Tag Archives: memoir

Maybe in This Lifetime

I use Goodreads to keep track of books I’ve read and want to read and every time I put another book in my “to read” list, I feel like I’m setting myself up for failure. I understand that I will never be able to read every book published and I’m fine with that. I just want to read every book I want to read and don’t seem to be making any headway. Even though I tell myself not to put any more books on my list until I finish a book or to review my current “to read” list to make sure I still want to read the books on the list, I never listen. The list grows and grows. Because not all books are created equal, there are some books in which I’m more interested in than others. Here are some books that scream at me when I look at my Goodreads list.

Fiction

At the Mouth of the River of Bees     The Collected Stories of Grace Paley    TheInterestings

SalvagetheBones     The Savage Detectives

At the Mouth of the River of Bees: Stories by Kij Johnson

  • This is a book of science fiction short stories and while I read a lot of short stories, I haven’t read a lot of sci-fi short stories. The titles of the stories (“Schrödinger’s Cathouse”, “My Wife Reincarnated as a Solitaire”, and “The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change” are a few) make me think these stories will be ambitious and very interesting.

The Collected Stories of Grace Paley by Grace Paley

  • I initially was interested in this book because it’s a. short stories and b. for some reason, I had confused Grace Paley with Grace Coddington and wanted to see what kind of stories Coddington had written. (Don’t worry about me; I’m fine.) Once I realized they were not the same person, I did a little research into Paley and she sounds like she was an interesting woman and was multi-talented, also writing poetry.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

  • I started this book about a group of adults who met at summer camp when they were young are still friends years later a couple of months ago, but didn’t have time to finish it. I really enjoyed what I read and have been hoping to get back to it. I also think the cover is beautiful.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

  • Taking place in Mississippi right before, during, and just after Hurricane Katrina, Salvage the Bones follows the Batiste family as they deal with the storm along with their daily lives which are difficult enough in their poverty-stricken household.

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

  • Out of all the books on this list, this is probably the one I’ll get to next. Two founders of a poetry movement attempt to track down a vanished poet and end up on the run. The story follows them through several continents and is narrated by the people they encounter. I’ve also heard good things about Bolaño’s 2666 so may put that on my never-ending list once I finish The Savage Detectives.

Non-fiction

The Antidote     Bruce     Detroit

Her     Salt Sugar Fat

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman

Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin

  • Since I’m from Indiana, I should probably have John Mellencamp’s biography on this list, but if I had to choose between reading a bio of Springsteen or reading a bio of Mellencamp, I’d probably choose Springsteen. (Sorry, John. It’s nothing personal. I used to dance in front of the TV when you came on. I remember you when you were John Cougar Mellencamp. I went to grad school near your town and never once stalked you. I sing your songs way more than I sing Springsteen songs. I respect you. I just think Bruce’s biography might be slightly more interesting.)

Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff

  • While I know a little about why the city of Detroit has declined, I’ve not yet sat down and read a book about it. LeDuff, a reporter and native of Detroit, dissects what led to Detroit’s decline with what I’ve heard is a darkly humorous eye.

Her by Christa Parravani

  • I had this checked out and returned it because I had just finished Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites by Kate Christensen and didn’t think I was in a place to read another memoir just yet. Her is about twins, the author, Christa, and her sister, Cara. Both talented artists, their lives split apart and Cara dies while Christa struggles with being alone without her twin.

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss

  • This has been recommended to me by several people. I don’t usually like to know how bad for me the food I’m eating is, but this sounds more like an investigative book and less like a health book so I’m more likely to read it and enjoy it.

Are there books you keep intending to read, but somehow they keep getting pushed down your to-read list? Or are you able to keep a tight rein on your to-read list? (If so, please tell me how.)

~Aisha

27 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

So Far, So Good!

2013 is half over already? How did that happen? Flipping through my reading notebook in an attempt to answer that question brought the past few months into sharp relief for me. “Oh yes, April, when this, that and that happened, and I was reading XYZ.” In some ways more private than a diary, and yet in other ways more revealing, a reading log can give you a pretty good snapshot of what was going on in your life, as well as make it easier to recall and share titles when you run into somebody who might also enjoy that story you liked.

thousand_lives

Spotted at LetterMidst

In the spirit of Amazon’s “best of 2013 so far” list, here’s my own tally of favorite titles this year, plus a few extra.

rulemurderJanuary: A Rule Against Murder / Louise Penny. The dead of winter is a wonderful time to wend your way through a mystery series, especially when the book you’re currently on is set in the middle of summer! The charming, courtly Inspector Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie are on holiday, but murder finds them anyhow. Although this is the fourth in the series, it works beautifully as a stand-alone because of the “locked-room” quality of the plot (the victim, and all the murder suspects, are guests at the same resort with the Gamaches). It’s also a great introduction to the beautiful Canadian landscapes Penny paints; reading her descriptions makes me want to pack a suitcase and head for the wilds. Try it on for size, and then, if you like it, go back to the beginning with Still Life.

February: Code Name Verity / Elizabeth Wein. Chosen for her excellent command of German–she was reading it at verityUniversity before the war–Verity is a spy for the Allies, despite her tender years. Maddie, whose natural aptitude for flying earned her a spot in the air, is both her best friend and her pilot on a dangerous mission. But when the plane crashes and Verity is taken prisoner by the Gestapo, both the mission and the friendship are put to the ultimate tests of interrogation and torture. War stories don’t normally do much for me, but Wein spins a layered, gripping narrative that kept me up late to finish this book in one gulp. And surprise: it’s for teens, though grown-ups will definitely enjoy it as well.

yogabitchMarch: Yoga Bitch / Suzanne Morrison. This hilarious memoir mostly takes place during Morrison’s extended yoga retreat in Bali, a trip she took because she wanted to be more spiritual and peaceful like her teacher, Indra. Instead of inner peace, however, Morrison found all of the hang-ups and emotional problems she thought she’d left behind in Seattle right there on the mat waiting for her. Oh, and everybody else at the retreat keeps trying to convince her to drink pee (wait, what?). Let go of everything you think you know about yoga and laugh like hell as Morrison Figures It All Out (Sort Of).

April: Life After Life / Kate Atkinson. I know, I know: everybody loves this book and can’t stop talking about it. There are lifeafterlifereasons for that, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right book for you. I tend to describe it to people as a mash-up between Downton Abbey and Doctor Who, and if you’re willing to go along with the premise that a person can live the same life over again until she gets it right (whatever that means), then you are going to eat this up like a jar of Nutella. Otherwise, you can move along. I loved this book so much I went out and bought it; it is the most perfect thing I’ve read all year.

messudMay: The Woman Upstairs / Claire Messud. Nora Eldridge is furious, and when you finally find out why, mere pages away from the end of the novel, your jaw will drop. However, to really appreciate the big reveal, you have to wend your way through Nora’s long, tortured story. Over forty and frustrated with her life–she wanted to be an artist and ended up as an art teacher instead–Nora struggles to recapture her lost dreams and not give in to self-pity, but it’s hard. A new friendship with Sirena, a practicing artist, appears at first to be the kind of boost Nora’s been looking for. However, as Nora comes to know Sirena and her family more closely, the green-eyed monster keeps rearing its ugly head. A powerful novel about learning to live for yourself, and not through other people. And the reveal really is worth it, I promise. Wow.

June: The Humanity Project / Jean Thompson. The Great Recession didn’t do anyone any favors, but for the characters in humanityThompson’s small California town, the situation is pretty dire. A man and his son are on the brink of losing their home. A troubled teen who survived a school shooting is meeting her father for the first time. A clinic nurse grows more cynical by the day as the noble ideals she tries to uphold seem like so much baloney in the face of non-stop human suffering. And then, a wealthy widow proposes a project that will change their lives in ways they don’t expect, possibly for the better…depending on how you define better. Readers who like realistic fiction will appreciate the snipped-from-the-headlines, they-could-be-us quality of Thompson’s characters, who quietly learn that the money they crave can fix their surface issues, but not what lies beneath.

Some runners-up worth noting:

The Next Time You See Me / Holly Goddard Jones. A tough-talking, blue-collar broad goes missing, and nobody in town really cares, except her married-into-the-middle-class sister. Also, middle school kids treat each other like crap.

The Dinner / Herman Koch. The most uncomfortable family dinner ever, held at a pricey restaurant in Amsterdam, reveals just how far one set of parents will go to protect their son.

Calling Me Home / Julie Kliber. An elderly woman asks her hairdresser to drive her from Texas to Ohio for a funeral. Warning: the ending is a weeper.

The Fault In Our Stars / John Green. There are not enough tissues in the whole world to wipe away the tears you will shed for two bright, sarcastic teens with cancer who, despite their odds, fall in love anyway. Read it regardless.

Your turn: which books really rocked your world in 2013? Is it too early for you to pick a favorite?

–Leigh Anne

9 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Back to the Books

The other day a co-worker innocently asked me, “So, how’s that movie-watching project coming along?”

Er, yes. That.

The good news is that I’ve really appreciated the exposure to film as an art form, and I can enjoy cinema in a whole new way; I’m even going to the movies more often, which makes my film-loving friends and family happy. The bad news is, watching all those movies is starting to feel more like a homework assignment, or something I’m doing because it’s “good for me,” like eating more brussels sprouts.  And when something in my personal life stops being fun, I quit doing it.  I feel guilty about it, sure, but…I quit.

Luckily, my first love, books, has been right here waiting for me to come back.  Books knew this whole movie thing was just a phase, and welcomed me with open arms.  Books are very forgiving that way, and do not judge. More importantly, books take hold of my heart and my imagination in a way film simply can’t touch.

Bookfession 622 (tumblr)

From the Bookfessions tumblr

I’m sure I will, eventually, get around to watching more of the 1,001 movies, probably at a slower pace; for now, however, I have a huge, sumptuous pile of things to read.  Here are a few of the titles making me supremely happy these days.

The Year of the Gadfly, Jennifer Miller. A mesmerizing novel that asks, “Do we ever really leave high school?”  Iris, a troubled teen trying to make a fresh start, finds herself ensnared in her private prep school’s long, checkered history. Unfortunately, most of the adults who work at Mariana Prep are having the same problem. Iris’s story alternates with that of Lily, a former classmate of the current crop of Mariana “grownups,” and through her eyes we see how the scars you pick up in high school can sting, itch and burn instead of fade.  Iris’s dogged determination to succeed–to say nothing of her hero-worship for Edward R. Murrow–render her scrappy and sympathetic.  A definite to-read for anyone still haunted by their own high school traumas (and isn’t that just about everyone?).

Hand Me Down, Melanie Thorne. Being a teen is hard enough, but when you can’t depend on the adults in your life for Hand Me Downstability, any shot a  normal life can fly right out the window. Liz and Jamie are two sisters with few options.  Live with mom, who’s dating a paroled sex offender? Live with dad, who will probably drive you to school while drunk?  Live with the extremely religious aunt who’s constantly preaching at you, or the aunt whose husband doesn’t want you around? Thorne’s debut novel is a gritty catalog of misery, demonstrating how, when the adults can’t get it together, the kids’ struggle gets harder.  It’s painful to read at times, but Liz is a fighter, for herself and for Jamie, and her sincere desire for something better will keep you reading along with her while she struggles to get it.

FeedFeed, Mira Grant. Betting odds are still firmly against an actual zombie apocalypse, but that doesn’t keep Grant’s novel from being a delicious-exciting read.  Here’s the deal: the zombie apocalypse has happened (it’s complicated), and America has become a country of virus-checks and paranoia. It’s also become a country where bloggers are trusted more frequently than mainstream media, so when a presidential candidate hires a team of teen bloggers to cover his campaign, it’s really just a sign of the new normal. Or is it something more? Grant–a pen name for noted fantasist Seanan McGuire–has produced a world of fear, government conspiracy, paranoia, and good-old-fashioned zombie slashing, one that’s even scarier by dint of the fact that so much of her matieral is drawn from social attitudes and practices that are already de rigeur. A fun, scare-you-silly summer pick that you’ll flip through quickly, either from joy or terror.  First in the Newsflesh (hee) trilogy.

And The Heart Says Whatever, Emily Gould. A non-fic pic that reads like a novel, Whatever is Gould’s story of her late teens and early twenties, which she spent as a struggling writer in New York.   The former Gawker blogger dropped out of college in Ohio to take writing classes in NYC, worked at a lot of crappy jobs, and slept with a lot of different people, many of whom she didn’t really care for all that much. So far, so normal, except that Gould has the writing chops to infuse her story with something more than typical twentysomething angst. There’s a haunted quality to the fairly mundane stories she tells, a sense that all of her searching has hollowed her out somehow, made her less spoiled, less shallow. And yet, to reach that state of wisdom, she apparently had to behave in some incredibly spoiled, shallow ways, something those of us who survived our twenties occasionally forget. Reading Gould is like revisiting that stumble-fumbling time of your life when you didn’t know who you were or what you wanted, reliving the panic and frustration without actually having to feel those feelings up close again. If you’re still there, or if you’ve started muttering imprecations under your breath about “these kids today who don’t understand anything,” Whatever will serve as an empathy injection.

Judging from these titles, I seem to be preoccupied with teenage heroines struggling to survive; interesting. I should go back to the movie list and see if there are any films that revolve around this theme. That way I could have my bookish cake, and consume some more movies too.

Onward and upward!

Leigh Anne

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Dark Side of History*

I admit that I don’t like to read historical true crime; still, it both fascinates and repels me. What makes some people think and do the terrible things they do?  My own dear sweet mother is a true crime junkie (she’s read more than I can count) but I’ve had my fill with these books. The very few I have read include high profile as well as some obscure cases. The key ingredients for me in reading non-fiction have always been the historical aspect and the quality of the writing. The following books have both in abundance.

 The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule. I’m a child of the 1970s and, for some reason, I seem to remember a lot of missing persons/serial killer headlines (and one from my childhood in particular, the Oakland County child killer, is still unsolved). One Ann Rule book is plenty for me and this case is the one that started it all for her as the queen of the true crime genre. Rule grew up in my home state of Michigan; her grandfather was a sheriff in a small northern Michigan town, and she was also a police officer, thus her interest in the human psyche. But nothing prepared her for the horror of realizing that the handsome, friendly young man she worked with at a suicide hotline crisis center in the 1970s was Ted Bundy, the serial killer responsible for the disappearance and murder of an unknown number of young women. I admit I skipped the gruesome parts of this gripping book but I liked how Rule put a very chilling spin on her telling of the crimes committed by someone she knew.

Girls of Tender Age: A Memoir by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith. Smith is a mystery novelist but I’ve only read this poignant memoir of her 1950s childhood punctuated by the disappearance and murder of a classmate. In addition to the parallel stories of both the victim and the suspect, Smith tells of the experience and challenge of growing up with an autistic brother and its impact on her life and family.

 A Death in Belmont by Sebastian Junger. This is a very creepy story. In 1960s suburban Boston, a serial killer known only as the Boston Strangler murders a housewife in broad daylight in Junger’s childhood neighborhood. Interweaving the trail of the murderer with events from his own life, acclaimed non-fiction author Junger (The Perfect Storm) reveals that a handyman named Albert De Salvo confessed to the crimes, the same man who did some work for his mother on the day of the Belmont murder.

Arc of Justice: a Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age by Kevin Boyle. Imagine the excitement of buying your very first house. Now imagine feeling intimidated because you are black and you purchased your house in an all-white neighborhood. Ossian Sweet, a man separated by one generation from slavery, was a successful doctor in 1920s Detroit. With his wife and young child, he eagerly moved into their new home. So began a reign of terror that culminated in shots and left a neighborhood white man dead. This little known case was defended by star attorney Clarence Darrow and the very sad story will stay with you long after the book ends.

 The Red Parts: a Memoir by Maggie Nelson. Okay, I’m beginning to notice a pattern here. I most likely was attracted to some of these books for both their Michigan connections as well as the fact that they are mostly memoirs. From 1967-69, young women in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti (in Michigan) area disappeared and were later found murdered. Nelson’s aunt was one victim and, at first, it was thought she was yet another victim of the so-called Michigan Murders. Nelson, a poet, recounts the impact the murder had on her family and her life growing up, and her own interest in the case. Coincidentally, while working on a poetry book as a tribute to her aunt, a break in the case finally brought closure for the family.

~Maria

*This is the third in a series of historical non-fiction books I’ve enjoyed reading and recommending.

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Talking to Girls About Duran Duran

I love the ’80s, and I am not ashamed.

The 1980s, that is. The 1880s were jam-packed with interesting phenomena, to be sure; however, no matter how many serious, “grown-up” books I read, sometimes what I need to make it through the day is a healthy dose of cheese-tastic teenage nostalgia.

It was acceptable in the 80s.

Scoff if you must, but music critic Rob Sheffield understands.  His latest memoir, Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, is a heart-felt, hilarious love song to the decade permanently associated with hair metal bands and extreme fashion trauma.  Each chapter bears the name of an ’80s pop hit, and weaves Sheffield’s memories of the music with his poignant, yet snicker-worthy, tales of being young and confused during the Reagan era.  “Purple Rain,” for example, relates the saga of Sheffield’s stint as an ice-cream truck driver during a sweltering Boston summer; I laughed so hard while reading this chapter that everybody else in the coffeeshop went out of their way to give me plenty of personal space.

If you remember the ’80s fondly, or wish to understand the psychology of those who do, Talking to Girls About Duran Duran is an excellent summer read.  Put yourself on the reserve list ASAP, and, while you’re waiting, consider taking Sheffield’s first memoir, Love is a Mix Tape, out for a test drive.

 Leigh Anne
who still passes the dutchie on the left-hand side

76 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Beautiful Rent Girl Sister Spit Without a Net

Recently, I was lucky to catch the poetry and spoken word tour Sister Spit, an LGBTQ-oriented, “rotating crew of female-centric performers, writers and artists across the United States,” that stages “cabaret-style shows in The beautiful : collected poems / Michelle Tea.universities, bars, discos, art galleries, indie bookstores and community spaces everywhere.”

While I wasn’t familiar with most of the writers beforehand, I especially enjoyed the graphic novel readings (yes, you heard right) from Nicole J. Georges and Elisha Lim, the powerful poetry of  Lenelle Moïse, and the overall humor and fun of the evening: PowerPoint! An advice segment! Audience participation! Keep Valencia / Michelle Tea.an eye out for some of these touring terrors’ books on a library shelf near you–they were too good not to share. Even better than discovering so many new writers to follow, Sister Spit’s lineup also included one of my favorite authors, Michelle Tea, who founded Sister Spit.The Chelsea whistle / Michelle Tea.

With so much to read, I rarely revisit the same author, but Michelle Tea is kind of irresistible. I’ve made time to read several of her books, including her poetry collection The Beautiful and her illustrated novel Rent Girl, and I plan to come back for more. Will it be her novel Valencia or her memoir The Chelsea Whistle?

Without a net : the female experience of growing up working class / edited by Michelle Tea.Michelle Tea’s own writing celebrates honesty and wildness, and her skills as a selecting editor are equally vivacious. In the anthologies she edits, each piece segues gracefully to the next through common style or subject matter, and the pace rarely drags or stutters. One of her anthologies is Without a Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class, whose moments of young women surviving and navigating childhood vary from heart-breaking to hilarious, but always remain poignant and immediate. The Baby remember my name : an anthology of new queer girl writing / edited by Michelle Tea.contributors to another Tea anthology, Baby Remember My Name: An Anthology of New Queer Girl Writing seethe with exuberance whether their essays, stories and comics depict a poor trailer park resident’s birthday, an acid trip in San Francisco, or a gender-bending six-year-old on a bike.

If you are a fan of  queer-friendly, class-conscious, feminist, real, personal, feisty fiction and memoir writing, you’ll love Michelle Tea and the writers she publishes and tours with. Start reading, and maybe, if Pittsburgh is lucky enough to warrant another Sister Spit tour stop, you can listen for yourself next year!

–Renée

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

American Life Stories

READ ABOUT IT! American Life Stories is the title of a new book discussion series coming this spring to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh-Main. Funded by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, this 4-part series will be held on Tuesday evenings  from 6:30-8:00 pm in the Director’s Conference Room . Titles and dates are:

March 9: The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride

March 30: When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago

April 20: Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Faroozeh Dumas

Mary 18: Ojibwa Warrior: Dennis Banks and the Rise of the American Indian Movement by Dennis Banks

We are happy to announce that Dr. Liane Norman Ellison, a local author and poet, will be leading the discussion.

–Jane

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized