Wednesday, October 26, 2011

September 2011 Books - A Month of Memoirs

I have fallen off the wagon in terms of writing full posts on books so am now trying something else: mini posts on all the books read in a given month.  I hope this will be easy enough for me to do - we'll see.  Without intention, this months is all about memoirs.

Reading My Father by Alexandra Styron
Published: 2011
Rating: 5
Goodreads review
I bought this book at the local Border's closing sale because I had just read her father's short but powerful memoir, Darkness Visible, depicting his struggles with depression and suicide.   Her writing is honest, clear and unflinching but not bitter, as she recalls life with a self-absorbed, emotionally volatile literary father and absent mother.  The book documents her journey or quest, via research and writing, towards answering the simple question: "Who was my father?"

History of a Suicide: my sister's unfinished life by Jill Bialosky
Published: 2011
Rating: 4
Goodreads review
Bought this at the local Border's closing sale - how could I not pick this up?  The author's sister Kim, took her life at age 21.  Twenty years later, Jill is searching for answers to the two infamous questions asked by most if not all suicide survivors: "Why" and "Could I have prevented it?"   Like me, she turned to books such as poetry, fiction and non-fiction for understanding.   Heavily dog-earred and underlined, there is a lot that I can relate to.

My Reading Life by Pat Conroy
Published: 2010
Rating: 4
Goodreads review
I have been eyeing this book for months but did not want to spend full price so when I spotted it at a local Border's book closing sale, I couldn't resist. Conroy is a writer but first, he is a lover of books and language (words).  His book collection numbers several thousand.  He reads around 200 pages a day, a habit born in high school.  His passionate chapter on "The Count" (Leo Tolstoy) makes me want to read War and Peace.  Book lovers will enjoy.

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme
Published: 2006
Rating: 4
Goodreads review
Bought this book at a used bookstore in Hyannis, MA.  A quick and enjoyable read.  Julia married later in life and settled in France with her husband, an employee of the State Department.  She quickly became a foodie - to the nth degree.  The book follows her interesting and eventful life as she first learned to cook, then teach cooking while co-authoring the famous Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961).  After publication, she spent time in the US promoting her book  and met famous cooks like James Beard, with whom she became a life long friend.  Upon returning to America for good, her TV show The French Chef made her a household name.

The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection by Michael Ruhlman
Published: 2000
Rating: 3
Goodreads review
An interesting foray into the world of serious cooking.  Who knew what it takes to make a terrine, be it seafood, rabbit or duck?  Those who do will love this book.  Those who have no idea, like me, will get an education.

Truth and Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett
Published: 2004
Rating: 4
Goodreads review
A quick read about the author's friendship with the poet and memoirist, Lucy Grealy whose book Autobiography of a Face was on my TBR list.  I did not realize the connection.  Their friendship began in college and continued through their writing careers - through fellowships, jobs, publishing books and fame.  A major subject of the book, of Lucy's life and thus their friendship is Lucy's distorted face and the sheer torture endured to obtain, through seemingly barbaric means, a normal one.  Lucy is big on talent but short on love and in the end, it all will be too much for her.  She struggles with depression and substance abuse, attempting suicide numerous times.  She dies in 2002 from what is ruled an accidental overdose.  Naturally, as soon as this book was finished, I read Grealy's memoir.

 Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
Published: 1994
Rating: 4
Goodreads review
At the tender age of 9, Grealy was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma (bone cancer) in her jaw.  Treatment was surgery, the removal of part of her jaw followed by 2.5 years of radiation and chemotherapy.  Once back in school, she was teased mercilessly but felt like it was deserved because she was so ugly.  Relief came in college, where she was accepted despite her strange looks,  and she found poetry.  The book ends with her hoping that a brutal surgery to repair her jaw will give her the normal life which she so desperately wants.  Unfortunately, we know from Patchett's book, that it does not work.  We also learn of the fame bestowed upon Grealy when her book was published and as noted above, her descent into fatal depression.  The two books go together to give a fuller picture of Lucy's brief, colorful but tragic life.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

22 Books for $18.50

Today's cold and rainy weather deterred the usual droves of casual book buyers at a local library's every-other-month book sale.  Those who braved the elements were serious bibliophiles, eager to add to their home library without breaking the bank.  Armed with my wish and TBR list, I scoured the boxes of books on and underneath long tables, wondering what treasures I would find. I love these book sales.

The atmosphere was cordial, complete with whispered "excuse me" or "pardon me" as we tried to navigate around one another.  As time went on, it became more difficult due to our growing piles of books.  Twenty-two books may seem like a lot, but many bought far more.  Some, like me, put our finds in a bag which was either slung over the shoulder or carried on the forearm, a test of bicep strength.  Others placed their books in boxes which quickly grew too heavy to carry and had to be shuffled on the floor.

When books are this inexpensive, there is no hesitation to place in the bag.  The only pang of regret comes when I see one that was bought at full cost.  It only lasts a millisecond as I happily think of all my current finds.  Oh well, can't win them all.

Upon coming home, I organize them by genre and record them in my book journal.  Then I open each book and write the following: 10/1/2011 - brought at Tyson's library book sale.  I like knowing when and where I bought my books.  Some have their previous owner's name.  If these books could talk, I wonder what they would say.  Here is the list:  

  • Norton Anthology of American Literature (2nd ed) 
  • Norton Anthology of English Literature Vol II  (5th ed) - compliments Volume 1, which I bought at a previous sale in April. 
Literature and Writing
  • Barnet, Burto and Cain - Literature for Composition
  • Boynton, Mack - Introduction to the Short Story
  • Thornley, Wilson - Short Story Writing
Non Fiction
  • Beard, James - Fish Cooking.  I recently read Julia Child's book, My Life In France, in which she speaks of her friendship with Jim Beard, celebrity cook who helped promote her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  This is an example of how one book begets another, as I would have never noticed this book or author.
  • Kubler-Ross, Elizabeth - On Death and Dying.  This landmark book solidified the 5 stages of death: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  Later, the application was broadened to grief. 
  • Pennebaker, James - Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotion
  • Manning, Martha - Undercurrents: A Life Under the Surface
  • Defoe, Daniel - Robinson Crusoe
  • Homer - The Odyssey
  • Lawrence, D.H. - Women in Love (didn't realize I already had this book)
  • Lawrence, D.H - Lady Chatterly's Lover
  • Cather, Willa - O Pioneers!
  • Ishiguro, Kazuo - The Remains of the Day
  • Jong, Erica - Fear of Flying
  • Kinsella, Sophie - The Undomestic Goddess.  Her books are like "brain candy" - fun, easy reads.
  • Lahiri Jhumpa - Interpreter of Maladies.  I bought this because of the Pulitzer Prize sticker on the front.  Goodread reviews are very positive. 
  • Lahiri Jhumpa - The Namesake
  • Millhauser, Steven - Martin Dressler.  Another Pulitzer Prize winner, but unfortunately, has mixed Goodreads reviews.
  • Shaffer, Mary Anne and Annie Barrows - The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society.  I LOVE this book.  I read it on my Nook and now, my daughter wants to read it but it is not a "lend me" e-book.  So I bought it.  I can't wait for her to read it so we can talk about it. 
  • Wells, H. G - Four Novels:  The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds.