FINISHED

This past weekend, I finished up three books I was reading concurrently. I often read more than one book at a time with no confusion; however this time, one was historical fiction, very close to fact, set in WWII, so keeping the characters straight from the non-fiction characters in the diary made reading harder than usual.

This one begins with two women, prisoners in a German war camp,Greta and Mildred, who are charged with activities that aided the resistance fighters in Berlin under Hitler. They exchange a glance in the prison exercise yard. One woman is eventually executed, and the other is liberated from the prison by the Americans. The “meat” of the book tells both their stories, describing “the courage of ordinary people.”

The other WWII story deals with what happens to the women of Berlin during the Russian occupation. It is a true diary, published only after the anonymous author’s death, which describes April of 2945 through June of 1945. In the diaries, Anonymous, a 34-year-old journalist, casually tells how women who had not seen each other for a long time, greeted one another with, “How many times were you raped?” It is a story of rape and sexual collaboration for survival that is brutal to read and a horror to have lived through.

Finally, another horrific story, a memoir about the childhood of Mary Kaur,

was at times unbelievable, others down-right strange. Growing up with an alcoholic father and mentally ill , sometimes suicidal mother, Karr “speaks” in the “gritty, unforgettable voice of a seven-year-old. It is set early on in Texas, and later follows the mother and two daughters to a home in Colorado. The title comes from the b**sh**ting her father and his friends do at the local bar while seven-year-old Mary sits and listens. “Appalling” is the word that come to mind to describe the author’s earliest memories.

These three are not books one would read for pleasure, but ones that kindle our imaginations about the resilience of the human spirit.

DEAR READER: The Comfort and Joy of Books/A Review

I read this 2020 publication on my Kindle, and I know I would have found more comfort and joy in reading it were I to have read it in a good, old-fashioned, print volume.

Cathy Rentzenbrink has done a marvelous job here of explaining and examining her love of books.

Another Book about Books, one goal of my “read-more-of’s” for 2021 has been called ” a love letter to stories and reading.” (Nina Subbe) There are endless recommendations of books the author read and loved. As she describes her journey from bookseller to author, Ms. “R” comments, “Reading has saved my life, again and again, and has held my hand through every difficult time…” Part memoir, part advertisement for the joys of reading, the book presents a “funny and joyous exploration of how books can change the course of your life.” My Advanced Writing class wrote their Essay #2 on a Cassandra Claire quote that warned them that “Books are dangerous…because they can change your life.” The author, here, preaches the same message, illustrating how books shaped her early years, chose her career path, and brought about her destiny. Dear Reader is a “celebration of the written word.” It is “a life told by and through books.” My TBR list expanded by several British authors and many “must reads” titles. What a fine reading experience for anyone who loves books!

WHERE LIGHT AND SHADOW MEET, a memoir: Review

Almost everyone has heard of Oskar Schindler, made famous by Steven Spielberg’s film, “Schindler’s List.” This, however sheds new light on his life, for it is written by his wife, Emilie Schindler, and it is her story.

Born in 1907, Emilie Schindler and her husband Oskar helped rescue thousands of Jews from the hands of the Nazis during WWII, but according to Emilie, it was her idea and she who set it in motion.She begins the prologue, thus: “Some of you will generously forgive me if this story is not precisely what you expected, but I trust that, in the end, you will thank me for not lying to you…the facts depict my husband as a hero for the century. This is not true. He was not a hero and neither was I. We only did what we had to do.”

Written at the end of 1994, the book at first seemed a rant against her dead husband. According to this memoir, the marriage was not a happy one. Oskar Schindler was a womanizer, and yet the love of Emilie’s life. Their marriage was full of passion and betrayal, and it was a hard life for her once Oskar had settled her on farmland in Argentina while he was luxuriously wining and dining contacts in Germany and Europe. Emilie states that it was she who kept them going and did so by the hardest work and most sacrifice of the couple.

No, the story was not “precisely what [I] expected,” but it was a fascinating read.

More than one unexpected revelation in this memoir…

FRIDAY FIRSTLINERS

Today’s Friday Firstliner is from Just Kids by Patti Smith, a memoir:

” I was asleep when he died. I had called the hospital to say one more good night, but he had gone under, beneath layers of morphine. I held the receiver and listened to his labored breathing through the phone, knowing I would never hear him again.”

This is the story of the strange relationship between Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe during the late 60s and early 70s at the height of the drugs and hippies’ culture of New York.

MORE BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS, AND THIS TIME, A LIBRARIAN

I read a large number of books about books, bookstores, libraries, librarians, and everything “bookish” last year. It was a fun indulgence and one that I really enjoyed. Recently, at our local library, I spotted a book with a “body-builder” guy lifting a huge load of books titled, The World’s Strongest Librarian. Looking closer, I read the subtitle,”A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and Family.” Josh Hanagarre, the book’s author tells his fascinating tale of how he became a librarian, manages his Tourette’s, has a fairly “normal” life with a wife and family, and is a champion weight lifter and expert at strengthening exercises.

After I had read the first few chapters which described a happy, uneventful boyhood in a family-centered, Mormon home in Utah, I began to read of his devotion to his Mormon faith and thought, “Uh-oh, here comes a lot of Mormon propaganda.” I almost put down the book, but I’m so glad I didn’t. Told honestly and sometimes brutally, Hanagarre describes his onset of Tourette’s and his loss of faith. (No, he doesn’t miraculously get it back and everything ends happily ever after–another interesting turn of his story.) His acceptance of his disability and his control (to a degree) of it through excruciating exercises and weight lifting provides a tale of courage, perseverance,  and determination.

Although the anecdotes about peculiar happenings and patrons of a big city library are expected, Josh’s handling of both proves he is “not your average librarian.” The book is humorous, touching, introspective, and interesting the entire way through. I am going to count this memoir as my non-fiction read for February (The Church of Small Things being  my January non-fiction read.) I had originally hoped to read 12 non-fiction books in 2020 (the same number I aimed for and exceeded in 2019), but now I am aiming for one non-fiction book per month.

Have you read any non-fiction lately I would enjoy? Please let me know in the reply section below.

Alphabet Challenge Update, READING WITH PATRICK

A friend gave me Reading with Patrick, a memoir by Michelle Kuo, a few months ago. I have been saving it for the “R” in the Alphabet Challenge a fellow blogger and I have taken on. Describing the “remarkable literary and political awakening” of Patrick Browning, Kuo’s student, the book makes the reader think about race and the lack of justice for a large portion of America’s population.

Kuo met Patrick when she was a volunteer with “Teach for America”( in 2004) in his home town, Helena, Arkansas, located in what was then one of the poorest counties in the U.S. She led Patrick through his journey of discovery as his high school English teacher. She “saw” him and saw his potential. The descriptions of their interactions and the building of their relationship were familiar to any teacher who has “been there” and cared.  As Patrick grows in his understanding of poetry, the book becomes “a love letter to literature.” It is also a “riveting,” “inspiring testimony to the transformative power of reading.” What about this premise would not make my teacher’s heart go “pitty-pat”?

After going on to law school, Kuo returned to Helena to find that Patrick was in jail, serving an “undetermined” length of years for murder.  Patrick describes the murder as “an accident,” and Kuo finds his case has been constantly mishandled, delayed, overlooked and tightly bound up in bureaucracy and red tape. While waiting for hearings and various delays, Kuo begins to teach Patrick again, only to find he had reverted to the pathetically poor reader he was when she first met him years ago. Visiting Patrick in jail as often as permitted for over seven months, Kuo helps Patrick make progress, both in his awareness of literature and of himself as well.

The story does not have a “happily-ever-after-ending,” but a satisfactory one, and the “read” was definitely worth investing my valuable reading time in. I highly recommend this book.

 

 

 

NEVER STOP WALKING by Christina Rickardsson: A Review

This autobiography/memoir, translated by Tara F. Chase, is subtitled “A Memoir of Finding Home Across the World.”  The title originates from advice Christina’s birth mother gave her, “Never stop walking.” In the dedication, the author states, “I dedicate this book to the three women in my life (both her biological and adopted mothers and her best friend) who made all the difference, and to all the street children in Brazil and around the world.” Rickardsson’s story begins on the streets of Brazil and continues the saga as she and her brother Patrick are adopted by a couple in Sweden.

After the adoption, Christina suffers from culture shock and responds by closing herself off from all others in as a protective strategy. At school she fights, bullies and generally acts out. She says, “The pages you turn here are my scream…my struggle to survive.” Like most adoptees, she wonders, “Who are my biological parents and why did they give me up”? When she begins as an adult to search for her birth mother, she concludes “There is a big difference between choosing not to take care of your children and living in a society that doesn’t give its citizens the resources so you can take care of them. ” As she worked through her feelings toward her birth mother on the trip back to her native Brazil, she discovered her mother had bouts of schizophrenia which caused her to leave her children unattended on the streets of Brazil.

The author faced much emotional trauma in her life. As a street child, her best, and only friend, is gunned down by the police in front of her in an alleyway. When her adopted mother died of cancer, she decided to search for her birth mother whom she found living with the mother’s sister, Christina’s aunt. Although there are still questions about her family and her identity in the writer’s mind, many issues have been resolved, or at least brought out into the open. The style is raw at times, always honest, and straightforward as Rickardsson finds her voice. The author’s search continues today as she explores her background, her current feelings, and her future.

READING OUT OF MY GENRE: THE ACCIDENTAL LIFE by Terry McDonell: A Review

In a deliberate effort to read “more than just novels” this summer, I picked up McDonell’s 2016 collections of memories and recollections, (subtitle: An Editor’s Notes on Writing and Writers) from my local public library. The author shamelessly name-dropped (in a good way) sports figures names like Tiger Woods; authors like Hunter S. Thompson and Hemingway; and twentieth and twenty-first century celebs like Frank Sinatra, the Kennedys, Jack Nicholson, and Steve Jobs.  Most of his stories and recollections of meeting and working with these notables were fascinating.  I admit that I did not read every selection/chapter, for I knew nothing about some famous sportswriters or even about some of the literary “who’s who.”  Roy Blount, Jr. says on the back cover, “McDonell knew the wildest writers, edited most of them, and he remembers a great deal.” In his careers as editor at Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Gentlemen’s Quarterly (GQ), McDonell came face to face and often toe to toe with the eccentricities and demands of writers.  He was often “in on” plans for the next “big” undertaking of the writers, and his impressions were so accurate that he cold have been excused for saying, “I told you so.”

Tom Brokow called McDonell, “…one of the prominent editors in the world of popular magazines.” Interspersed with the author’s recollections about writers and editing magazines are helpful asides to authors and editors as well. Here is a writer who writes on writing and an editor who writes on editing. Overall, The Accidental Life is interesting and helpful, especially for magazine readers.

HILLBILLY ELEGY by J.D. Vance: A Review

This 2016 memoir/sociological analysis of the “Hillbilly culture, mind and attitude” was selected by my Third Tuesday Book Club as its January selection.  I had read about this book before, but did not read it because it sounded “depressing.” Instead, I found a young man who OVERCAME every obstacle thrown his way.  If anything, Hillbilly Elegy is inspiring. I wish I had looked at the author’s picture inside the back cover first, for it caused me to gain respect that one so young could be so philosophical about how hard his life could have been (and the scars and holdovers from that life that still plague him) then give his story and his conclusions about what it means to have been “raised hillbilly,”in order to make Americans take a hard look at Hillbilly culture.

Raised in the “Rust Belt” of Middletown, Ohio, and shuttled back and forth between Middletown and Appalachian Jackson, Kentucky, Vance’s affections are forcibly switched between his “low-class” mother and his hillbilly-crude, but fiercely-loving, grandparents.

Now a graduate of Yale Law School, Vance has written “…a compassionate,discerning, sociological, analysis…” of the “hillbilly problem” that will make every reader stop, think, and wonder, “How can I help?” This surely was the purpose the author had in mind as he wrote the book. He mourns the demise of the “American Dream” and sees it from close-up since he inherited this “legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma.”

The book includes some humor, much sadness, and many uplifting moments, gathered together in the final chapters. It is a good read, an important book that every American should be exposed to.

LAB GIRL by Hope Jahren: A Review

The Amazon review that made me want to read this 2016 memoir read like this, “I’m a mathematician and don’t always appreciate good writing, but this [writing] was amazing!” And, indeed, it is, both in the sensitive, poetic descriptions of the life of trees, plants and other botanical organisms and in the narrative of the story. The relationship between Hope and her more-than-assistant, Bill, was one that had me “rooting for them” to get together, but Alas, it was not to be.

Many themes are explored in this book, including struggles with mental illness, women of science, botany, friendship, motherhood, and many more–enough to keep the reader turning the pages to see what is next. It is funny in places, downright scary in other places, and touching and warm in between.

This book makes scientific facts fascinating!