer going to confine myself to reading them within the month received. It just doesn’t work. What if I get a book on December 21st? the old system would have me trying to choke it down in nine days. Because it came in December I was of the mindset it needed to be read in December. Enough of that. Despite it’s arrival date I will take as long as I need to finish it. One rule stays true though – if there is a expected publish date I have to finish at least two weeks before.
December is a mixed bag. Kisa and I aren’t traveling anywhere (I think we did enough of that over the summer). We’ll get the tree today. I’ll spend the weekend humming Christmas tunes and decorating the crap out of the house. Not much else is planned except a lot of books, books, books. For starters I am reading a lot of continuations:
- Brush with Death by Elizabeth Duncan ~ a final book in the continuation of the series I started last month.
- The Good Thief’s Guide to Vegas by Chris Ewan ~ this finishing the Good Thief series I started in October.
- Lives of the Painters… by Giorgio Vasari ~ this is the third (and penultimate) book in the series started in October
- Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers ~ this continues the series started with The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club…
Confession: a bunch of these books aren’t “series” per se. But, because they continue a story (same characters, continuation of plot) I wanted to read them in order, especially Chris Ewan.
For the honor of all things December:
- The Wholeness of a Broken Heart by Katie Singer ~ in honor of Hanukkah
- Women of the Raj by Margaret Macmillan ~ in honor of December being a really good time to visit India
- The Tattered Cloak by Nina Berberova ~ in honor of the coldest day in Russia (12/31/76)
- Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegman ~ in honor of Iowa becoming a state in December
For the Early Review Program for LibraryThing I’m back to nonfiction: Drinking with Men by Rosie Schaap (I remembered her last name by thinking Schnapps). This looks really interesting because it isn’t someone’s sob story memoir about being an trapped and pathetic alcoholic.
And, lastly audio – I am planning to drive to work to the tune of Ross Macdonald’s The Galton Case.
So, there is it. Ten books. Ambitious of me, I know. The way I look at it I have ten days of vacation coming up with barely anything to do. I want to spend a great deal of time reading if nothing else.
Harrison, Melissa. Clay.New York: Bloomsbury, 2013.
Clay is centered around the lives of four different people only the story starts out like a lukewarm party with lots of dull people. The characters were listless and unmemorable. I felt like a party goer who was more interested in the decor of the party than the people attending it.By page 100 I still hadn’t connected with anyone nor could I tell anyone what it was really about. At the center of the story is TC, a nine-turning-ten year old lonely boy. On the surface he is looking for a companion, someone to share his “me against the world” attitude. Deep down he is searching for his father, always fantasizing about ways to get him to come home after divorcing his mom. Other characters include Jamal, TC’s mother’s boyfriend; Jozef, the Polish immigrant working two jobs; Denny, Jozef’s boss at the furniture shop and Musa, Jozef’s boss at the takeaway; Sophia, the elderly widow across the park; her daughter Linda; granddaughter Daisy, son Michael, and son-in-law Steven. All these characters circle around each other without real rhyme or reason other than proximity. For example, TC and Jozef forge a misfit friendship and Daisy and grandmother Sophie write misunderstood letters to one another.
The best part of Harrison’s writing is her descriptive passages about nature. She captures birds, trees, flowers beautifully. Wildlife comes alive and breathes life into the rest of the story. Because the plot lacked a hook I found I could put Clay down for days at a time and not miss the people I had met. I wasn’t breathlessly interested in seeing what happened next. My curiosity was mild, bordering on disinterested.
Reason read: This was received and reviewed as part of LibraryThing’s Early Review program.
Author Fact: Clay is Melissa Harrison’s first novel.
Book Trivia: Clay will be published in 2013.
Craughwell, Thomas J. Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Heming Introduced French Cuisine to America. Quirk Books, 2012.
How I would love to step back in time and follow Thomas Jefferson around! I just find him to be such an interesting character. I definitely agree that he is the most cerebral of our founding fathers. Despite Benjamin Franklin’s eye for invention I find that Thomas Jefferson was more downright curious. He wanted to learn all that he could about the world around him.
But, enough of that. Onto the book review: This was a disappointment. I honestly expected the subject matter to match the title of the book on several different points. For starters, the obvious one – food (specifically bringing French cuisine to America). I didn’t see enough supporting evidence to believe that it was Thomas Jefferson who actually introduced the cuisine to America. Only a small handful of recipes prove that recipes like macaroni and cheese were introduced. Then there is the subject of James Heming. James Heming might have been the one who did all the work – taking the culinary classes, practicing the recipes at Jefferson’s elaborate dinner parties, and training the next cook to take his place so that he might experience freedom, but it is on Jefferson Craughwell focuses the most. Even then the focus isn’t primarily on his bringing French cuisine to America, it was on everything else.
The first four days of September were a Rocky Mountain high followed by the harsh reality of back to school. I felt like a kid. What else? My kisa decided he wants to run a 5k for a charity event so September was our first month of training (the event is on October 14th). We caught the music bug, seeing Phish a few times and Sean Rowe once, which rocked, by the way. It’s fall so the nights are getting cooler. We closed the pool and took out the air conditioner; put a heavier blanket on the bed and put away the swimsuits. I had an eye toward azzkicking boots and comfy sweaters and celebrating eight years of marriage.
Here are the books:
- Ariel by Andre Maurois ~ in honor of National Book Month. This was an easy book to read in four days.
- Eleanor Roosevelt Vol. One by Blanche W. Cook ~ in honor of Roosevelt’s birth month. I fully admit I started this in August.
- American Ground: the Unbuilding of the World Trade Center by William Langewiesche ~ in honor and memory of September 11, 2001. This was an audio book I inexplicably listened to on an airplane.
- Enchantress From the Stars by Sylvia Louise Engdahl ~ in honor of a hero. I read this in one weekend.
- Tear Down the Mountain by Roger Alan Skipper ~ in honor of an Appalachian Fiddle Fest held in September. I read this in Colorado over a three day period.
- The Joke by Milan Kundera ~ in honor of September being the best time to visit Czechoslovakia. Okay.
- Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault ~ in honor of back to school month. This took me a little while to read but I enjoyed it.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Nelle Harper Lee ~ in honor of September being Southern Month. Who has read this book and been able to hold back the tears?
There was only one book I fully admitted defeat on and that was The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper. Just couldn’t do it. By default I am skipping Last of the Mohicans as well. Sad, sad, sad.
For the Early Review Program of LibraryThing I read All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother’s Dementia. With Refreshments. Another LibraryThing book came in at the end of the month but I’ll save that one for October.
For the fun of it I read To Heaven and Back by Mary C. Neal, MD ~ in honor of my aunt who lost her son.
Witchel, Alex. All Gone: a Memoir of My Mother’s Dementia. With Refreshments. New York: Riverhead Books, 2012.
What a difficult task it must be to not only confront a loved one’s illness but to share it with the world. People attempt to do it all the time but Witchel truly succeeds. Her writing is filled with tragic honesty and humor. In an effort to illustrate just how dementia has changed her mother’s personality and the dynamics of the mother-child relationship Witchel dips into her childhood. Using recipes from her past Witchel uses food to bridge the gap between a healthy mother and the disease that has stolen her. It is difficult to watch a seemingly healthy person disappear before your very eyes and that is what happens to Witchel’s mother. Going from professor to patient was not an easy transition for her.
In addition to the stress of an ailing parent Witchel confronts being the only sibling to step up and deal with the sad situation. Everyone is tied to their own family responsibilities and thinks Witchel is the logical caregiver. The attitude is, what else has she to do?
Many people will be able to relate to Witchel’s predicament. Even more so, fans of her writing for The New York Times will embrace her poignant memoir enthusiastically.
There are a bunch of lines I wish I could quote. I guess I’m going to have to read the finished version to make sure they stayed!