Tag Archives: memoir

Long Quiet Highway by Natalie Goldberg

Long Quiet Highway by Natalie Goldberg: I first discovered Goldberg in a college creative writing class that used Writing Down the Bones as a textbook. I instantly fell in love with her gentle-yet-firm “just write it” philosophy. I read several of her other writing books and her novel, but am only now getting to her autobiographical works. Here, she talks mostly about her life as a Buddhist and her relationship with her teacher while she lived in Minnesota. It’s actually a really interesting glimpse into a life that is so completely foreign to me. I’ve never lived in a hippie neighborhood or taught sixth graders or spent entire days in meditation or even ever visited the parts of New Mexico, Minnesota, and New York where Goldberg lived. This is certainly not an exciting book by any stretch of the imagination, but I really enjoyed joining Goldberg on this quiet journey from childhood through love and loss until finally finding her true home.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Standing Up by Marion Grodin

Standing Up by Marion Grodin: Though the author of this memoir is a stand-up comedian, this book is not funny. It has its moments, of course, especially at the very end, but by and large it’s a rather heart-wrenching tale of love, grief, addiction, illness, and loss. Grodin grows up in New York, the daughter of actor Charles Grodin and his extraordinarily needy ex-wife Julia. She has complicated relationships with her parents, years of drug abuse, and general aimlessness before she finally decides she wants to be a comedian. I liked reading this – I found it interesting to read about a life so strikingly different from my own – but it is not the same sort of memoir as, say, Laurie Notaro or Jen Lancaster. It is not a series of amusing anecdotes with the occasional touching scene, but rather a series of tragedies with the occasional joke thrown in. Parts of it, particularly when Grodin deals with cancer (her mother’s and her own), can be very inspiring, but do not come into this thinking it’s going to be a laugh-a-minute romp. It simply isn’t.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Harley Loco by Rayya Elias

Harley Loco by Rayya Elias: This is a memoir by a woman born in Syria, raised in Detroit, and educated on the streets of 1980s New York City. She is a hairdresser, a musician, a lesbian, a drug addict. Elias’s descriptions of her life are completely unflinching: her talents as a stylist and musician are devoid of any humility, but her moments of weakness and crimes against her loved ones are presented without any excuses or pleas for sympathy. Her world is one of her own making, for better or for worse. I would have appreciated more physical description of the world she lived in, so I could really picture it, but Elias is clearly not that kind of writer. Photographs would have been nice too. All the same, this was an interesting portrait of a life so completely unlike mine, and a good cautionary tale about drug use.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Marbles by Ellen Forney

Marbles by Ellen Forney: It’s no secret that loads of famous artists suffered mental health problems, often severe and untreated. But will medication rob one of one’s creativity? What if the mental health issues are key to the art? In this unabashedly frank graphic memoir, Forney relates her adventures with bipolar syndrome, from diagnosis to eventual stability. Her ups and downs, as well as her fear of being “cured”, were very familiar to me, almost uncomfortably so. It made me want to read some of the other books Forney references, from The Unquiet Mind to biographies of various artists. This is a good book both for those suffering bipolar syndrome and for those hoping to understand the disease better from the outside. And, being a graphic work with drawings that somehow manage to be at once both simplistic and incredibly detailed, it’s a very quick read. I devoured it in two short evenings.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard P. Feynman

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard P. Feynman (unabridged audiobook read by Raymond Todd; 11.5 hrs on 10 discs): From his early days fixing radios by thinking to safecracking while working on the Manhattan Project to playing bongos in Brazil, Richard Feynman is certainly never short of a good story. I was especially amused by his attempt to enlist in the military. My only real complaint was how short the whole thing was on his main passion, science. Then again, that could be something to recommend it, since you are pretty much guaranteed to understand what’s going on. If you are easily shocked, you might want to skip this one – he’s pretty frank about his feelings about pretty girls, for example – but all in all I was quite entertained by his antics.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster

Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster: Lancaster was living the good life, with a huge Chicago apartment, a huge paycheck, a huge shopping problem, and a huge ego. Then she gets laid off and spends the next couple years unemployed. This sort of major reality check wouldn’t have been nearly as entertaining were Lancaster not so unafraid to paint herself in a less than flattering light. And she is hilarious. She writes in such a way that I can completely hear her voice and inflection. The footnotes were often even funnier than the main text. If you’re looking for a fun beach read, this is a good bet.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

and then there were three… by Supriya Bhatnagar

and then there were three… by Supriya Bhatnagar: This brief memoir details Bhatnagar’s childhood experiences with the death of her father in 1970s India. Since Bhatnagar now lives in America, she took time to point out little differences in daily life between the two countries. These parts I found most fascinating. Her family’s grief was touching and sad, but honestly I was more interested in her experiences growing up with a single mother who starts her own school. Even better, I got to bring up some of the stuff from this book, such as the “desert coolers”, with my Indian coworker, who’d had similar experiences growing up in Hyderabad. I loved the real personal feeling of the narration, like I was having a conversation ith the author rather than reading her book. I hope to read more by her someday.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (unabridged audiobook read by the author; 8 hours on MP3): The tagline for this book is something like “sex, drugs, and haute cuisine,” and that about sums it up. Bourdain takes the reader on a journey through his culinary days, from dishwasher to head chef. This is not a good book for vegetarians, those offended by crude language, or anyone grossed out by frank descriptions of animal flesh. I found, in general, that these autobiographical essays entertained me thoroughly but also convinced me that I’d rather not experience such things first hand. Bourdain’s average day makes me tired just thinking about it. While I appreciated the advice about restaurants and tips for would-be chefs, my favorite parts were unquestionably the anecdotes and adventures. Bourdain’s cynical but generally amused and appreciative view of the crazy characters he’s encountered never failed to make me smile. Sure, these are not people I’d want to associate with in person but they’re fun to get to know vicariously. I will definitely have to pick up some of Bourdain’s other books.

A note on the audio: I had to get used to Bourdain’s swift reading, but having enjoyed him on No Reservations for ages, it didn’t take long for me to adapt to his brisk cadence.

Borneo Tom by Tom McLaughlin

Borneo Tom by Tom McLaughlin: A former Maryland schoolteacher with an incurable neurological disease decides to live his dream and explore Southeast Asia. The story is told in a series of one-page vignettes, with cartoony sketches on the facing pages, so it goes by quickly. While I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to visit the lands Tom describes, I had a great time experiencing his adventures vicariously. His no-holds-barred description and somewhat zany sense of humor made for a fun read, and also offset the more somber passages well. I was particularly amused by his visit to the Equator, and quite moved by his optimism in the face of such poverty and ecological damage. Borneo is one of those places I haven’t read much about, so this was a real treat. I still don’t want to visit in person, but I could listen to Tom’s stories all day.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi

Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi: This was my first graphic novel in quite a while. The art style was very simple, like it had been drawn with black Sharpie, yet amazingly expressive. The framework is of a group of women (the author and her relatives) sharing tales of past relationships. Some of them are funny, some are sad, but all are memorable. It’s also a very quick read; I finished it in a single sitting. I’m not sure so sure it needed to be a graphic novel – most of the drawings are just of women’s faces speaking – but it worked well in this format all the same. I’ll be on the lookout for Satrapi’s more famous work, Persepolis.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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