Tag Archives: memoir

Not Becoming My Mother – Ruth Reichl

Just in time for Mother’s Day! Who says I am not organized or timely?

I have read Reichl’s other memoirs, and enjoyed them – both her writing and her stories of being a famous food critic. Unfortunately, this wasn’t that enjoyable.

Reichl has mentioned stories about her mom before, in affectionately called “Mim Tales” – but this book felt more like a task she had to complete, rather than a labor of love. It was short – I think a little less than 100 pages, and was really just her looking over notes and writings that her mom had left behind – both of her mother and her grandmother. It was about the bleakness of life for women of the “Greatest Generation” and seemed an ode to the importance of work outside the home for women. You learn later that Ruth and her mom were estranged, and only hints as to why, but this seems to be her own reconciling with the life her mom had, and why she is glad she had such a different life and outcome.  But – the book itself? Repititive, self-indulgent and just kind of melancholy.

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Will the Vampire People Please Leave the Lobby? – Allyson Beatrice

This book was found on the shelves in the office of a Buffy-loving coworker. I really loved it! I don’t know how exactly to explain it. A series of essays about fandom? Or internet fandom? Or, communities that spring up around TV shows. It wasn’t exactly about the Buffy fans in particular, but of course, prominent Buffy characters featured prominently. It seemed to be more about the internet, and community. Something that is near and dear to my heart, because of my involvement in NerdNYC.

My favorite sections of the book talked about how riled up and angry the author gets with interlopers and trolls in her community and the frustration she feels when the community gets all hugs and ponies about it, instead of the “Cut a Bitch” style that she (and I) favor.

I loved her story of the internet as a family. As a girl whose closest friends all now live within blocks and were met on the “interwebs” – I can relate.

In terms of Buffy – it was a little sad to hear that while she is in close touch with some of the writers, Joss really has no idea who she really is. But I loved how much credit she gives to the writers, and not the actors. And that she goes into fanfic, and who stories really belong to.

I wasn’t expecting to like this book much at all, but I found the writer engaging, funny and  – the book just kind of hit a chord with me. The only criticism I would offer is that sometimes it felt a little disjointed – some stories were repeated, or characters reintroduced. You don’t need to be a Buffy fan to like the book (but I am sure it helps), but I think you definitely need to be an internet nerd.

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It Sucked and Then I Cried – Heather Armstrong

How I had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita

I have been reading Dooce.com for a few months now, and for most bloggers – “Dooce” is living the dream. Heather is a full-time blogger that makes enough money to support her family, and has recently written a book. The book doesn’t break any new ground, but is an accounting of the time period of her pregnancy and battle with post-partum depression. For a relatively new reader like me, I knew this existed and had glanced at the archives, so I don’t know if offered anything truly new, but it was a really engaging read.

I am please to report that Heather’s book-writing is a lot like her blog writing, and her voice is clear and personal. Her stories of pregnancy and all the things “no one ever tells you” is heartbreaking and terrifying and served as an excellent reminder to take my birth control medication. But her stories of how much she loves Leta make the whole thing seem worth it. Especially since even if I do have kids, and may eventually have to deal with post-partum depression, I wouldn’t have a regular history of chronic depression to contend with as well.

But, more than just an ode to motherhood – you realize that the true hero, in Heather’s eyes is her husband.  I have read a lot about mental illness, and the one thing I always come away with is how much it affects the people who love the patient. She holds her husband in high regard, and their love story is what remains, in my mind. Also, cute pictures of kids dressed up as frogs.

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Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography

This was a pick for the Tutor.com Office Book Club, so I am kind of “discussed” out, but for your enjoyment – some thoughts!

  • This man is amazing. As much as I thought I knew about him, I didn’t. Printing, bifocals, electricity, sure. But paving roads, libraries and the Freemasons? What doesn’t this guy do? How many “Renaissance Men” have there really been? Him, DaVinci and Jefferson?
  • It’s amazing what has been left out. Some of it was intentional, because he knew history would take care of it, but it never ceases to amaze me that there was very little mention of his wife or children. Wouldn’t expect a female autobiography to gloss over all of that.
  • Interesting to think about how the autobiography or memoir has changed as a genre, and writing styles.
  • Definitely recommend the Norton Critical Edition of the book. Having some reference material made a somewhat dry book very interesting.
  • Franklin was an ethical vegetarian
  • And a serious cheapskate! He remembers every not-yet-a-dime ever spent!
  • Man, this guy is funny. You sometimes have to look for it, but he’s kind of a riot.
  • The ambition, the drive, the commitment.
  • Couldn’t help but wonder what Ben would have been like in today’s world – would have been as successful? Devoted himself to which causes? Would he be an inventor? Professor? Media mogul? Politician? Would today’s society allow him the meteoric rise that he had back then?
  • Thinking about what impact he may have had on today’s leaders – comparisons between Obama and Franklin
  • Interesting to think about some of the issues that he felt strongly about still being debated today, namely the debate over immunization
  • He talked a lot about humility, but obviously had a hard time with it. If that was his worst quality? Forgiven.

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Welcome to Shirley – Kelly McMasters

I really, really wanted to like this book. I forget where I heard about it, but all I remembered when I saw it at the library was that it was written by a girl about my age, and was about growing up in Shirley (which is an area in Long Island, NY that I am very familiar with.)

From Publishers Weekly
Journalist McMasters’s look at the toxic relationship between Brookhaven National Laboratory and the neighboring Long Island towns careens into a tedious memoir of childhood. McMasters moved to the unpromising working-class town of Shirley in the early 1970s when she was five and her golf pro father got a job with Hampton Hills Golf & Country Club. For a child without siblings, the street teeming with young families was a magical place to grow up, and McMasters made lifelong girlfriends. However, the town was economically depressed, despite its optimistic founding by Walter T. Shirley in the early 1950s. And Shirley was in the shadow of the top-secret Brookhaven atomic research laboratory, whose nuclear reactor was completed in 1965 regardless of the dangers posed to the growing community. Tritium, the waste from nuclear experiments, leaked into the adjacent rivers and aquifers for decades, and the author ploddingly traces the seepage into private wells. The town flirted with a name change to bolster property values, just as residents were plagued by alarming cases of cancer. Indeed, thanks to the Long Island Breast Cancer Research Project of 1993, a cluster of cases was discovered within a 15-mile radius of Brookhaven. Intermittently, McMasters summons considerable research and critical powers, yet the litany of Shirley’s resident misery resists an elegant synthesis. (Apr.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

I felt like this book suffered from schizophrenia. On one hand, it wanted to be a memoir of childhood, and of growing up in a town that was almost designed for failure. Or the tragedies of the suburbs. I think that when it focused on that, it was good – but a little too flowery. But it held my attention, and I wanted to really feel it and know more.

But on the other hand, there was a lot about Brookhaven and how having this giant pollutant ended up killing a lot of people and shaping the town’s culture. Which would have been cool, except that it started getting pretty technical. It almost felt like two different books, and one of them I didn’t like, even though the subject matter was interesting.

Part of this just hit a little too close to home. A few years ago,  my 48 year old non-smoking, vegetarian, nutritionist hippie aunt died of lung cancer. A few years ago my dad was diagnosed with late stage Hodgkin’s (but is doing okay now.)  The block they grew up in Canarsie has a whole bunch of similar stories, and there appears to be a cancer cluster there. Some speculate it’s due to the power lines. I am convinced it’s definitely something environmental that is causing all this cancer.

In any case – I think the work McMasters did is important, and I always grew up close to the specter of Long Island’s breast cancer curse – but I just can’t say I really liked the book.

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Fat Girls and Lawn Chairs – Cheryl Peck

I thought I liked collections of stories, essayist, etc. Oh my god, was I wrong. Laurie Notaro has spoiIed me. I almost couldn’t wait to finish this book, so that I could blog about it.

The book starts off explaining that her family and friends convinced her to write it because she always tells the funniest stories about her life, and they were sure it would make a great book. I too, have been told this – and my response is always “just because my stories are funny doesn’t mean they would translate well to the written page. Or even that I am good enough to write them.” Oprah has convinced me to start writing some personal essays, but after this book – it’s gonna take a lot more than Oprah to build me up again.

Essentially, it’s a collection of stories. Some lowlights:

  • She does that goddamn proper noun thing. No one has a name, they have some sort of Adjective. Her girlfriend isn’t “Suzie” or whatever, or even “my girlfriend” – she is “My Beloved.” Her sister’s aren’t”my younger sisters” but instead – (get this!) “The UnWee” and “The Most Wee.” She is “The Least Wee.” Her girlfriend’s adult daughter is referred to as “the girlchild.” I suppose she thinks this is cute.
  • We know she thinks this is cute, because it is a collection of stories, but apparently – there was no editor. She explains her ohsocute naming convention again and again, in each story.
  • There are at least TWO whole “stories” that are told from the POV of her cat.
  • She believes that in her cat’s rich inner life, she is called “Mommy.”
  • The stories are interspersed with poetry. I didn’t read any of it because A ) I don’t really love poetry B) It had no context and C ) What a pretentious nutcase!

And, was all was said and done – there was a note in the back that this book was originally self-published and only intended for family and friends. I can’t imagine who thought it shouldn’t stay that way.

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Target Underwear and a Vera Wang Gown: Notes from a Single Girl’s Closet – Adena Halpern

I don’t know why I read this. Even worse, I requested it from the library, which means I sought it out. It has to have been recommended to me by some author.

I am not single. I don’t think I have been single for more than 6 months since I am 16. I am not a girl who likes gowns. Or Vera Wang in particular. I am not a girl who really even likes fashion that much. I don’t even really like other girls or boys who like fashion that much.

This book was a memoir. A memoir of a girl I would probably intensely dislike in person. She seemed likable enough in prose, but really? Thousands of dollars of halter tops? 6 inch heels? Who are these people?

I don’t know why I do these things to myself. Isn’t the subway sad enough without bad books about lives of people who aren’t interesting and I wouldn’t like?

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